Any woman nearing middle age—or in denial that she is in middle age because once you hit 40, middle age is always 10 years older than you are—has learned never to ask the question: “Does this make me look fat?”
It’s, of course, an unfair question because if you’re asking it, you already think you look fat. So basically you’re asking the recipient of your question to either lie or hurt your feelings.
The wise nearly middle-aged woman simply says to herself, “so what if my ass looks huge, these pants are fun and I’m going to wear them anyway. I’ll just pretend I’m Kim Kardashian.”
I left that question in the closet long ago, but recently I discovered a new question even more loaded: “What are your salary expectations?”
After two months of job seeking, I’ve realized that unlike the fat question, this one is entirely unavoidable. In conversation you could maybe dance around it, but how often does that happen? No one will talk to you until you fill out the ridiculously long online application that asks you about everything from your first job as a teenager to your blood type.
You may be able to skip answering what gender or race you are, but the salary question always has the dreaded asterisk, and under no circumstances can you trick the application software into getting past that asterisk.
No matter how you answer, you’re probably screwed. Shoot too high and you trigger an online filter that tosses your resume into the virtual trash bin. Shoot too low and six months into the job you realized everyone else at your company is making $10K more than you and your manager is still patting himself on the back for getting a bargain when he hired you.
Also, unlike the fat question, you may not know the answer. Career experts would say it’s all a matter of research. Know the market, know the job responsibilities. It’s not that simple though because oftentimes it feels like the real underlying question is “what do you think your worth?”
I’ve spent endless hours contemplating this question. If I ask this much, am I undervaluing myself? If I go this high, am I egotistical? I waver between desperately wanting someone to hire me and not caring how low the salary is to thinking I’m way too valuable for the measly amount someone wants to pay. It’s that same pendulum swing I had as a teenager when one moment I thought I looked fabulous and the next I felt like a fat cow.
Not surprising really. Essentially, aren’t the fat and salary questions about the same thing? Confidence in yourself.
We spend a lifetime trying to determine our value. How many times do we ask ourselves “am I worth it? “It” could be a new love, a salary, a new pair of shoes, an ice cream sundae. It doesn’t really matter what “it” is because we still question whether we deserve it.
When we finally realize we are more than dollars and cents and that to the people we love are more valuable than we ever imagined we could be, well, that is priceless.