Know Your Worth: Navigating Difficult Professional Relationships

Whether professional or personal, when it comes to relationships it is crucial to always know your worth. One of the things that I learned very early in my career is to never allow anyone to place their value upon me. In my opinion, most people do not even know what value to place on themselves, let alone trying to impose one on someone else who they have even less knowledge about. Years ago, I received a job offer in which the recruiter advised me that the company really wanted to hire me but could not pay me the salary that I was requesting. It was a pretty big department, so I could not understand why they were trying to short change me, i.e., pay me less than the value I would bring to their department. The recruiter further explained that if they paid me my asking salary, then it would create a salary inequity with others in the department who were currently working in similar positions. To the recruiter’s astonishment, I declined the job offer. It was a difficult decision because I really wanted that job. But I held true to my conviction of my worth which was based on my professional and educational qualifications. In other words, I knew my self-worth and it was not in any way tied to anyone else’s salary negotiating skills – or lack thereof. Of course, many factors could impact decisions to accept a position that is less than your asking salary such as when you just need to get your foot in the door of a good company, for example, and prove that you are worth more while you are gaining valuable experience. I too have had to make that type of short term decision for long term gain. However, on the whole and within reason, I strongly believe that no one should settle for less than what they deserve whether it is a personal or professional relationship.

I became a Finance Manager at a pretty notable auto dealership in southern California right after my senior year in college. I was a very eager young professional, and was quite the go-getter. My mother has always taught me to know my worth; particularly when it comes to my educational and professional endeavors. As a result, I have always been quite confident in both undertakings. So, when I landed this position as a Finance Manager right out of college I really did not think it was a big deal because I knew I was worthy of such a position. If memory serves me correctly, I was not even actively seeking out that particular job. I actually went into the dealership that day, not to land a job, but to purchase my first “real” car which was a sporty sky blue, turbo-powered 300 ZX with a T-Top that I had my eye on for quite some time. This car was my college graduation present to myself. After picking out my dream car on the lot, I was ushered by the salesperson to the Finance Department to discuss financing terms. This is where I met the Finance Director who later became one of my most esteemed mentors.

After being introduced to the Finance Director, I did what comes naturally to a person with a business background; I relentlessly negotiated the terms of my contract. I held firm to the terms I felt I qualified for based on my income, credit rating and I threw in my future earnings potential just for the heck of it. I provided the Finance Director with irrefutable facts and figures to support my claim as to why I should have the lowest interest rate available. We went back and forth in the negotiations until around closing time for the dealership in which he finally gave in to my demands. We shook hands on the deal and I was ready to drive away into the sunset in my new sports car.

Before I left his office, however, the Finance Director handed me his business card and told me that he was very impressed with my negotiating skills. Likewise, he told me that he had never met anyone my age who was so well-versed with quantitative and qualitative information concerning financial contracts. I do not mean to date myself, but this was B.G. (i.e., Before Google) so the information was not as readily available as it is today; so he knew I did my homework. He asked me to give him a call to discuss my candidacy for the position. After seeing the salaries of the jobs that were available at the Career/Recruitment Fairs that I had attended at my school, I decided that this position might prove to be a very lucrative move for me. Besides, I now had a car payment that I had to budget for and my next stop was to land a new job anyway. So, I gave him a call, interviewed for the position and was offered the job on the spot; which I gladly accepted.

Shortly after being hired, I received a crash course (and I do mean crash!) in office politics, conflict resolution and plain old bureaucracy in its finest form. For the most part, most of the people who worked there were very nice and accepting of my new role. However, it quickly became apparent that there were a couple of people who did not share in the joyful news of my newly acquired position. I learned that some people thought they should have gotten my position based on their tenure with the company. Fortunately, the Finance Director gave me pointers on how to navigate the hostile environment. Besides, I already had enough personal experience dealing with the “mean girls” in high school to know how to deal with ‘haters’. So between the two of us, we managed the situation as well as can be expected. According to the Finance Director, a top-earning Finance Manager with raw talent was what the company needed and not someone who would simply inherit the position solely based on tenure. That is why he said he hired me and was also the reason I was determined to prove to everyone that I was a top notch producer who was well qualified for that position.

Accordingly, my defense for their attacks was to become that top-producing Finance Manager. I worked 12-hour shifts, 6 days a week. I was doing such an outstanding job that one of the owners commended me for doing a great job! This was a big deal since he was normally a very quiet, refined gentleman who never really spoke much to anyone other than to exchange a cordial greeting. Although I was very confident and the result of my work spoke for itself, I still was not too popular with the newly appointed General Manager who was part of the old guard mentality of working your way up the corporate ladder from an entry level position. I think she called it “paying dues” which she was not aware that, in my mind, I had already paid through my perseverance in college and other positions that I held while putting myself through school. On a daily basis, I was constantly barraged with her trying to make my life difficult at work and those ‘mean ol’ ladies in the Administrative Office’, which was what I privately nicknamed the two administrative staff charged with packaging the financed deals that were to be sent to the banks. These ladies constantly taunted me with their underhanded actions against me. I am certainly not an ageist. Their nickname was simply a result of a twenty-something year old just entering into the workforce who thought they should have had more self-control and dignity than to try and break my spirit and interfere with my livelihood. Unfortunately, wisdom does not always come with age.

These ladies tried everything possible to break my spirit and to make me feel devalued. They tried over and over again to botch air-tight deals that I brought into the company; by “accidentally” losing and/or delaying paperwork that they were supposed to process and deliver to the banks. They constantly “miscalculated” my bonus checks. All along, what they did not know is that I used their venom against me as my motivation to succeed. It just so happens that during this time I was dating a self-proclaimed: “… top salesman in the entire United States and quite possibly around the world”. I was attracted to his confidence and gained great insight from him; including assertiveness and a little trash-talking which, when done with the right amount of finesse, proved to be very effective in standing my ground among the haters. I continued to be a top performer and continued to add to the company’s bottom line. Eventually, I assumed the role of the Finance Director after my mentor decided to accept a higher level position at another company.

Although we never became BFF’s, the General Manager and I worked out our differences to the point that she eventually told me that she admired my tenacity. That spoke volumes and was enough of a success story for me. I guess she finally realized that I was not a pushover and was more than qualified to do the job. The real moral of this story that I want to get across is that, if I had listened to the haters and had not known my own self-worth, I never would have experienced that rewarding job opportunity. To this day, that was one of the most challenging, yet the most impactful position that I have ever held in my 25+ year professional career. I learned how to navigate office politics and effectively manage conflict in the workplace while gaining invaluable tools about the car and banking industry which I still utilize today. What is more that the General Manager and those other ladies back in the day did not know about me is that I am a child of God. And as a child of God, no one can ever tell me what I am worth because God already told me that I am priceless in his eyes. My destiny is of God and no man (or spiteful mean ol’ ladies… ) will ever be able to steal my joy or diminish my self-worth. I would therefore encourage any person, whether you are just starting out in your career or are in your twilight years; always know your worth, work hard to be the best you can be, stand your ground, and do not ever settle for less than what you deserve!