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Meg and I were lunching, as we often do, and I was being a good ear – only putting my executive coaching hat on occasionally for an old friend. The young company she’d joined a few years ago – that had allowed her to break the glass ceiling into the inner executive ranks – had just been acquired. I was expecting to hear about the long awaited cash out. But unfortunately, the CEO who had seemed so promising turned out to be a cad and was in the process of slowly, painfully, evilly, screwing the entire executive team – especially Meg and the CFO who was also a woman – out of their upside. The acquisition looked like it was going to be a financial zero for Meg and the CFO.

Meg really didn’t deserve this. She’s way too nice.

But Meg realized that this was, indeed, part of the problem. She was way too nice. She had been bringing up the issue of her options (which – having been awarded before the most current agreement – were valued differently than everyone else’s) every three months instead of every week, the way she realized she should have been doing for the last six months. She watched a male colleague in a similar situation walking into the CEO’s office daily and making a bit more – albeit not much – progress. As this all-too-female practice of being unobtrusive hit her as a bad idea, she nodded knowingly and said, “Won’t be making that mistake again.”

We explored ways she could speak her truth and strategized about how to approach the CEO, the other execs, the board and the acquiring company to save the situation somehow. I had to agree with her assessment that even if she won, she wasn’t likely to “win” full compensation based on the contracts in place.

But to my surprise, Meg wasn’t hugely upset. She admitted that she’d worked hard to get beyond the anger, but that another factor had been at play, one I could relate to. You see, for both of us in the “startups that didn’t pay out as promised” scenarios, it hadn’t really been about the money.

How to Create Personal Victory

Meg reminded me that when she’d taken this job she’d had one kid still at home and the other newly in college. She’d been looking for a financially stable position while the kids flew the coop, a break into the executive ranks and a chance to build out a methodology she’d been developing in hopes of going out on her own someday. She had known this company was a risk, but it had offered her opportunities to accomplish all three of these goals, and she’d made a conscious decision that those three goals were worth the risk. Her decision wasn’t really a traditional work-life balance tradeoff, but a multidimensional tradeoff choice.

Here at lunch, a few years later, she had to admit that she’d accomplished all three of her goals. Her kids were out and (almost) paid for, she’d nailed her VP role and her methodology was proven and documented. She even had a bit of a name for herself in certain circles outside the company for her forward thinking in the field. “So,” she said, “I can’t be upset. I got what I came here for.”

Of course, part of me is mad on Meg’s behalf for getting financially screwed by an egotistical and short-sighted CEO, as is she. But when faced with the choice to be bitter or see the upside – which reinforces her sense of personal power and mastery in an otherwise powerless situation – I have to admire her greatly.

Who says it has to be about the money?

Maybe Meg and I have just been around the startup merry-go-round enough times to know that the big payout is more a dream than a reality. Or maybe, we both have worked for the money enough to realize there’s more to life and our careers than that. In any case, I totally resonate with her reasoning. In my career, I’ve taken lower paying contracts for the experience and been happy about it. I’ve also been unhappy sometimes, and talking to Meg, I was reminded of what makes the difference.

When you make a conscious decision – setting your intention clearly in your career and in life – you own the responsibility for your choice. From that point forward, it’s not about them and what they “do” to us but about us and our decision to act – or not. Make a conscious decision about something, fully aware of how the situation may resolve – in your favor or not – and you’ve protected yourself in a powerful position from the idiots and the bad luck and the powerlessness of waiting for “them” to make it all better. You’re in your own power – InPower.

There’s nothing more powerful than a person conscious of the choices that have led them to where they are in this moment. Our choices only get better from here on out.

My hat’s off to Meg the Powerful!

What’s your experience? Have you taken the money and regretted it? Has the conscious decision paid off for you even when the job didn’t? Is this a uniquely feminine perspective of balancing money with other aspects of success? Do you see our career choices are more complicated than just “work-life balance” decisions? Share your story.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Group rates available for the Speak Your Truth to Power eCourse launching October 24. Contact me for more information.

This post originally appeared on the Reclaiming Leadership blog. Check out my new self-service women’s leadership coaching website: InPowerCoaching.com.

Dana Theus