Compensation and Ostriches. An Homage to Year-End

With the year-end coming up, our calendars are filled with year-end tasks and planning for next year. When I was a partner at a law firm, this time of year brought with it not only business planning and budgeting for my practice group but also planning and budgeting for me personally. This was the time of year that everyone started whispering and hosting hushed conversations behind closed doors. The topic?


Partnership compensation and “points” and associate compensation, raises, and bonuses (oh my!).

While some years it was an exciting and happy time for me, in other years, it was fraught with frustration and anger, particularly after I made partner. As a partner, year-end meant the dreaded year-end partnership meeting where we would analyze our performance over the prior fiscal year, scrutinize our practice group projections, and learn about compensation structure for the next year. As a partner, I knew exactly how much my counterparts were receiving in compensation and I could see how many hours they billed the prior year. Whenever the performance and compensation charts were projected on the screen, the room would become hushed, faces carefully guarded and reactions withheld.

Everyone was making mental notes and judgments.

I hated those meetings. I told myself that I hated them because of the way they “made me feel.”

I once talked to a well-seasoned partner about the meetings and my frustrations with compensation—So and so doesn’t really bill that many hours, it’s all inflated….so and so gets additional points every year but does nothing to earn it…she only gets a raise every year because she brown noses to all the right people—and he told me that he stopped going to those meetings or reviewing the compensation sheets altogether. He told me that it wasn’t worth the mental anguish and frustration and it was better not to know.

Now there’s an idea. The good ‘ole ostrich approach.

Instead of anguish at year-end, I could opt of the whole charade in favor of blissful ignorance.  I could skip the meeting, burn the compensation sheet, and avoid weeks of stewing and mental judo. I could just keep moving forward, unmolested by irritation! Ta daaaa!

But I just couldn’t do it.

While I can certainly understand the sentiment Out of sight, out of mind, it just didn’t resonate with me, as a woman and significant minority in my role at the firm, to not know how I was being treated in comparison to others. What kind of advocate could I be if I wasn’t looking at the facts? As my coach had always told me: 

Look, See, Tell the Truth, Take Authentic Action. 

If I wasn’t looking and telling the truth about the circumstances, how could I take authentic action in my career?

So, I started examining my discomfort with those meetings and the thoughts driving those feelings.

It boiled down to all sorts of nasty thoughts that created feelings of anger and resentment—This isn’t fair…women will never be equally valued…no one values the work I am doing here…I’m not one of them so I don’t matter. All of those thoughts hammered my brain for weeks after those meetings. It wasn’t the meetings making me feel terrible, it was my thoughts about those meetings.

Once I made that connection, I was able to change my thoughts and shift how I was showing up. Instead of simmering in anger and resentment, I started to think—

This is a huge opportunity for me to be a voice for women…this is my chance to be honest and have difficult conversations with the Board…I can learn so much from this opportunity to ask for what I want and to be honest, no matter how difficult. 

Rather than stewing in the indulgent emotions of bitterness and resentment, I chose to look at the facts and take action. Sitting in my feelings of anger and resentment were getting me nowhere. They were making me withdraw from work, lash out, and spew bitterness to anyone who would listen. Those feelings were indulgent for me. They felt appropriate. They felt important. But they weren’t moving me forward. That was the problem. Instead, I told myself I could be angry and bitter for a few days and then I had to get to work managing my mind and shifting to thoughts that created authentic actions.

I’m not saying that when someone is feeling under compensated or mistreated, they should put on a happy face and “think positively” about it. What I am saying is that, often times, when we face challenges at work, we choose to wallow in indulgent emotions (bitterness, resentment, anger, jealousy) that don’t move us forward. We get stuck because we believe we are being wronged. We sit in those emotions because they feel so true. I’m not saying it is okay to be under compensated or mistreated. Rather, what is wrong is basking in those feelings for the sake of being a victim and indulging in those emotions so we don’t have to move forward.

After shifting my thoughts about the situation to ones that made me feel strong and confident, I was able to have the discussions that really mattered. I came into those discussions feeling confident in myself and I left the anger and resentment at the door. By shifting my thinking, I was able to show up in a more authentic and productive manner. I didn’t explode, I didn’t scream and yell or pull all sorts of dramatics. I used the situation as an opportunity to grow, an experience with a different kind of bravery and vulnerability.

I asked for the compensation that I wanted, and I spoke my truth.

I am a better person simply for having that difficult conversation.

As year-end meetings come upon us and we encounter year-end reviews or compensation discussions, be aware of your thinking and how it is making you feel. If you are upset or unhappy, allow yourself to feel upset and unhappy but don’t camp out there—don’t indulge in those feelings. Consider other ways to think about the situation. How is this situation pushing you to grow? Consider how you would handle the situation in the ‘perfect world’ and slip into that persona. Find thoughts that allow you to wear that persona for a day—what would you be thinking? What would you be feeling?

I can guarantee you the thoughts that are going to carry you forward are NOT the ones that cause you to feel angry and bitter.

If you are stuck in bitterness and resentment about your work or your compensation, I promise you that those feeling are never going to spur you into the types of actions that will get you the results you want. If I told you that road would never lead you to success, why would you choose to keep driving?

Coach with me and learn how your brain may be what is holding you back from taking authentic action and moving out of indulgent emotions.

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