Postcards from Ashinoko Lake

From the open-air hot bath, or rotemburo, on fifth floor of Hotel Musashiya, the overcast sky looks like light, fluffy filling of an expansive comforter. Half submerged in the wooden tub, I take in my surroundings: tiled roofs of gift shops and udon shops to the back, a decorative cruise ship approaching the dock to the left, and the placid lake opening up before me, framed on all sides by verdant hills of ancient trees. A tall red torii or entry gate to Hakone Shrine appears to jut out from the water, with its roots in the shallow outer edge of Ashinoko Lake.

I’ve been longing for and day-dreaming of this slow hot soak for five months back home in noisy and blistery Manhattan. White steam rises from still surface of the hot spring and evaporates into the damp spring air. It’s been raining on and off all afternoon, on our last full day in Japan. Charlie and I have been traveling through Japan for the past two weeks, trekking to many sightseeing destinations in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Yokohama. Now we are taking it slow and giving our sore feet a leisurely break at our final stop, at hot spring resort town of Hakone, southeast of Tokyo.

It’s misty out here. Misty, like the sentimental jazz standard I used to listen to over and over again on a CD player when I studied abroad here eleven years ago. I studied Japanese in college for four years, one of which I spent eating onigiri, or triangular rice ball; watching zany Japanese late night variety shows in my room; and sipping green tea at the kotatsu, a heated low table, with my host parents in Tokyo suburbia. I regret losing touch with the Kitas, who were retired but energetic and amusing couple back then. My emails to Mom Kita remain unanswered.

This trip allowed us to reunite with some of my dear friends from college years and make new ones during our travel. It was wonderful to catch up with old friends and rekindle our friendships, sharing meals, talking, as if the passing of time never happened. More later, now we go to grab our last dinner in Hakone. Pictures to follow.

Gratitude list

For the monster money tree that, in a span of half a year, sprang back to vigorous life from a bluntly sawed-off stump. Now it forms a natural barrier between the light and bed. It’s a jungle in here.

For the manufacturing ingenuity of Japan. It gave me good reliable things like the clear plastic nose pads that keep eye glasses from slipping down my low nose bridge.

For lunch with old colleagues. For recounting old workplace romances squelched and pondering coulda beens and woulda beens. For the unrelenting passing of time.

For that one time I was running late to an appointment and it was raining hard and I was wearing just a light jacket and had no umbrella and a stranger approached, extended his extra large umbrella above my head and for a whole New York City avenue we walked in tandem in the rain. We crossed the street together then we parted ways. For kindness.

For the flowers and chocolates and card and teddy bear that landed on my sister’s work station this morning. For her birthday.

For dreams dreamt, lived, and forgotten. For the misshapen jagged memories misremembered and mashed and mixed in the head like a chanpon soup in the murky hours of the night. For that bad taste in the mouth after waking up. For short term memory.

For acupuncture that magically lifts pain and pressure away from sore muscle and joints. For relief and peace. I am grateful.

Negotiating Sooner Than Later at Athena Leadership Center

On February 25th, I had the pleasure of reprising Negotiating Sooner Than Later workshop at Athena Leadership Center at Barnard College.

On the heels of last October’s hour-long workshop, February’s workshop was extended and improved, with mock negotiation sessions that addressed the here, now, and later of negotiation for college students. I addressed negotiation as a life skill directly applicable to academic life as well as useful in professional life — more specifically, for conflict resolution and for salary negotiation.

Barnard students practiced negotiating with a partner for mutually agreeable solutions in three different scenarios:

1) negotiating with a classmate to resolve time conflict while working together on a class presentation

2) negotiating as an intern to establish their value to a potential employer

3) negotiating an an employee for compensation

Each round was punctuated with open discussion on specific negotiation frameworks. Students took away specific tactics and word-for-word scripts for negotiating for mutual win outcomes.

I really enjoy facilitating workshops with college students and look forward to doing more in 2014.

