Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Last Saturday

Last Saturday I met a friend early in the morning for a cup of coffee and a walk afterwards. There's a new(ish) coffee shop right around the corner from my house that has access to a hiking trail nearby. My friend and I settled down with our black coffees (we're both trying to cut down on sugar and lose some weight) in the bustling little cafe and had a chat before going on our walk.

Naturally, the subject of work came up. I confided that the day before I'd heard someone (who would know) mention that the school secretary makes $***** per year. This is the secretary whose job our new principal asked me if I was interested in, set up a time to meet with me and talk about it, and then hired the day before our interview. I'd gotten over not being given a chance at the job, but then when I found out what a huge increase in salary it would have been for me, I got mad all over again. It felt good to vent to a friend about it. 

But then, in the course of the conversation I mentioned how much of a difference making almost double my current salary would make in my life. My friend stared at me for a few seconds with something like astonishment (and horror) written all over her face and then exclaimed, "You mean you only make $***** a year?!"  Um....yes. 

She sat looking at me for a few more seconds, made a few halfhearted suggestions about asking for a raise, and then completely changed the subject. She spent the next 20 minutes or so talking about her upcoming trip to Mexico (her third international trip in less than two years). I finally interrupted to say we'd better start on our walk if we were going to get one that day. I didn't feel like listening to her talk anymore right then.

I'll be honest, the whole exchange stung a little bit. I know she didn't mean to hurt my feelings; she was just too surprised to be tactful. But here's the thing: wouldn't a real friend understand without being told that a school attendance clerk makes a whole lot less money than a university faculty member? And she's married to an engineer, to boot! It's hard to believe she's never noticed the difference in our lifestyles, but she does tend to be a bit self-absorbed. Well intentioned, but self-absorbed. 

I also know I'm a bit over sensitive where money is concerned. I grew up poor, and as a kid it embarrassed me. I guess that's what triggered the small wave of shame I felt when she acted so shocked that I don't make more money. I'm approaching 50 years old and I'm still dealing with emotional issues from my childhood, which seems ridiculous. Does it ever end?

33 comments:

  1. Best to avoid politics, religion, and finances…sorry but true. Sorry about this experience.

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  2. P. s. I was an adjunct at u iversity…my friends who taught full time did not make as much as I made teaching school…when I lived in S C, I sat on the writing board at Francis Marion…those teachers did not make huge salaries…

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  3. Sorry for the sad experience. Word of advice from an HR person, never talk salaries or pay rates with anyone other than immediate family. Treat it as Need to Know Information only.

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    1. Well, I didn't actually tell her how much money I make...at the start of the conversation I DID mention the salary the secretary makes, and then a while later said it was almost double my salary. She did some quick mental arithmetic and came up with the number. :( I normally never, ever talk about finances with anyone other than my husband.

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  4. It can always be a stingy thing talking about salaries with people. I also think people should be more conscious of situations. I think many people would feel just as you did Jennifer.

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    1. Yes, I was more offended by the fact that it's so obvious that there's a huge difference in our lifestyles, and when you've been friends with someone for literally years, you'd think they would have noticed and would have been a little more sensitive.

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  5. Your friend was out of order. Totally. You did the right thing in curtailing the conversation and suggesting getting on with the walk. She sounds a bit insensitive.

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    1. Yes. I try to not notice or comment on the flaws of others, particularly my friends, but this person is terribly self centered. Usually when we get together with our group of friends (we're in book club together) NO ONE can get a word in edgewise. She talks about herself non-stop.

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  6. I am with Rachel there. You did the right thing, and you have NOTHING to be ashamed for. Quite the contrary - you started out poor (which was not your own "fault") but look at you now; you are happily married, have a beautiful home that really IS a home to you and your family; you are decent, hard-working people with big hearts, caring about your friends and neighbours.
    The only time money as a topic ever came up in my circle of friends was when during one of our girls' nights out one of the ladies announced she had paid off her mortgage and her apartment was now finally hers. No numbers were mentioned, but we knew her parents had helped, and were happy for her.

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    1. Thank you Meike. Yes, I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. We're hardly wallowing in abject poverty over here, in fact, compared to most of humanity we're unbelievably rich. Our only debt is our mortgage, and it's already halfway paid off. We save carefully and don't use credit cards or live beyond our means. I'm proud of what we've accomplished.

      That said, it's difficult to avoid twinges of embarrassment and shame that bubble up to the surface occasionally when you grew up feeling slightly "less than" other people. And if I'm honest, I occasionally have twinges of envy, too. It seems like most of my friends can easily afford things (like travel) that are out of reach for me at the moment.

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  7. People can be so insensitive. A long time ago, I was working in marketing for a software company. Our 4-person team was having coffee together. The VP was looking at ads in a trade magazine. He read out a salary and said, “Who would work for such shit money? How can anyone afford to live on that?” It was my salary. By the way, it does get better, but it never goes away completely -- at least in my experience. But, it makes us who we are.

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    1. Thanks Mitchell. That example you gave was just about perfect. Of course, she didn't ask how I can live on such "shit money" (nor would she ever be so rude) but it seemed like she was thinking along those lines.

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  8. I completely understand what you are saying. I too see as what your friend remarked as insensitive. Friends are imperfect, but moving on, if you feel you are up to the position of school secretary, then start applying. I think you and I know you could do the job. But it will probably be high stress.

