I'd like to believe that there's no room for ego, competition, or jealousy in even the most genuine, ride or die friendships.
We subconsciously compete with so many people on a daily basis: the over-zealous new graduate with the shiny Master's degree in something avant-garde like Entertainment Engineering, the old classmate who has to be on like her third vacation this year and posting her Bora Bora bungalow on Snapchat, these thirsty Instagram models who seem to spend their days twerking in infinity pools and tagging your boo Kofi Siriboe.
Issa Rae was right on the money with her message that insecurity can hit you anywhere, anytime, and over the most random things.
Luckily most of the time, it's fleeting and you scroll a bit and get a reminder in the form of a validating quote that reminds you that you run shit and you got this this thing called life. When it comes to feeling inferior or out of place, that last place you expect to have those feelings is in the company of your girlfriends. But there's one topic that can instantly turn any exchange into an awkward dance of, "I do OK…" and "I make a decent amount for what I do."
And that's the salary conversation.
It usually comes up when a friend lands an interview or a promotion. She may excitedly tell you about her new roles and responsibilities, the perks of free lunches, and even the cute shadow boxes she plans to decorate her office with. But when it comes to climbing the career ladder, we'd inevitably be lying if we said we were all in it for passion and making a difference.
"Difference-making" doesn't pay for bungalows in Bora Bora. So it always makes me chuckle a little how we all seem to stumble around directly stating our salary, even with our closest friends.
Why does how much (and definitely how little) we make, make us so uncomfortable?
In "The Real Reasons Millennial Women Don't Talk About Their Salaries", author Arianna Davis says the salary conversation is so painful because, secretly, women are competitive. She references an Angela Rye podcast, which featured sports anchor Jemele Hill in which she discussed that the anxiety surrounding the coins conversation is often rooted in jealousy:
"There are a lot of people who don't want to share their salary information because they don't want other people to have that come up. If I tell her that I make this, she might make the same as me, and I don't feel comfortable with that. So some of it is rooted in jealousy."
Davis goes on to share an uncomfortable truth that many women can probably relate to:
"Hill's words pushed me to confront an ugly truth: A part of me doesn't want to discuss my salary with others because I'm competitive. Deep down, I worry that once I open that can of worms, there are only two outcomes, and I don't like either of them. One, the person I'm talking to will make more than me, which would make me want to figure out how to make what they make. Or worse: I'll make more than them, and they'll try to make what I make. Which would somehow make me less...special?"
When it comes to jealousy, especially within our circles of friends, most of us would like to shove it in a drawer under the period underwear that only get used once a month, and deny it exists. But whether it comes to divulging intimate details about your coins, love life, or everything in between, the first step to clearing the awkward air is to confront and acknowledge jealousy and competition.
It's natural to feel the occasional twinge of jealousy and resentment. It reaffirms that we still want more and better for ourselves and are still growing. It only becomes a problem when you live with jealousy on a daily basis instead of living your own life. Have I been jealous when hearing a BFF's salary and learning she doesn't have to make the hard ass choice of getting the store brand bathroom cleaner or Scrubbing Bubbles because payday isn't for at least three days? Hell yes, but usually that quickly passes and I remind myself that my professional path and paycheck are custom made for me and I'm cool.
Thou shall not covet my homegirl's Target cart and shall appreciate all that is going on in my life and what I bring to the friendship besides the petty and played out "Who Is Doing Better At Life?" game.
Look, I'd love for me and my homegirls to be getting our Girlfriends on slamming our credit cards on the dinner table like we've got the "Draw four" cards on lock after we've finished discussing the glamourous days in the lives of our careers as realtors, lawyers, and best-selling authors. But we missed the Mara Brock Akil boat and ended up overworked and underpaid as non-profit, healthcare, and retail workers. I thought about this as I listened to my sister vent yesterday after a phone call with her best friend who was currently in that stage when right after achieving a goal and landing her dream job, she immediately turned into Oprah and wanted to school anyone within 10 feet of her on how they too could be successful. She was expectedly obnoxious, something I told my sister would wear off along with the newness of the job. By the end of the conversation, my sister had fallen into the comparison trap as she questioned her own career path and checking account balance.
Her self-worth, professional goals, and career accomplishments were all being scrutinized because of numbers on a pay stub that everyone was hesitant to share.
