Jaclyn Johnson is the founder and CEO of Create & Cultivate, the fastest-growing online platform and conference for millennial women in business. In her new book WorkParty, she recounts how she turned distrust into determination, frustration into fuel, and heartache into hard work — and how you can too. WorkParty offers a rallying cry for a new generation of women who are redefining the meaning of work on their own terms. In the following excerpt, she opens up about how her own success (and compulsion to downplay her salary) marred a romantic relationship. WorkParty is on shelves now.
We were carpooling, a relationship perk in the land of lonely commuting, and he was preparing for his one-year review at the company. I gave him a pep talk and encouraged him when he said he wanted to ask for a higher salary.
“I want to be making at least six figures,” I remember him griping.
I nearly choked and was able to get out, “Yeah! You definitely should be!”
He paused. Did he notice the inflection in my voice — the pause or maybe the choke? A few minutes went by and he asked, “Wait . . . What do you make?”
My stomach churned. I felt the power dynamic shift. I was making more money than him. And he had just caught on to that.
I tried to back-pedal. I told him I had just been given a bump to $105,000 (not true).* It wasn’t a big deal (not true). I tried to deflect. I told him it was because I lived in NYC and salaries were different there (somewhat true), but the worst part was, I didn’t just own it. I deserved that salary. I worked my a– off for that salary. That moment was a true low point, downplaying what I had earned to make a man feel better about himself. And yes, this makes sense in certain situations, but not in love and partnership and transparency, all of which are part of a healthy relationship dynamic.
Things changed after that. His rooting for my success turned more into resentment. Work became a taboo topic, and since we were coworkers, it was, of course, complicated and, slowly things got worse.
He dumped me two months later. He just looked at me and told me he never loved me and so on, so forth. The breakup was brutal but probably exactly what the doctor ordered for his broken ego. He made me feel small, not special, and not important. He seemed to want me to be disposable because I had power over him. The setting of this chat, BTW: my Prius. The same location where he had learned I was earning more money than him. It was a smart car all right. One that knew exactly what I needed.
Months later, I found out a few things from someone at work that threw salt in my healing wounds.
When I revealed over coffee that I had been dating the Corporate Climber, our former colleague scrunched his face. “I just feel so bad telling you this,” he told me. “I sat in on a meeting where he blatantly said you should be let go. He said you were the last to be hired, so should be first to be fired.” This is NOT, I’d like to note, anything like “slow to hire, quick to fire.” His logic, which my bosses had clearly listened to, is not good biz advice.
I felt like I was going to throw up. I couldn’t believe it would come down to that, but it all clicked into place. The picture became clear— who he was and who I became around him became crystal clear. Shortly after I had revealed my higher salary, my alpha male partner could not cope with this information. He was in a meeting, one where I was conveniently left off the calendar invite, and advocated for my position to be terminated. And the rest, as they say, was history.
The Corporate Climber’s true colors had come out. He liked that I was successful, but his ego didn’t want me to be too successful and, god forbid, more successful than him. Who I was and, more importantly, who I was trying to be shattered the narrative his ego had assigned to me. Good-on-paper doesn’t always translate to happily-ever-after.
Some men, especially men in the workplace, cannot separate their egos from who they are and what they say they believe. For a year, the Corporate Climber was my number-one cheerleader, told me he loved me, and lobbied for me to make waves in my career and the company we worked for. But once our relationship reached critical mass, and once I broke the script he had assumed for me, he lobbied for me to leave. Leave our workplace and our relationship.
*This is a lot of money. I don’t want to downplay it or let you think that I am throwing six-figure salaries around unappreciatively. Salaries are not always linear or on upward trajectories. I was not yet twenty-five and making over $100,000, mostly because I was on the forefront of an emerging market that brands and businesses were starting to seriously invest in. It was equal parts skill, determination, and market opportunity (and yes, my working-class parents did ask me if I was dealing drugs). I’ve taken pay cuts since this time. I’ve made more since then, too. I know it’s an uncomfy topic. But I don’t want it to be, and we’ll talk more about money in the next chapter.