How I bungled my salary negotiation, so you don’t have to.

How I bungled my salary negotiation, so you don’t have to.

Mistakes are great teachers, but very costly in salary negotiations. Let me share with you my biggest mistakes so you can avoid them.

Six years ago, I started a new job in a new field and totally bungled my salary negotiation. I knew next to nothing about this new field or how to effectively negotiate for myself. If someone told me then that I would one day be leading “Hands-on Workshop for Negotiation Prowess,” I would have responded with a blank and befuddled look.

In 2008, three months before the Lehman Brothers went kaput and the stock market had a heart attack, I was offered a position with “unlimited growth potential”, a junior analyst position with a boutique hedge fund. After two rounds of interviews, I was enticed by this “unlimited growth potential” and the image I had of rich and well-heeled finance professionals. I had no idea how the stock market or a hedge fund worked. I was young and naive.

At that time I was just a few years out of college and working as a buyer at a small beauty company. I made just enough to pay my share of the rent at a fourth-floor walkup apartment in the gritty part of Brooklyn.

When the hedge fund manager asked me for my current salary, I told him the exact figure without hesitation or questioning. I had this vague notion that this hedge fund manager — a complete stranger just two weeks prior — who picked me out of thousands of potential candidates, would see my unproven value, care about my career, and compensate me appropriately. I had confused his intentions with those of the many kind and thoughtful teachers I encountered in the sixteen years of my schooling. His only intention was to hire for cheap.

Then he asked for my minimum salary requirement. With little thought and no research into the matter, I blurted a figure that was just a hair more than what I was making at the beauty company. I lowballed myself.

Immediately, my minimum salary requirement became my starting salary. Only then, did I ask whether it was possible to negotiate. Asking a yes/no question at this point certainly didn’t help my cause. I got a prompt no. I was given a deadline to respond to the job offer, and I didn’t press. I failed to see and assume the power I had in this negotiation. Plus I was eager and impatient to leave my buyer job and start a new one in finance. My misplaced confidence had me thinking I would unravel the mystery of hedge funds once I got there.

So I took the low salary with a vague promise of annual bonus and started the job. Before I even had the chance to resent the long hours, the stock market crashed and I thought the world was coming to an end. For a couple of weeks, every day felt like a horror show. I was afraid to lose my job, so I kept my head down and barely spoke up. I continued to work with little sense of ownership and fulfillment. Gradually the stock market stabilized.

The silver lining in this story is that I managed to keep a finance job throughout the Financial Crisis. I stayed for two years and quit to pursue a new career with tech startups.

A recap of my mistakes for you to avoid:
1. My biggest mistake was failing do my homework. I was ill-prepared. I did little research into the field, the fund, and appropriate salary range before taking the offer. If I could go back in time, I would ask people I know or in my alumnae network for advice. Those who work in specific industries are generally open to sharing industry insights to newcomers and young professionals. I would also ask both men and women for salary advice, to avoid falling victim to gender pay gap. Do yourself a favor, at least know the going rate for your position in your specific industry and in your geographic area.

2. When asked for my current salary and minimum salary requirement, I gave the wrong answers. Only in hindsight did I realize that the best answer was to not answer. If I could go back in time, I would dig deeper to try to see if this was really a good mutual fit (it wasn’t). I would try to establish my value based on the new job description (in an ideal world, I would help write it, too, based on my research), not a previous and unrelated one. The value I delivered at the beauty company as a buyer doesn’t compare to the value I delivered as a hedge fund analyst. It’s like comparing a banana to turkey dinner, completely two different things. Do yourself a favor, don’t let your past limit your future earnings potential — especially if you’re entering a new field. If you can, avoid answering the minimum salary question, because your minimum will become your starting salary.

