You Don’t Deserve It



People inherently want to be liked, to be a part of a pack. Being part of a pack validates and calibrates our self-worth, and seems to cushion our very existence from some very harsh realities.

‘Calibrates our self-worth’. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

For me, being a part of a pack afforded safety in numbers, cultivated my acceptance, and ensured my place in a social stratum.

The American Heritage Dictionary, Fifth Anniversary Edition: Hardcover


Possessing the characteristics of resembling closely; similar to: Your house is like mine.



To take pleasure in; find agreeable or congenial: We all liked the concert.

An instance of indicating one’s liking of specific website content: I see my comment got lots of likes.

A feature or option, usually a button, that enables this: I installed a Like on my blog so you can subscribe to updates


Meriam Webster


To electronically register one’s approval of (something, such as an online post or comment) for others to see (as clicking on an icon designed for that purpose)

[Brittany] Bunker then thanked the 477,000 people who had liked her post for their support …— Natalie Cornish

Social Networking keys off of this inherency in people. Facebook ‘Likes’ have become a sort of bellwether for acceptable norms. It impacts one’s thinking, and slowly bleeds into overall society. The more ‘Likes’, the more accepted the pack and the better one feels. Less or no likes, or even worse, negative comments, mean rejection, condemnation, causing depression, and in some cases even spur on suicide. I have an entire section coming up on social networking and the impacts on what reason is trained to think.

But back to the point.

What did it mean to me to be ‘liked’? To me, it meant going along to get along. Not going against the cult of personality, and not punching up against the gravity of expectations. For my life up until that point, I had been a horizontal thinker, as had been the pack around me. Get an okay paying job with okay pay and benefits. Follow the same trends as everyone else and follow the same set of norms. Do what was expected of someone like me not born into a certain financial or social stratum.

In 2004 I responded to a job posting at a Federal IT contracting company. The position specialized precisely in what I had been crafting my career to be up to that point, working Tape Robotics and Storage Area Networks. I arrived at the company’s office in a suit and tie. For about ten minutes I waited in the lobby. Then, my point of contact arrived, a plump matronly woman with pursed lips that attempted a smile. I’ll call her Ethel. Ethel ushered me to a conference room, and promptly sat on the other side of an oval glass table there.  Her forearms resting on a blue folder, Ethel extended her right hand.

I smiled and extended my hand before sitting down.

“Your W-2, please,” Ethel said coldly, her hand still outstretched.

Ethel had required I bring a copy of my W-2 for proof of income. You see, Ethel wanted to remove the leverage of negotiation. She wanted to set the salary as close to my W-2 as possible, maybe with a few thousand dollars tacked on. Though I wasn’t as naïve as I had been when purchasing my first car, I was still somewhat timid in pushing back on such requests.

Never, ever bring your W-2 to a job interview, even upon request. Once you do this, it removes all leverage, and telegraphs everything a potential employer need know about the sort of potential employee they might be dealing.

“So, your wages for 2003, $110,000. We won’t do more than $115,000. Is that amenable to you?” Ethel ended her sentence with a brief nod and a twisting smirk on her face.

I sat there, said nothing, and just nodded.

Ethel squinted her eyes, tilted her head, and continued. “Okay, good. Now here’s our benefits package…”

As I listened to Ethel drone on about Health Packages, and three weeks of vacation for the first year, and the 401K matching, all I did was breathe and swallow.

See, what Ethel didn’t know, what Ethel didn’t ask, was what my salary was for 2003. I was doing field service work for a major IT vendor. This IT vendor had a particularly good year in 2003. My W-2 did indeed show $110,000 for wages. I was working around the clock that year, up to 80-hour weeks sometimes. If Ethel had taken the time to ask what my salary was instead of demand to see my W-2, I wouldn’t have said $110,000. I would have told her the truth.


That major IT vendor had such a great year, field service was granted unlimited overtime. And I took it.

There is a point to this. Again, stick with me.

About three years later Ethel emailed me. I had since left that company, and had moved on to another Federal contractor for a larger salary. I was doing pretty good then, learning the game, honing my methods and building my metrics. It turns out that Ethel and her former manager had left that company too, and were starting their own. After reading Ethel’s email to me, and already having received a call from our shared former employer warning of Ethel’s potential poaching of former and current candidates alike, I knew with who I was dealing.

Ethel’s email was nice enough, though it carried the similar patronizing tone. In her email, she told me that Company X would offer me $120,000 with similar benefits to what I had, and to reply at my earliest convenience if interested.

I thought for about five minutes, and then crafted my response. It consisted of the following:

  1. $150,000 salary
  2. Five weeks vacation
  3. I would be willing to listen about their benefits package.

Clicking ‘Send’, I only had to wait another five minutes for a response.

Ethel replied with one short sentence. “That salary, you don’t deserve it.”

A little shocked, I sat there for while. I eventually typed three sentences in response. I read them. And then I read them again, and then a third time before clicking ‘Send’.

My reply, “Getting the salary that you want has nothing to do with what you deserve. It has everything to do with what you can get. Thank you for the interest.”

There would be no reply to this. Though Ethel had an awful personality, I still think fondly of her to this day.

Ethel, I can’t thank you enough.

In regards to salary negotiations and expectations, I was no longer a part of a pack. I was a lone wolf, and was raising expectations in ways that some would find outlandish and therefore my desired results impossible to achieve.

But they weren’t impossible to achieve. I had changed my thinking testing the limits. In interviews, I carried myself as if I had ‘been there’ before. Like a lone wolf, I was more lethal when negotiating salary. When salary expectations seemed unreasonable to a potential employer, and there seemed no road to equitable compromise, I would thank them for their time and be willing to walk away.

I had become a vertical thinker. Every negotiation I went into, whether success or failure, calibrated my self-worth. I did that. As a vertical thinker I didn’t look to the left or right of me for validation.

I looked up.

Getting the salary that you want has nothing to do with what you deserve. It has everything to do with what you can get.

This is my mantra.




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Be a Taker: An Unapologetic Account of Getting the Salary and Equity That I Want, Essay II
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