Questioning: It's Unfair I Bungled My Salary Negotiation

Questioning: It's Unfair I Bungled My Salary Negotiation

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In the book The Prosperous Coach, Rich Litvin says, "One advantage of me spending so much of my own life feeling powerless is that I now quickly see how powerful people are." 

Same here. 

In this episode, I share my experience bungling a salary negotiation that left me feeling powerless and resentful. 

I question my own negative beliefs that held me back from speaking up and asking for what I wanted. 

If you've ever felt small, powerless, and resentful at work, you'll want to check this out.

Full Episode Transcript

Hello! Welcome to the twenty-first episode of Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee. Twenty-first! I love that. It means we’re legal now!

My name is Jamie Lee. I work as a coach and you can learn more about my services on

I believe that we’re all born to thrive. I believe that negotiation skills are leadership skills, and I’m curious to know: How are you thriving today?

Today I’m thriving because books are magic.

This book that I’m reading right now, The Prosperous Coach by Steve Chandler and Rich Litvin, it’s rocking my world and if you are somebody who’s interested in becoming a coach or who is a coach who wants to become a prosperous coach, I highly, highly recommend it.

There is a quote in this book that really inspired me and resonated with me. The quote is:

“One advantage of me spending so much of my own life feeling powerless is that I now quickly see how powerful people are. This is something we can all do. Your client is the god of their world because they create their own world. They don’t even know it.”

I love this quote because it totally resonates. I think it’s 100% true. For me, I see that yeah, earlier in my life I had long periods where I felt very powerless.

One of those times when I felt powerless was definitely ten years ago when I bungled my salary negotiation and ended up earning fifty percent of the going market rate - fifty percent - as a hedge fund analyst.

Now when I think about it, I can’t help but laugh because of all the mistakes I made and I think this experience inspired me to do the work that I do now because I’m like, wow, how could I have made so many mistakes, so many obvious mistakes?

So, at that time I was pivoting from a career in procurement. I used to buy steel plates and copper plates for a heavy industries company and then after that, I was buying shipping boxes and cartons for a beauty company. And then one day a colleague of mine told me that if I post my resume on Craigslist, that could be another way to get a job.

It sounds pretty crazy now, I know. I mean, I would not do this. I would not advise anyone to do this.

But back then I was naïve and I thought, “Oh, let me give this a try.”  So I did. I posted my resume on Craigslist and then I got a call from a hedge fund that was looking for somebody who was multilingual. I speak Japanese and Korean and English so they wanted me to come in for an interview for an analyst position. I was a qualitative analyst, meaning I was just reading a bunch of research and news and data all day long as a hedge fund analyst.

In any case, this is how I bungled my salary negotiation, okay?

Number one, I didn’t do any research.

I don’t know, I just didn’t think about it. I went to Wikipedia, I read one entry on what a hedge fund does and I’m like okay, that’s enough.

Number two, I didn’t ask anyone in my network. I didn’t reach out to the alums from my school who are in the finance industry to ask them for advice around how to negotiate my salary.

I was just ill-prepared. I was completely unprepared for this conversation and the hedge fund manager, basically, he came to me and he said, “Okay, well we’re ready to make an offer. What is your minimum salary requirement?”

And at that time I was making $43,000 as an entry-level buyer for a beauty startup, and I thought, “Well, I was making 43, so I should make at least 50, right, in the next job? But I’m sure they’re gonna offer me more. They’re a hedge fund, I mean, maybe my minimum is 50, but they’re gonna give me more.”

That was my unarticulated thought.

Oh, boy.

Can you guess what happened?

Yes, $50,000 became my starting salary and he said, “Take it or leave it. There is no room for negotiation. This is it.” And so, you know what I did? I took it.

And then a year into that job - a year into that job, that’s how long it took for me to realize how big a mistake I had made - I read a research report on the average going salaries for hedge fund analysts and I see that it’s $100,000.

When I found out that I was making 50% of the going market rate, I felt powerless.

I felt small.

I felt resentful.

And eventually, as a result of that and some other things, I ended up quitting after two years, and I ended up taking an unpaid internship with a women-focused angel investment fund and this internship eventually changed my life.

Since then, I’ve learned a few things and some of the key things that I’ve learned are:

Number one: That real power is inside of me not outside of me. I think so many of us, including me, we mistake that power lies in other people outside of us.

Number two: I abdicate that power when I blame other people for how I feel. I learned that I am responsible for my own feelings. That’s called emotional maturity.

