Have you ever had someone say something to you that shook your world and made you feel totally worthless? Yes? Well, I can relate.
I grew up in a home where both my parents worked. My Dad worked during the day and my Mom at night. I very rarely saw my Mom when I was growing up. The only time I saw her was in the morning when she would wake my brother, my sister and I; after school until 4:30 when she left for her job; and then for ½ hour at 8:00 at night when she would come home for her “lunch ½ hour”.
I don’t remember any of my friends at that time having a working Mom. It wasn’t normal for others, but it was normal for me.
Because I didn’t see my Mom much during the week, and Saturdays were days she spent doing errands with my Dad and visiting family and friends, late Sunday morning was my time with her.
Around age 10, on one particular spring Sunday, we had just gotten back from church. Dad made the usual Sunday morning breakfast, scrambled eggs, pancakes and toast, leaving the dishes for my Mom and I to clean. She would wash and I would dry and when they were all put away, Mom and I would sit down at the yellow-topped kitchen table, the Sunday morning Chicago Polish broadcast playing on the radio, and we would spend time reading the Chicago Sun Times newspaper sitting across from each other.
I always loved to think about what I was going to be when I grew up. The possibilities were endless and the future was always waiting to be filled with exciting and wonderful things. On that particular Sunday, I decided to look at the job listings to see what jobs I could imagine I’d be able to perform. I started to read the listings. Suddenly, I noticed the jobs were separated into two categories. One was titled “Jobs for Men”, which was listed first, and the second listing was “Jobs for Women.”
Hmmmm. I was very confused. I knew my Dad worked. I knew my Mom worked. Didn’t that mean they were equal?
I saw the “Jobs for Men”: Sales Manager. Construction Worker. Business Managers. Jobs where you made things or made things happen.
I saw the “Jobs for Women”: Secretary. Nurse. Teacher. Jobs where you take care of others.
As I looked at the listings and read the descriptions, all the jobs I wanted to do were classified as “Jobs for Men”. They seemed so much more fun, interesting and exciting to me.
I turned to my Mom and said, “Mom, why are there different jobs for women than there are for men? Can’t both men and women do any of these if they learn how to do them?”
She slowly took off her reading glasses and placed them on the table. She sat up a little straighter. She looked directly at me and sighed. And then she said, “The jobs for women are different from the jobs for men, because women can’t do men’s jobs. I know, honey, it’s not fair. I know that’s not fair, but that’s just the way it is.”
I looked straight at her, defiant. My eyes opened wide, my lips pouted, and I said “Well, that’s not fair. That’s not right. I want to do these men’s jobs and that’s what I’m going to do.”
My Mom smiled a little smile and nodded her head.
Without words being spoken at that moment, I knew my Mom wanted more for herself in her life, but the times she lived in, and the people around her didn’t allow it. At that moment, I knew my Mom would have been a very different person if she had been given the opportunity of more than a 7th grade education. I realized that my Mom would have been a very different person if she hadn’t gotten pregnant and had to get married. I realized that my Mom wanted me to be a very different person than she and have a very different life than she.
Right then and there, I made myself a promise to do just that.
Fast forward 15 years. I am out of college about two years and working in business at an international company. It was the dreaded “Personnel Management Performance Review” time. I walked into my boss, Pete’s office, and sat at the round table where we usually worked. He got up from behind his desk, walked over to the table and sat directly across from me. He seemed hesitant as he handed me the written review. As I read the review, my jaw dropped, my eyes kept getting bigger and I sat up a bit straighter.
I had excelled in every possible category. I was ecstatic. I knew I worked really hard that year and was so pleased to see that someone recognized me for my work, especially someone whose opinion I highly respected. I was really seen. I was valued.
I was excited and ready to continue doing my excellent work.
But then, there was a very uncomfortable silence. Pete looked at me and just said, “Unfortunately, the range of raises this year are lower than last year.”
I knew this was not going to be good.
“You’ll be getting only a 2% increase in your pay.”
I was stunned. This raise was nowhere close to what I thought equaled the amount of effort I had put into my work. It didn’t come close to compensating me for the process changes I made that saved the company a lot of money; for the many recommendations I made that were put into place; or for the many extra hours I put into my work.
I looked at him and felt my throat tighten, my body stiffen, and the tears welling up. We just stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. I took a very deep breath, felt my body pulling together and a tiny little voice came out of me and said, “I can’t talk about this right now.” I got up and walked out of the room.
I immediately went to the bathroom, locked the door on the stall, and sat on the toilet and let the tears roll.
I couldn’t get my head around it. I was raised to believe that all you needed to do to get recognized was to keep your head down, work hard, and wait for the inevitable recognition.
But, I had just seen first-hand that this wasn’t necessarily true.
I sat there and thought, “I am worth more than this.”
I sat there a little longer and thought, “I am worth more than this.”
Then, drying my tears, I stood up and said out loud, in that bathroom, “I am worth more than this!”
I left the stall, walked over to the sink and looked at myself in the mirror. I was surprised to see a strong, confident, and gutsy woman gazing right back at me. Here was a woman willing to claim her place and her immense value in the world. And that woman was me.
I went back to my office, sat down and I started to write. I am worth more, I am worth more, I am worth more. This led to me writing why I thought so.
I left the pad of paper in my desk drawer, went home, and came back the next day clearly prepared with what I was going to say to Pete. I was fully prepared psychologically to leave my job if I didn’t get what I thought I was worth. This was that important to me.
First thing that morning, I went into Pete’s office and boldly said, “We need to talk.”
We talked and at the end of the conversation Pete looked at me and said, “Pat, this was gutsy of you.”
"You got that right,” I proclaimed.
So…what did I learn throughout all this? Sitting there in that bathroom was a turning point for me. It was right then that I had a choice: to cave in or to claim the power to claim my life. I realized that no one, absolutely no one, had the power to make me feel worthless unless I gave it to them. It was at that moment I realized that “getting gutsy” was the only way to make my world rather than allowing it to make me.
And, by the way, I got exactly the raise I wanted.