Where might you be settling?
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
Do you settle for scraps in your life?
You can listen to this essay as audio here
Happy Sunday, Soothers. I was minding my business the other day when in my friend Slack (so essential to my well-being these days) somebody shared this article about Shonda Rhimes and why she moved from ABC/Disney to Netflix.
The short version is this: She’d been in some tense negotiations with ABC overall, and one day was planning a trip to Disneyland. As part of her deal she had two all-inclusive passes to Disneyland. She requested one more for her sister so they could join her for the trip. They gave her a hard time about that apparently (like, why? but just wait…) but did it. But when the family arrived, the ticket didn’t work. Rhimes called an exec to get it sorted.
“Instead, the exec allegedly replied, “Don’t you have enough?”
Rhimes was beside herself. She thanked him for his time, then hung up and called her lawyer: Figure out a way to get her over to Netflix, or she’d find new representatives.”
As the article by Sarah Todd of QZ points out,
The real issue in this story isn’t the money at all, but what the ticket back-and-forth symbolized. Rhimes felt she was working for a company that haggled with her even over trivial matters, and tried to shame her when she asked for more. The executive’s question — “Don’t you have enough?” — is the kind of guilt trip that managers often use to try to discourage people from asking for raises or otherwise advocating for themselves.
Under a certain type of employer’s logic, it’s simply in bad taste to ask for what you want, rather than settle for what you get. And women, particularly Black women, who violate that norm may be penalized accordingly.
Michaela Coel, the creator of HBO’s critically acclaimed TV series I May Destroy You, recently told a relevant tale about her attempts to negotiate 5% of the copyright on the series.
Coel recalls one clarifying moment when she spoke with a senior-level development executive at Netflix and asked if she could retain at least 5% of her rights. “There was just silence on the phone,” she says. “And she said, ‘It’s not how we do things here. Nobody does that, it’s not a big deal.’ I said, ‘If it’s not a big deal, then I’d really like to have 5% of my rights.’”
In this case, the executive was trying to downplay the importance of an issue that was clearly important to Coel — and, in so doing, letting Coel know that this wasn’t the kind of place that sufficiently valued her work and talent.
This article got me on a thought spiral in general about what it means to ask for things, to feel like you’re asking for “too much,” to have conditioned yourself with settling for less than what you feel you deserve or wanted.
It’s something I see all the time in people I know and work with, and for a long time was one of the biggest blockers to my own fulfillment and success:
The idea that it was right, it was moral, it was good, it was enough… to settle.
In my life, the way I was settling for scraps was multi-fold. I most often did it in romantic relationships, telling myself that I often wanted or needed too much and should be grateful that anybody was dating me at all. If you know the story of how I got together with my now-boyfriend, for years I settled for the emotional scraps I got through our friendship, telling myself that I was lucky to have that, that I could eke out what I could, sustain myself on those morsels, even though I was starving for more.
But I did it in career, too. I had four weeks of vacation? Wow! My employer gave mothers six weeks of maternity leave? Nice! I “got” to work from home once in a while, or take time off to go to therapy? Damn! They had free snacks? Awesome! I made over six figures? I should feel lucky, and it was crazy to ask for more, since I already “made so much.”
Looking back at those bare minimum standards of today’s corporate environments and of the skimpy emotional allowance we allow ourselves and others, I see so deeply the conditioning that stems from the virtuousness of settling for scraps. The conditioning that praises us for making ourselves and our needs small. The conditioning that calls us greedy when we want to earn or make more money, or go on vacation for weeks and months.
Like the line from that ABC exec (who, let’s hope, got fired): The shamefulness of the statement directed towards an audacious woman: “Don’t you have enough?”
As I reflect more and deeply on this concept, it’s impossible to not see the ways in which our own society and government encourages us to settle for scraps, too.
- Pay massive premiums for healthcare that doesn’t do all that much to keep us healthy (I think of this quote from Vanity Fair’s AOC profile: “As a bartender, she did buy a plan, paying $200 per month, she says, for the “privilege” of an $8,000 deductible. Same, AOC. Same.)
- Feel grateful for mere weeks of parental leave, when we should be receiving months and years
- The idea that we must cut out the symbolic “avocado toast” or lattes if we truly want to be making more money, that it’s on us
- The way we look sideways at ambitious women who’ve decided to abandon scraps
- The funding or lack thereof that’s given to community resources, mental health, education
- The constant messaging around how we should be grateful for everything we already have
- The way in which we’re constantly discouraged for asking and advocating for more
Wanting as shameful, sacrifice as virtue.
Of course, if we are conditioned societally to be settling for scraps, it makes sense that individually we will also embrace this approach for ourselves. Nowhere do I see denial of needs, wants, and dreams more than from individuals, particularly those of us raised as women. The harshness with which we often speak to our own selves about our desires and ambitions; the judgment of others who go after the thing we do not permit ourselves to think ourselves capable of.
When I dream about the world that I hope we will be building/rebuilding after this election, it is one in which we encourage limitless dreaming; one where we’re taught to tune into our yearnings as a map for our lives; one where having needs and getting them fulfilled is a norm; one where shame is abolished both as a tool of oppression and limitation and as an excuse we use to not go after the birthright of our desires.
One where we nourish ourselves, and, as a result, our communities and the lives of all around us.
Life is not a pie. There aren’t only a certain amount of slices to go around. We all get to have what we want, what we deserve, what we dream of.
Even you. Especially you.
But you have to decide for yourself, and all those that will come after you, that you want it, that you deserve it, that you’re worthy of it.
As you can see, society isn’t going to do it for you. In fact, society as it’s currently set up benefits from you not going after it. Because then they get to convince you that the scraps they’ve given you are enough.
So are you ready? Are you prepared to dream for 2021 and beyond and shed beliefs and excuses that hold you back?
I hope so. I’ll be rooting for you, not on the sidelines, but in my own parallel path, cheering you on with words of encouragement as I do the same work for myself.