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    1. I'm actually overqualified for the school secretary position. When I first got hired at the school, in the only available position at the time, the principal who hired me told me I was far, far more qualified than the position demanded, but that if I wanted the job, it was mine. I've been thankful for my job every single day since then. I made more money managing a retail store, but my schedule is wonderful and I get LOTS of paid time off. That's worth a lot in itself.

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  9. Years ago my parents taught me to never, ever reveal to anyone how much money I make. It's been good advice for a lot of reasons. I'm sure I've violated it here and there but it remains true that talking salaries, even with people who are friends, is a minefield.

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    1. See my comment to Dave above. I didn't actually say how much money I make, but because of some things I did say (without thinking) she was able to do some mental arithmetic and come up with the number. She should have been discreet enough to not say anything.

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    2. Yes, agreed. Her reaction was tactless.

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  10. I'm so sorry that your friend was insensitive, sounds like she may not know what not having money feels like. I hate to say this, but at 61, I am still dealing with some childhood issues with a counselor. I feel that way, too, does it ever end? I don't know the answer. I am sending you some good vibes.

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    1. Yes, she has no concept of living without money or struggling to pay bills. She can blithely decide to visit Ireland for a week, then go on a cruise to Mexico a few months later without thinking twice about it. And good for her! But a good friend (in my opinion) would be a bit more sensitive in how other people live. She's didn't mean harm, she's just clueless.

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    2. Not sure what's going on in the cosmos, but it seems like re-evaluating "friendships" seems to be a common theme for me and my ride-or-die friends of late; we all have other friends whom we are just no longer going to see. Sounds so snarky or snobby, but, if you don't add value to my life, and cost me so much energy to endure you by being routinely unpleasant to be around, I will just remove myself from your life; I just simply fade away. I know some people don't mean harm, but they seem to cause harm, regardless. I just won't abide that anymore, I do not have the energy.

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  11. People can be unintentionally cruel. I include myself in that. My friend Tony never gets to see his two grandchildren because of his difficult daughter and I found myself talking about how much time we have with Little Phoebe and how easy our access is. Afterwards, I apologised.

    By the sound of it, you have the intelligence, organisational skills, experience and resilience to become a school secretary on a higher salary. Maybe you should be putting feelers out about how you can better prepare for this role - extra training, work shadowing etc..

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    1. When I was first hired I was told that I'm very overqualified for the job. I took a trade-off that I haven't really regretted since: less money, but a whole lot more free time and excellent benefits. I'm actually thinking about trying to get an admin assistant job at the district office when one comes available again. That would be the highest paid tier of clerical work, and I'm pretty sure I'm already qualified for that. We'll see.

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  12. That was such a shitty thing for the principal to do to you. I'm sorry your friend reacted with astonishment, but maybe she was thinking you are too talented and valuable to be paid so little. Emotional issues from my childhood still sting, but they've gotten better in the last 18 months with therapy and writing about them. I also cut toxic people from my childhood out of my life. Every interaction with them was unhappy, so I blocked them from calling/texting me and blocked them on Facebook. I'm kind of grateful they crossed a line that made me upset enough to know I couldn't have them in my life. Hang in there, Jennifer.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. I forgot to mention that after my friend acted so shocked at my salary, she talked (for the 10000th time) about what a fantastic raise she got this year, how it was the biggest raise ever, etc. etc. etc. THAT was kind of the cherry on top of her insensitivity!

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  13. I agree that money can be a touchy subject. I'm sorry that it came up and was an awkward and upsetting experience for you.

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    1. I'm not too upset about it, but it was nagging at me a little at the beginning of the week. Writing about it here kind of helped me get it off my chest, so to speak.

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  14. Money can be a very touchy subject, but man, for someone you'd assume was intelligent, your friend is pretty clueless.

    And your principal is an ass.

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  15. Mostly I do feel proud, Ellen. My husband and I work hard for what we have and except for our mortgage, we're debt free and have savings to tide us over in emergencies. Thank you for the comment!

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  16. I so agree with what Debby said. Sometimes you just can't understand what comes out of your friends mouth.... And your principle is an ASS

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  17. Yes she was a little less than prudent.
    On the other hand we have a taboo about money. This is too bad as it can bring out inequities. I would like us to talk more openly about money and get it away from our worth as a person.

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  18. Ur-spo said that perfectly. I however was trained well that it was the ultimate taboo and it is hard for me to discuss. Employers encourage the taboo so that they don't have to justify pay. For years that kept women and people of color from equal wages for the same work.

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  19. I want to reply to your question, " Does it ever end?"
    At sixty-one years old, I say YES!
    Okay, that's a qualified yes--I mean, not entirely... but have you met older women who just have a Zen-like lack-of-giving-a-fk?
    Starting at about 50, I started to morph into one of those women--maybe it was the change in hormones? maybe the approach of death gives perspective, without us even knowing? but in my fifties, I stepped out of some old shame like stepping out of clothes fallen around my feet. It was such a relief.

    I have a friend who declared on her 50th birthday that she was NEVER going to wear uncomfortable clothes again in an effort to look good. And she hasn't.

    So--of course our childhood shame is sticky--it may return sometimes--but I do hold out hope that it fades considerably.

    Your friend appears to rank quite low in Empathy Intelligence.

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