3. I hadn’t yet shaken my honor-roll student mindset. I thought that the manager would “take care” of me and reward me for my hard work. All I had to do was keep my head and voice down. I was wrong. Have you seen Scorsese’s latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street? Okay, so the hedge fund I worked at wasn’t that bad, but it had the similar ethos of a “wolf pit.” Every man and woman for him/herself. The hedge fund experience gave me the rich lesson that I am ultimately responsible for my own career. It’s up to me to assume power I already have, speak up, and articulate my value. No one will do it for me. So do yourself a favor, don’t pass up the opportunity to take charge of your career and negotiate for yourself.

If switching careers is something in the works for you in 2014, I wish you good luck. I wish that you avoid the mistakes I’ve made.

In the spirit of MLK Day, I challenge you to dream big. Go bold. Take action. Ask for it.

P.S. Gwen Taylor and I are working on an e-book on salary negotiation, full of useful insights and practical guidance to help you achieve negotiation success. So please stay tuned!

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 11.21.28 PM

Thirteen days of being thirty-one

I have thirteen days remaining in my thirty-first year. A purely coincidental palindrome that makes me wonder, what kind of person did I want to be at thirty-one when I was thirteen? I had no idea. Honestly, thirty-two, thirty-three, and beyond are all mysteries to me. What do I want to accomplish in thirteen days to make thirty-one something to be proud of? These are my last thirteen chances.

I wanted to write more than I actually did. I wanted to be more honest and vulnerable than I allowed myself to be. I wanted to travel more than I did. I take note that when I look back, I realize I never wanted to worry more about my pant size, about my bank account, or about the contents of my fridge. So I can worry less in the future about these things.

In the last thirteen days of being thirty-one in two thousand thirteen, I will meditate. Take time to be quiet, to be still, and to tap into the instinctual ocean inside me. In two thousand fourteen, when I am thirty-two, I want to trust myself more, be more reliable to my word, and continue to choose action over fear.

Negotiation Prowess at Inaugural Get Bullish Conference in Miami

Negotiation Prowess at Inaugural Get Bullish Conference in Miami

I woke up this morning dreaming of palm trees and a Miami sunrise along my jogging path. Had I dreamed it all?

Nope.

This weekend I spent a delightful 24 hours in Miami, where I led the seventh iteration of Hands-on Workshop for Negotiation Prowess at the inaugural Get Bullish Conference, produced by the impressive Jennifer Dziura. #BullCon blogger Emily Brown covered the event here.

Here’s a short video of yours truly, explaining what Negotiation Prowess means.

When we hear the word negotiation, the most common knee-jerk reaction is to think of money. And money is a sensitive issue, because we associate it with personal worth. Every time I speak on the topic of negotiation, I try to widen the scope of thinking around negotiation. In reality, we negotiate nearly every facet of our lives. Every day, we set and reset boundaries by negotiating conflicting desires and interests that we encounter in ourselves as well as in other people.

On the flight to Miami on Friday, I was reading “A is for A$$hole: The Grownup’s ABCs of Conflict Resolution” by one of my negotiation mentors, Victoria Pynchon. She defines negotiation as a

resolution of a problem by way of communication, and communication is not simply the language of words, but also of feelings, hunches and intuition…[and the] constant enemy of clear communication is fear.

I bookmarked this page, because it encapsulates the heart of my message in Negotiation Prowess. The message being, of course, that we need not let fear talk us out of taking action on asking for the things we desire.

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 3.45.25 PM

Fear blinds us into thinking we are more limited than we actually are. The intent of mock-negotiation sessions in Negotiation Prowess is to overcome fear through action, by practicing the ask in a safe space and being open to feedback for improvements. At #BullCon yesterday, the attendees and I had the great pleasure of engaging in mock negotiations at the pool-side cabanas of the Surfcomber Hotel. Not a bad way to grow the negotiation muscle.

miami113013-group

The caliber of attendees really impressed me. They hailed from all over the country and from careers in academia, international development, technology, and media. They are future leaders, founders and CEOs, who are serious about growing their negotiation skills.

