Back when I was in college, I worked nights at the local gas station. I knew how to do everything there and had more seniority than most. I certainly should have been making more than $6.95 an hour. It was right around this time of year (mid-December) and you know what that means… holiday bonuses were around the corner. At the annual holiday party, I was given my envelope.


The bonus was quite modest, but after all, I worked for a small operation in a very small town. I knew they couldn’t afford much more. I felt great about it all up until I heard from a fellow co-worker/friend of mine about how much her check was. Boy, I felt taken advantage of after that.

I’ve never been one to suck up to my boss, because the thought of it makes me sick. My relationship with my boss at the gas station never went any further than just the kid working there and the guy signing his paycheck. I’ve learned since then that if you don’t have a relationship with your boss/the one who’s paying you, you’re probably not going to be paid a lot. Tough luck.

I eventually transferred to the big city university to study business and upon graduating, I fell into an opportunity at another small business, smaller than the one I’d worked for earlier, but much more full of potential. I started out making double what I made at the former job, thanks to my big wig college education, but not as much as many recent graduates were making.

I could barely pay my own way as I was now in the “real world”. I had rent, utilities, student loans, gas, furniture and groceries to buy. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about here.

Over the next four years, I’d double my salary from barely getting by to being able to save enough money to quit my job. Reactions from friends and family went from “you don’t have benefits?” to “can you get me a job there?”. It was all done without kissing any a** either, if I may add.

How I Doubled My Salary in Four Years

I have no idea if what I did will work for you, but here’s what I did to double my salary in just four years:

I showed up every single day – In the six plus years I worked there, I didn’t once call in sick. I know you can’t help it when you’re sick, but sometimes you just have to plow through it and go in. This doesn’t mean I never took days off because I did. But I went in whether I was sick or not and plowed through it, for over six years.

I learned all I could about the business – I was a sponge that first year or two working there. I kept an ear turned towards my boss’s office day after day, learning everything about the company and what he was trying to build. I never turned down an opportunity to learn something new that could help me add value. Headphones? Never. I needed to be listening for opportunities.

I kept my boss’s interests top of mind – In addition to learning all I could about the business, I also learned about what my boss was trying to accomplish in the coming months/years. I’d start planning my goals/projects in alignment with his goals. I’d even help others build their plans around my boss’s agenda. After all, it didn’t matter what I or the other people on the team wanted, it only mattered what my boss wanted, since he was signing the paychecks.

I learned to NOT be selfish as much as possible – I think this one set me apart and might be the most important thing I did. I learned to not put my needs first. Back at the gas station job, I put my needs first. I didn’t care about the success of others, and that hurt me. But at this job, I learned to care about the success of others. For some reason, I had seen more success than most, and I wanted to help them all get to where I was.

So I started listening to others. I started showing them what I knew. I included them in on my conversations and asked them if they wanted to help with my projects. Soon, I’d become their “mentor” naturally. At my 3rd holiday party with the company, one of my favorite co-workers of all time actually started crying when mentioning how I helped her. From then on, it was game on with helping my co-workers. Even if it wasn’t going to help me, I knew it was helping them and that became important to me. *Miss ya Amy!

I learned to mingle and schmooze – I’m an introvert. I don’t really like talking to people (okay.. that’s not true), but I don’t care for small talk, especially on topics that I’m “not into”. Mingling with industry executives at conferences and conventions purely for the goal of impressing my boss and helping to create sales is probably on my top 10 list of most uncomfortable things to do. But, da’ gummit, I learned to do it and do it well.

Soon, this introvert was out drumming up all kinds of business, even though it was terribly unnatural. The trick is to just do it, even if you’re not that great at it. I wasn’t great at it, but just the fact that I was willing to do it put me miles ahead of most.

I asked for forgiveness instead of permission – After a year or two of doing all these things, I was the guy people looked to before acting. I was that guy people went to for help and who they looked to for making decisions. Why was this? Probably because I just made decisions, regardless of whether or not it was the right one. Knowing what my boss wanted to accomplish, (or at least thinking I did), because I spent so much time listening to what he was doing, I just started making decisions based on “what I believed he would do”.

And so I did this. Half the time my boss would come back and be unhappy with me for it, but the other half of the time, he would say “Hmm.., okay”. Often times, six months down the road from the decisions he didn’t approve, he’d come back and say, “Wow, that was one of the best things we’ve done here”. Sometimes, when you make decisions, they take months to actually show positive impact. Boy, those months can be hard too when your boss doesn’t especially believe in your decision.

My Overall Lessons Learned

All in all, it was the thinking about others and helping them that created the value for my boss. He and I had a good relationship for the most part without any a** kissing. In my world, that’s an IDEAL relationship to have with your boss.

One thing I never was able to do was “stay under the radar” and just do my job, quietly. I always made ripples, because that’s just who I am. Making ripples is how things get changed. I changed countless things, all the way from the way the teams were organized to the way three-quarters of the company used and shared information.

In order to increase your income, don’t think about entitlement. Instead, ask yourself this question: What can I do to create real value for my boss and this company/organization? And don’t ask permission, just start doing it. No one’s going to tell you what you can do to get paid more. If they do, it’s for a mere buck or two an hour raise. If you want to increase your salary by $20,000 in a single year like I did, you’ll need to think big thoughts like:

  • How can I change the way our team manages their day-to-day projects?
  • How can I change the attitudes of our entire team?
  • How can I create a new information system to track x, y and z and increase a, b and c exponentially?
  • How can I help Jane, John and Sally be more awesome?
  • How can I help my boss accomplish x?
  • How can I make some serious waves here?
  • How can I borrow/buy and read the book “Linchpin” by Seth Godin before work tomorrow?

Oh and by the way, don’t call in sick, unless you’re in excruciating pain, throwing up every 10 minutes or dying. If you’re going to put in 40 hours every single week and basically give up most of your life for your job, you might as well give it all you got, increase your pay exponentially and make a serious impact on both your company and all the people you work with. If you’re not doing those things, then what’s the point of it all? For a mere paycheck? Psssh. That’s no way to live.