Number three: I learned that feelings are not actually irrational. They don’t just come out of the ether. They’re not meaningless.

Because thinking generates feelings.

And feelings generate actions.

Actions generate results.

And I’m not just pulling this out of the air, there’s been a lot of research that shows that people make decisions based on how they feel. Everyone is biased in their thinking and that bias is your belief or your repeated thinking pattern.

So, thinking generates feelings. Feelings generate actions. Actions generate results.

So, what the hell was I thinking back then ten years ago when I completely bungled my salary negotiation?

And that question led me to revisit some old resentments that I harbored towards my former boss at the hedge fund. I’ve had many, many, countless thoughts - some very colorful - about him and that situation at the hedge fund, but two really stick out as the thorniest:

Number one: It’s unfair he paid me 50% of the going market rate.

Number two: I want him to pay me respect.

So when I entertain these thorny thoughts, I feel like a victim. I feel tightness in my gut and a collapsed feeling in my chest. If I just entertain that thought again right now, that feeling comes back. And the situation feels hopeless.

And the brain is hard-wired for stories, so it goes on overdrive making up stories about the past and future and then I see images of all the other times people treated me unfairly, how my life is so unfair. And I also see images of the future about how I’ll never succeed.

It’s madness.

And I recognize that I have the power to stop that thinking pattern.

I have the power to get back to reality as it really is, not as it should be or as I imagine that it was. To get back to this reality, I have to slow down.

My process is that I write my negative thoughts, my negative stories, my negative beliefs on paper and then I question them. I consider the facts that my hijacked brain completely overlooks.

For example, let’s consider the facts of this situation.

My starting salary was my minimum salary requirement. I pulled a number out of the air and it turned out that was 50% of the going market rate.

Here’s another fact: I took that job. I said yes. I consented to that salary even though I was disappointed with the offer because I was afraid I’d be even more disappointed if I didn’t take the job.

And here’s another fact: once I found out about the going market rate, I did not communicate. I did not try to negotiate for more because I was afraid of not having a job. Mind you, this was a year after the 2008 financial crisis.

Here’s one more fact: I didn’t respect my boss. Truth be told, I feared him and mostly I tried to avoid him.

So you might be thinking, “Jamie, don’t be so hard on yourself!” A lot of people have told me that, especially early in my life, and it might sound like I’m being harsh on me.

The truth is, when I question my thoughts, I feel liberated. And I see how powerful I really am in creating the results in my life by entertaining thoughts that generate feelings that generate actions that generate results. And I see that I have the choice of not believing negative thoughts, not having them.

And I can see that without this negative thought, the negative story that I need him to respect me and it was unfair, I see that I’m actually doing well. That I am free. I am free to make choices in my life, and in fact, I am grateful for the experience. It gave me a valuable lesson in life and work and negotiations. And in fact, truth be told, I have written about how I’ve bungled my salary on LinkedIn and it’s on the Muse and I’m talking about it again. The experience was instructive.

Ironically, the inversions of my negative thoughts are actually closer to the truth. The truth being I gave the fund 50% of my commitment and focus. I held back on expressing myself out of fear. I held back on speaking up. I held back on negotiating. That was my part.

Here’s another truth: I want me to give me respect. I want me to respect myself. I also want to earn people’s respect. I don’t want it handed to me by people that I don’t respect, like my boss.

When you consider the truth, it just makes me feel almost giddy and I feel compassion for my younger self.

Look, I’m not condoning the practice of underpaying people, no matter how inexperienced they are, as I was ten years ago. The point I’m making, again and again, is that I have the power to choose my thinking. I have the power to choose my action. Choices that generate results. We all do.

And this is what I see in my clients, as Rich Litvin said, I have experienced feeling powerless and that helps me see how powerful people really are. How powerful my clients are, especially when they feel that they don’t have power.

I work as a negotiation and leadership coach. This is really important because negotiating, leading the conversation, influencing people, these are all acts of power.

The power to question negative thoughts that hold you back.

The power to see yourself with agency to change perspectives and results.

The power to engage in conversation with other people as their colleagues, not adversaries.

You do have the power, so what will you do with it?

Yeah, I’m really asking you. What will you do with it?

This has been such a joy for me to revisit the feeling of powerlessness, revisit that feeling of resentment and see that no, actually, we are really powerful.

And on that note, I am leaving on vacation at the end of this week and in the meantime, I wish you a wonderful week, and if you want to learn more about my services, come check out Talk to you soon!

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