What Kind of Salary Are You Looking For?

shruti, Mar 11, 2021 in Laddership Pod, Feb 2021

[On Wednesday's breakout call, we heard various inspiring stories, like this one from Rohit. In gratitude for the inspiration, some volunteers transcribed the sharing below.]


After not being aligned with my investment banking career, I ventured into the nonprofit sector.

When I joined, my recruiter asked me, "What kind of salary are you looking for?" Coming from my world, we're always trying to maximize, so I wanted a clean break from that transactional mindset. So I replied, "Whatever you can afford is fine with me." So they offered me a certain amount, I started and went on for a few months without any questioning.

Over time though, since I was in a general management role, I started working directly on HR matters too. Because of that, I could now see what everyone else was making! Rather shockingly, I started thinking, "Oh man, this person and that person is making more than me, but I feel I contribute more to the organization. That's not fair." And so on. 

Fortunately, I had enough awareness that I started laughing at myself, and the games that my mind was playing! Here I thought I wasn't motivated by money, but that only lasted for long -- even in the nonprofit sector. :) Here I thought I had broken out of comparison and competition mindset, but the signs were clear that I had not. 

On the other hand, I began to deeply question our systems of “compensation” itself. I felt that if someone is coming from a place of service, that's a priceless contribution. But what exactly is my definition of service? And how should resources be distributed in a group coming together to serve? Based on your college degrees, or your number of years of experience, or your needs or something else? Is there anything inherently more valuable in CEO’s service than a janitor’s? How do our organizational structures propagate certain behaviors? It wasn't all making sense to me, as I grasped for half-baked answers here and there.

During our annual review cycle, my boss said, "Hey, I think you are getting paid less." He offered me a significant raise. For a few moments, I wondered if it would address my core issues of money fueling my comparison tendencies, and systemic bias in our compensation structures. So just in that moment, this spontaneous thought came to me, and I said, "You know, actually, I just want to stop taking money altogether."

As you might imagine, it evoked some richly nuanced conversations. My boss, who himself has had a really inspiring journey, finally proposed, "Why not take your salary as a traditional employee, and then you can donate 100% of it to a worthy cause?" 

I thought further and I realized that mathematically it would give me the same result, but my time still had a valuation and my relationship to the organization would still be contractual. I wanted my time to be priceless and our relationship based on trust.

What is the inner transformation I need to cultivate, to consistently want my labor to be priceless? What kind of social ecosystem does it take to not only accept this kind of a priceless valuation, but to encourage it? And how does it interact with a more traditional market of extrinsically motivated rewards systems?

I didn't know, but I realized that the traditional NGO world didn't know either. I never quite understood how the NGO sector promised to quickly change lives from 1000 rupees donations, when I found it so difficult to make even the smallest change in my heart.

So I had to venture out of the NGO sector too, to continue my search.

In India, this idea of "labor of love" is quite foreign. First of all, labor is seen as menial work and not something you aspire for; and love is reduced to Hollywoodized version of it. So, to offer your labor as a gift, and still be able to go the store and buy your food, or hang out with friends and explain why accumulation of net worth isn't your dream ... these are all uphill conversations. Yet, this is what made the most sense to me -- to give without any strings attached, build deeper relationships because of those interactions, and trust in the subsequent emergence.

Who knows what happens next? I don't know, but now, I'm comfortable being in the passenger seat of a nature-driven ride.

If you'd like to join a similar circle, please explore upcoming pods.