Career strategies of high earners

I mentioned in my last post that I read Barbara Stanny's “Secrets of Six-Figure Women.” Stanny interviewed 150 women who earn more than $100,000 annually and sought to find what traits, experiences and motivators they shared in common.

Unlike most books, this one didn't take me three months to finish. It's a fast read, and I think that has a lot to do with how relatable it is. I'm not saying I fit the bill for every six-figure trait Stanny has outlined; but you can't help but compare yourself to the high-earning women she's interviewed.

Although the book is meant to empower women, I think much of Stanny's research is every bit as helpful to men. Here are the strategies and milestones of high earners Stanny outlines in the book. Some of them hit home; others I questioned. Tell me what you think.

Declaring your intention

Stanny says all the high-earners she interviewed got their start by declaring an intention to profit.

“Each women would describe that point in her life when she says to herself, ‘It's time to make some money.'… When you recognize the power of the profit motive, you take your first major step toward financial success.”

Six-figures or not, I think most of us can relate to this one. At an early age, I decided I would grow up to earn a healthy living. There was so much we couldn't afford when I was kid; I wanted to be comfortable enough to afford those things as an adult. Whether it's getting rich, earning more or simply getting out of debt, I think most of us have experienced this milestone. For high earners, this is just the beginning.

Letting go

Stanny uses the metaphor of hanging on the edge of a cliff. If you could just let go, you'll experience all kinds of high-earning opportunities, but most of us are too terrified to stop clinging. It's simple: “You must let go of where you are to get to where you want to go.”

Sometimes the cliff is a low-paying but stable job. Sometimes it's an unhealthy relationship — the cliff is whatever keeps you from taking the plunge into success.

“How do you know when you've been holding on too long to a ledge? There's one irrefutable clue. Whenever you feel stuck, it's time to let go.”

In my decision to pursue a different career, “letting go” was the most difficult part. I had good friends, a decent-paying job, and I lived near my family. It was a great life, but I felt stuck. Letting go was tough, but it was worthwhile.

“Every successful woman I interviewed, when she finally let go (hard as it was), cited that single act as the springboard to higher earnings and happier times.”

As much as I can relate to this strategy, I also find it to be the scariest. Is it always a good idea to let go? Should anyone let go? What if you have children to think about? One part of Stanny's advice made me feel a bit less apprehensive:

“Take your time. Who says you have to rush into anything? Sometimes it's better to gradually let go of a ledge than to take a flying leap. That's often what most of the women I talked to did. Instead of going cold turkey, they released their grip little bits at a time.”

‘Get in the game'

Get in the game, just do it, power through — however you want to say it, I think this is the most important strategy on the path to earning more: the work. Stanny rounds up a few rules for trucking through the heart of the journey:

Decide which game to play

She echoes the words of motivational speaker Larry Wilson, who told her there are two games in life. “The one most of us are playing, called Not to Lose, is an avoidance game. We're so afraid of taking risks, looking bad, that we never really win.” The other game, Wilson says, is “To Win.” People who play To Win are willing to take risks and, yes, even expect some losses along the way. But people who play Not to Lose are more concerned with comfort and convenience.

“The desire to avoid fear … is what keeps most of us in the Not to Lose game — and in low-paying jobs.” Stanny writes.

Jump in

Even if you don't know where to start, it's important to just get started, she says.

“You don't need all the pieces in place or your route all mapped out … jumping in cold can be very scary … it's especially disconcerting at the very beginning, when you're not quite sure what you're doing … Unfortunately, a lot of people bail out before they realize how close they are to taking the prize.”

Keep on truckin', Stanny says, once you jump in.

I can't help but think of a personal example in which this advice is a little cringe-worthy. As a kid, my friend's parents opened their own business. It was killing them financially. After some time, the father wanted to back out, but the mother insisted they keep on trucking. Long story short, it set them back for quite a few years, until, eventually, they surrendered. Should they have kept going?

I hate to seem cynical and counter this empowering advice. But what do you think? When does “keep on truckin” become “feeling stuck”?

Grab opportunities

If you start the game To Win by jumping in and play it by persevering, you succeed at it by grabbing opportunity, says Stanny.

“I can't tell you how many of these women's success stories started out with a lucky break. The truth is, everyone's life is full of happenstance. The ‘lucky' ones realize that in every synchronicity lies potential opportunity and are quick to capitalize chance occurrences.”

Recently, I was talking to my mom about this. She noted that, when you make a financial decision — to start saving, for example — these “chance occurrences” are usually things that are always there. You just see them more clearly because you're focused.

A couple of other rules Stanny mentions: avoid excuses and ignore naysayers.

  • “Some of the women I interviewed had valid explanations for why they couldn't succeed … the true test of a six-figure woman is her refusal to buy into these pretexts.”
  • “[Naysayers] actually perform a valuable service. They come to test our level of commitment … if you're determined to succeed in spite of these killjoys, then you most certainly will.”

Thick skin is another rule. The author points out that high earners never personalize criticism. Anyone who writes for the Internet can certainly relate to that one.

Negotiate and speak up

Admittedly, this is the strategy I find most difficult. I've often bragged that I've never had to ask for a raise, but looking back, this isn't much to brag about.

“I heard this same rueful observation from virtually all the women who were slow to hit the six-figure mark. Call it the Lament of the Latecomers. Their greatest regret was their reluctance to speak up.”

I can recall one instance that should've taught me the importance of speaking up. I once worked in retail. My coworker bragged that she got a raise. I didn't, even though we'd started at the same time and both worked hard. This was the only time in my life that I've ever asked for a raise (sorry, I lied), and here's how my boss responded:

“Ridiculous. This is why I tell you not to discuss your pay. I've already given you a raise. I just didn't tell you about it.”

I kicked my sixteen-year-old self for speaking up.

However, I later discovered that she hadn't already given me the raise; paperwork proved otherwise. Maybe she planned on it, maybe, but she certainly hadn't done anything to initiate it. My coworker was earning more for a full month before my raise was processed. “If you wouldn't have asked, she would not have given it to you,” my Dad insisted. He's always encouraged me to speak up, and this should have taught me that lesson. Unfortunately, it's still something I'm working on.

All of the advice Stanny has in her book is powerful and inspiring. I can even vouch for the strategies I've had experience with.

But I can also understand how some of this advice might seem too risky. In describing some of it to my boyfriend and mother, they instinctively pulled back their teeth.

I can imagine some instances in which people “jumped in” and “let go,” and it didn't work out so well for them. I can't help but wonder, if she had interviewed people who “lost it all,” how many traits they would share with the high earners?

Again, I'm definitely not discouraging — merely questioning. While I'm not quite a six-figure earner, I think I've done pretty well for myself by utilizing some of these strategies. But I can see someone looking at them with a more skeptical eye.

So what do you think? Is “let go” and “jump in” necessary for women (or men) who want to earn more? Or can this backfire? Do you have experience with any of these strategies — if so, was it a negative or positive experience?

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