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Defining Your Authentic Value

Picture this: you're a neurodivergent adult navigating the choppy waters of the professional world. You find yourself in a constant state of anxiety, where advocating for yourself evokes a sensation akin to a profound drop on a roller coaster. After hitting "send" on that email or completing your sentence, you wince, almost afraid to see how the other person will reply or react. What if the response is negative?

If you can relate to this experience, know that you're not alone. Advocating for yourself, whether it's pitching yourself for a job position, requesting accommodations, asking for a raise or setting fair rates for your work, can be daunting. It's not always as simple as the common saying, "the worst they can say is 'no.'" Negative reactions, scapegoating, and gaslighting can make us question even the most valid requests.

As an autistic woman with over two decades of navigating professional life, I understand this struggle far too well. Raising my rates or asking for a raise has always been a daunting task, even when it's the right thing to do or aligns with industry standards. This struggle is particularly evident for disabled freelancers within the disability community. We are still existing in a world where agencies and individuals who hire us -- even those working for people with disabilities -- react as if our service rates or salary requests were unreasonable. These experiences have made me question my self-worth – am I overvaluing myself? Is what I'm asking for unreasonable?

For many years, I undervalued my time and expertise. I accepted salaries below the market value for my job positions, influenced by the notion that being paid at all was a privilege, even if insufficient for a decent living. I would yield to pressure when faced with complaints about my fees, often conceding to minuscule offers just to maintain good relations.

Entering such territory (metaphorically speaking) can be perilous. Uncertainty casts a long shadow, whispering to leave your dreams behind. You may think it's just easier to give up. It might seem easier to conform to the status quo, accepting what you receive without questioning its fairness or adequacy compared to the value you provide.

I want to grant you permission to challenge this mindset. Allow yourself to ask, "Am I being compensated adequately and authentically for the value I bring?"

For career advancement, it's essential to believe in your worth and the impact you make. By acknowledging your worth and embracing your strengths, you empower yourself to navigate your goals with more confidence.

Now, let's explore practical strategies to ensure that your compensation aligns with the expertise and value you bring. Consider the following steps to effectively advocate for yourself in the professional realm:

Build a Portfolio of Achievements: Document your accomplishments and contributions to showcase the value you bring to the table. Having a portfolio of your work can serve as tangible evidence when negotiating for better compensation and asserting your worth in various aspects of your professional journey.

Do Your Research: Understand the compensation norms for similar positions, average rates for your services, and how they align with your current pay or offers. This diligence is especially important for neurodivergent individuals engaging in self-advocacy, as it helps guard against potential exploitation.

Seek Mentorship: Connect with neurodivergent mentors or professionals in your industry who have successfully navigated self-advocacy in the workplace. Their guidance and insights can be invaluable in understanding effective strategies and gaining the confidence to advocate for yourself.

Practice Assertiveness: Practice expressing your needs and desires assertively. It's crucial to communicate confidently about your worth and what you bring to the organization. This can help you navigate negotiations with a clear and composed demeanor.

Keep Emotions in Check: Negotiations can be emotionally charged, especially when discussing your needs. Try to remain calm and composed, focusing on the facts and your value. Emphasize how your skills contribute to the success of the team or project.

Know Your Bottom Line: Define your minimum acceptable terms before entering negotiations. Knowing your bottom line gives you a clear boundary and prevents you from accepting terms that undervalue your skills and contributions. Don't let the reactions of another person erode your self-worth; stand firm in the value you bring. 

Utilize Data and Statistics: When advocating for yourself, leverage data and statistics to strengthen your requests. This adds an objective layer to what you are negotiating, demonstrating that your expectations align with industry standards and recorded outcomes. A few good starting points are Glassdoor, Payscale, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Consider Non-Monetary Benefits: In addition to salary, explore other benefits that are important to you, such as flexible working hours, professional development opportunities, or health benefits. Sometimes, a comprehensive package can be more appealing than a higher salary alone.

Negotiate Holistically: Approach self-advocacy in the workplace as a holistic process, considering not only the financial aspects but also the overall working conditions and career growth opportunities. A well-rounded negotiation can lead to a more satisfying and mutually beneficial agreement.

Be aware, stay informed, and stand up for the value that you can bring to an organization based on your experiences, interests, talents and skills. Let go of worrying about how the other person will react. Instead of thinking, "I shouldn't have said that," consider reframing it as: "The other person may be experiencing insecurity due to the discomfort of having their perspective challenged."

Just ask with confidence. You might actually get a "yes."

Let's make sure you are getting paid for all of the value you bring to the world!

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