20 grand in 5 minutes
“So what would you like to discuss today?” I ask my coaching client at the beginning of our call.
“I’d like your help figuring out how to ask my boss for a raise,” he answers. He’s a world-class software developer making $100,000 a year, though in the general marketplace he’s easily worth $120,000, probably closer to $130,000.
“Okay,” I say. “So what’s your specific question?”
He says, “Well, just that: What would be the best way for me to ask my boss for a raise?”
I answer, “If it were me, here’s how I would do it: I would go into his office and ask him for a raise.”
I’m chiding him good-naturedly, of course — while also making a serious point. (He knows how much I care about him, so I can get away with it.)
I continue, “Is there something about the situation that I don’t understand? How else would you go about it? Is there any other way?”
“No, that’s about it,” he agrees.
I say, “What’s the worst-case scenario? Do you think he’ll fire you for asking for a raise?”
“No, he wouldn’t fire me,” he says. “Worst-case scenario is that he’d just say no.”
“Okay,” I say, “So what exactly are you waiting for, and why?”
Then I get down to brass tacks: “Here’s the reason why I’m being kind of flippant with you. I understand there’s something deeper at play. That’s not your real question. You already know the answer to that question, and you don’t need me for that.
“The real issue is that you’re afraid to ask him for a raise. So instead of asking how to do it, we need to be asking why you’re afraid to do it. So you tell me: Why are you afraid to ask your boss for a raise?”
He thinks about it, then explains, “When I was a kid, during the 1980s depression, my dad went through several rounds of pay cuts and layoffs. Money was always tight and his work situation was usually crummy (including working for crooks, or very demeaning bosses). But he seldom changed employers, unless circumstances forced him to.
“Watching him, I’ve created these implicit assumptions about work: 1) you stick with your employer, through thick and thin, 2) you can easily lose your job, and 3) if you lose your job, it will be hard to find another.
“So, until just recently, I have never asked any employer for a raise, although a couple had been very generous to me about them.
“I’ve often wanted to ask for a raise, but I always stop myself by thinking something like, ‘The project’s in a really difficult stage right now. Once we’re through that and things are looking good, I’ll ask.’ Of course, one problem gets dealt with just as another is coming up, so the time’s never ‘right.’
“The assumption has been that asking for a raise when things weren’t going perfectly smooth was somehow a risky thing (like, potentially losing my job).
“And that’s a weird assumption to have, when rationally, I know I’m one of the best—world-class, even. And rationally, I know I probably wouldn’t lose my job for it. And yet, I still have that deep reaction against the idea of asking for a raise.”
I’m nodding my understanding. “Yes,” I say. “Now we’re getting somewhere. You’ve always believed your hesitation was simply about practical concerns.
“But that’s never the case. Any time we’re hesitant to take bold action in any endeavor, it always comes down to our beliefs about ourselves. And our beliefs about ourselves are almost always created by childhood trauma.
“As children, we experience trauma, which causes us pain. Our ego then creates beliefs that are designed to prevent future pain. And that is the root of self-sabotage.
“But what the ego doesn’t know is that facing our pain is how we grow the most.”
After exploring his childhood wounds and his core beliefs about himself more deeply, he commits to asking his boss for a raise that week.
The following week, on our next coaching call, I ask him, “So how’d it go with your boss?”
He’s grinning from ear to ear. “He gave me a raise.”
“How much did you ask for?” I ask.
“30 percent,” he says. “But he only gave me 20 percent.”
“And how long did your conversation with him last?” I ask.
“About five minutes,” he answers.
“Okay,” I say, “let me get this straight: You just got a $20,000 annual raise based on a five-minute conversation. And you’ve waited how long to have this conversation?”
He laughs. “Yeah, I know. I see now how silly my fears were.”
I say, “And do you see how those beliefs have a tangible, measurable, and detrimental effect on your life? In your case, those beliefs have been costing you at least $20,000 a year for several years now. And simply by facing those beliefs, and the fear they created, you bumped your annual income by $20,000 in five minutes.”
My questions to you, dear reader, are these: How much are your false beliefs about yourself costing you? And what are you willing to do to face them and change them?