Money conversations are awkward and it will always be uncomfortable talking finances with colleagues, family, friends, and even our spouses because we live in a culture where salaries and titles are associated with personal value and self-worth. It's the reason we can share graphic details with our girlfriends about everything from yeast infections to childbirth, but when it comes to money, we start using secret code like we're about to spoil the last episode of Queen Sugar. It's because we believe only one of a few outcomes will result from the salary conversation.
Either our friends will think we're balling and expect us to foot the bill for every brunch, girls' trip, or Uber until the end of time. Or they will think we are unmotivated bums who shouldn't possess a Netflix subscription if we are doing creative math to pay a car note every month. Even actress Tracee Ellis-Ross recently shared in a Vanity Fair feature how uncomfortable it made her when fans were discussing her take-home pay when it was rumored a pay gap existed on the Black-ish set and she was paid a significantly lower amount than co-star Anthony Anderson:
"That was really fucking awkward. I don't know how that information got out. But I understand the interest because there is a larger, deeper, more important conversation going on that is not about me, but is about people being paid appropriately for their contribution and the work that they do, not because of their gender, race, or anything."
Stacy Lastoe believes, however, that sharing your salary with friends is a good thing and it's time that we normalize it. In "It's Time To Start Telling Our Friends How Much Money We Make" the author shares that awkward feeling that comes with conversations about finances with friends is universal:
"The thing is, talking about money is awkward. Correction: Talking about salary-related finances is awkward. It makes people feel uncomfortable."
"But when it comes to how you negotiated your latest job offer, you're probably more apt to say that you bargained for a couple thousand dollars (if you're apt to say anything at all), not that you got them to go up to 55K. Something about disclosing the actual number is unfamiliar and foreign-sounding. Somehow announcing, 'I got a new job and I'll be making 63K a year,' over brunch doesn't feel normal—for lack of a better word."
In a world of social media where context is lost and miscommunication occurs with every click, all too often sharing comes off as bragging, and telling too little comes across as shame or deceit. But Lastoe feels with #TimesUp taking the forefront in Hollywood and now other industries, discussing your salary with your friends may help you get what you truly deserve from your career in the long run:
"Knowing what other people in your field get paid is vital to stop the gender wage gap. And negotiating is more likely to become second nature during the job offer process if we talk about our earnings with others."
Whether your direct deposit amount is only on a need to know basis, or you're dropping the details about how much you made last year like Drake on a diss track, it's always healthy to exercise financial boundaries that best fit your friendships. It's why I don't lend or front money I can't afford to lose. I also don't attempt to "balance my friends' checkbooks," which basically means if they want to break the bank on On The Run II tour tickets and skip their student loan payment, I don't judge or offer unsolicited advice.
Lastly, and most importantly, I don't assess their self-worth on what position is listed on their ID badge or the value an employer has placed on how they spend their time eight hours a day.
If there's anything I learned after experiencing a number of promotions, one lay-off, several interviews, and basically watching my career perform like a damn ping pong table in the last five years, it's that we need to start investing a lot more energy, effort, and faith into the people and things in our lives that are unconditional. If my best friend wanted to jump up from her desk today and become a soybean farmer in Japan and make two cents an hour, it wouldn't make me look at her differently, as long as we could still schedule several saki happy hours over the year and I could still cry on her digital shoulder for several seconds every time Drake is rumored to be banging another big booty Instagram model.
If there's anything we can learn from the unfortunate suicides of celebrities like Anthony Bourdain in the past month or so, is that we shouldn't equate happiness or self-esteem with fancy professional titles or career accomplishments. I'm not saying abandon any career drive you have this second and say, "F my bills as long as my bitches love me," but I am saying that your family and friends should be looked at and valued through a lens of love for their spirit and what they contribute to the world besides their base pay.
When you create that type of energy in your personal relationships, you'll find that you'll be able to maintain your privacy while still feeling safe to talk about topics that would traditionally be taboo.
It's understandable if your paycheck is still a very personal and private thing. In a Refinery29 survey related to the article, Davis discovered more than 3,000 women ages 25-34 found that only 7% of respondents share their salaries with colleagues, and just 17% share that number with friends. However, what does it say about our relationships with ourselves and those we love if we feel as though sharing our salaries has that much of an effect on how we see ourselves and each other?
Maybe it's time we start redefining our worth on the things that matter most like the bonds we share with those who reaffirm that we are more valuable than any tax bracket we belong to.
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