Identity and Employment

Originally drafted for inclusion in Women2.0 as part of an “In-Hindsight” Founders’ Series.

Money. So much of our self worth is tied to little numbers on a page and job titles on a business card.

I got my start in healthcare many years ago, working an entry level job doing medical billing and coding for $15/hr. I worked my butt off at the role, being the best damn biller and coder I could be, but there were no raises, no bonuses and it didn’t take long for me to internalize the position as part of my identity.

Eventually, due to a geographical change, I had to seek out new employment. My next position paid $75k, had benefits, challenging responsibilities, the whole deal. All the attributes of a “real job” according to my mom.

So what did I do to bring about such a drastic change in compensation, and quality of life? I didn’t just graduate, there was no new certification, no nepotism, no added job skill that I didn’t already posses at my previous role.

It’s really more about what I didn’t do.

I didn’t move on when it was clear I had outgrown the role. I didn’t fight for promotions, bonuses, benefits, responsibility. I didn’t fight against my own fear and self doubt, insecurity. I didn’t address my underemployment, and under utilization with my employer.

Instead, I let that position define who I was, and what I was capable of, and I stayed there paralyzed in fear of the unknown for far too long. Looking back, it’s a scary place to be, mentally.

This comes to mind since lately I’ve found myself in a very similar situation. My current start-up hasn’t paid me in over two months, and against everyone’s advice, I stayed, working for free, out of fear. Fear of how will this look on my resume, will I find another job, what will my coworkers think of me? The devil you know is prefered.

If I removed myself from the situation, and looked objectively, it was easy to see the obvious: that company did not respect me enough to follow through with the most basic premise of our contract, and by allowing them to do so, I wasn’t respecting my own self worth. I like to think I’m learning, albeit slowly, and I left. My new job is promising, and I’m a little wiser when it comes to contract evaluation thanks to the experience.

When things are going great, I don’t give myself enough credit. When things are going poorly, I accept all the blame. Today, I’m more cognizant of that voice inside that associates my worth with my role, and I make an active effort to do the opposite. I write. I speak. I try things I know I’m not good at and I push myself outside of my comfort level. I make my voice heard, and I help others to find theirs.

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