When I was 16, I worked as a lifeguard at the local tennis club. But this was no ordinary, lounging in the sun gig. When my one-hour shift watching the pool was done, it was back to work—-in an un-air-conditioned restaurant! Each lifeguard wore several hats: waiter, bartender, unofficial babysitter, and custodian. In addition to learning the name of each club member (so we could add it to the tab—no tips allowed!), we took orders, served lunch and concocted drinks. The drinks part sometimes included alcohol, which I suppose I served illegally, but at the time I didn't know it. On top of all of this, we maintained the cleanliness of the tennis and squash courts, bathrooms, and locker rooms. Every night that summer, I came home absolutely exhausted.

When the older lifeguards had gone back to college in early August, we were extremely understaffed. After only a few days of running around like crazy to make up for it, I had had enough. I promptly scheduled a meeting with the club manager, an older man named Bob. As we sat down together that August morning, I noticed he was sweating. I stated my case simply and to the point. I said, "Bob, I'm doing the work of three to four people here now. If you want to keep me, I want a raise."

He looked at me, chuckled, probably because I was so unabashed in asking, put his arms up in surrender and said, "Okay, kid. You've got it."

I like to think that experience helped shape my work ethic. But to my detriment, a lot of times, I end up taking on way more than the bare minimum. Take today for example: I am filling in for another editor while I try to make my own deadlines. But back then, when it came to negotiation tactics, I had more guts. Maybe it was because I was such a novice, I had no one holding me back, or maybe because it was such small potatoes.

What have your experiences in taking on too much been? Where do you draw the line between paying your dues and being overextended?

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