At mock-negotiation session, I partnered up with a woman who initially thought she had very little bargaining power and was unsure how she could articulate her value to a prospective employer. But once we dug deep for her value, she found she had a lot to offer and great negotiation skills to boot.

“I’ve worked ten years in this field, starting from the very bottom and I’ve done just about everything at the company,” she said. “I know the median salary is X, and I would like to ask for the top end of the range, but I don’t know how to ask for that.” So I probed her a bit further, to see if she could back her value proposition with specific details, facts, and figures. “My role in account management is very hard to quantify,” she said.

So I asked her to tell me a story in which she played a crucial role in saving an account. She realized she had a great story to tell, of how she once saved one of the most widely recognized luxury brands from leaving the agency. She accomplished this through her calm demeanor and relationship management skills. She realized she could articulate her value by qualifying her skills, tying them to a specific benefit her employer received from them (i.e. saving a huge global account), and projecting confidence.

In the beginning of our session, she thought she couldn’t negotiate for herself. Once we got into the mock negotiation, however, she surprised both of us with how well she actually did. After countering my initial offer, she leaned back into her seat and calmly said, “well, I appreciate the offer. I’d like to think this overnight.” To which she later added, “Tell me about the company’s employee benefit program. Is there room for improvement in my vacation package?” From the perspective of a hiring manager eager to fill a position, the first statement creates a sense of urgency, and the second statement brings to the negotiation table non-monetary compensation.

I’m deeply grateful for many who made the Miami workshop possible. I’m really grateful to Carol Frohlinger, another great negotiation mentor who connected me to Jen Dziura. I’m grateful to Gwen Taylor, my collaborator and mentor who gave me the encouragement I needed to say yes to this wonderful opportunity.

2013 Fall update

2013 Fall update

Starting this month, I now work as Director of Business Operations at TreSensa, NYC-based mobile tech startup that leverages HTML5 to distribute game content across various platforms. TreSensa has been a consistent and generous venue sponsor for several of my equity classes and negotiation workshops in the past. It also happens to be where my life partner Charles Parra works as a SVP of Product. We are blessed in that we don’t mind spending about 23 hours out of 24 hours in a day within 10 feet of each other. I first started doing contract work for TreSensa back in May, translating games into Japanese. Over time, the scope of my work eventually increased to financial management, administration, and now content distribution. I went from working part-time to full-time. I feel very fortunate in that I’m able to use the full range of my skills — linguistic, analytical, and operational — in this new position.

I continue to hold workshops and speak on the topic of workplace negotiation for professional women. Two weeks ago, Hands-on Workshop for Negotiation Prowess, a follow-up to August’s workshop was held at Sapient Nitro. It was a great event featuring guest speakers Heather John, attorney at Reitler Kailas & Rosenblatt, Kim Baird, IT recruiter with Connections of New York, and Kim Rudolph, recruiter with Google.

Kim Baird, Kim Rudolph, Heather John, and Ji Eun (Jamie) Lee at 10/16/13 Workshop

Kim Baird, Kim Rudolph, Heather John, and Jamie at 10/16/13 Workshop

My goal for the workshops is to create community learning experiences, where knowledge is shared and skills developed through interaction among professional women.

It takes bravery to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. And courage to negotiate, or even mock-negotiate, for yourself. At this workshop, the attendees impressed me with their bravery, courage, and action.

Audience engaging in mock-negotiation 10/16/13 workshop.

Audience engaging in mock-negotiation 10/16/13 workshop. Yes, men are welcome, too!

I have a number of speaking engagements coming up. Next week, I’m leading the inaugural Athena Leadership Lab workshop on negotiation at Barnard College. The following week is a webinar on workplace negotiation for the Smith College Alumnae Association. Later in November, I’m leading another hands-on workshop for GetBullish conference in Miami.

Blessed with the abundance of work.