Time to Figure It Out

I’m sort of at a crossroads in my career but also suffer from sever lack of hustle and financial anxiety. Let me explain: I graduated college in May 2012 with a journalism degree (haha, oops! In this economy!), and luckily landed an internship at a regional newspaper. At the end of that summer someone in the department gave their two weeks’ and again, being at the right place at the right time, I was offered their position as an editorial assistant. I’ve been here a little over a year and after getting shot down for a promotion to reporter a few months ago I can’t get over the feeling that I’m not doing enough to Further Myself, not to mention that there’s little opportunity for me to move up where I am now.

Some deets: I’m making just under $30K, I live at home, I’m still under my parents’ health insurance and have no debt from college. Half of my checks go into savings and the rest goes towards car insurance payments, gas, food, gym, cell phone bill, online retail therapy, etc. I’m lucky, lucky, lucky. I know it. But I’m petrified of moving forward.

I feel bad that I have no debt and am not using that to my full advantage by taking a risk career/life-wise and moving out on my own to another city. But I’m also scared to leave a job that’s secure to start over. Start over where? I don’t know. I have about $10,000 saved and I’m petrified that I’ll make one dumb move and end up living off of that until I’m left with nothing. Plus, my parents are the sort who are constantly concerned about me not making enough money, and it gives me anxiety.

So, should I stay or should I go? Is that a big enough safety net to take a chance, pack up and move? I’m starting a job search and I already feel so overwhelmed and under-qualified—as if what I’m doing now is the best I could get, and I was lucky to get it in the first place (hi, confidence issues 4 dayz). — M.

I’ve told this story a few times before, but I began my journalism career the day I graduated from college by flying to Washington D.C. to work as a congressional reporter for the radio, which paid essentially nothing and I struggled financially, so I moved back in with my parents while I worked at a trade publication that paid decent money, but where I felt bored and restless. My next decision was to move to New York where the media world is sizable, and I did that through grad school, finagling as much funding as I could get. What I couldn’t fund, I took out in loans, and then I packed two bags and moved. I did not foresee a financial crisis happening. I also did not foresee how resilient I would be during the recession, cobbling together what jobs I could to keep the bills paid, or that I would land a job and get promoted several times over the course of a few years and earn more money that I ever thought I would, and then be in the right place at the right time to have the opportunity to quit my job and work for myself.

The move to Washington D.C. at 21 was a risk, a leap of faith. Things didn’t work out there. The move back home and the adequate job I took at 22 was less a leap of faith, and more a time I got to figure out what I wanted to do next, which was move to a bigger job market in NYC. Grad school and New York was a leap of faith, and I took out some education loans to do it, but it eventually led me to where I am today. Sometimes plans don’t work out, and sometimes they do. You’re right, you’re at an ideal time in your life to start taking risks, and you should start taking them—once you figure out what you actually want to do.

You seem to be at the place I was at 22: Living with parents, working at an okay job, and saving money while figuring out what you want to do with you life. Should you stay or should you go? Well, before you can answer that question, you need to figure out where it is you actually want to go, and why you want to go there. And when you figure that out, you put together a plan, and you go. And if that doesn’t work out, you figure out another plan, and then you go again. It helps to have money while you’re doing this, and your savings will help you figure out whether the things you want to do are feasible.

It’s also important to note that everything I wrote in that first paragraph took place over the course of about a decade, and that it took a few years for me to feel like I was Making it. You graduated from college just last year—you have a ton of time to figure things out.

And to those who are still trying to figure this out later in life and feel like there’s no hope, one last anecdote:

In an interview with astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, chef, writer and world traveler Anthony Bourdain talks about living so much of his twenty and thirties broke, but happy. After dropping out from college, he found a home in the restaurant business, earning the respect of hard-working people as a dishwasher, and slowly working his way up. He never had health insurance, never owned a car, never paid his rent on time. He says he spent 10 years worried that whenever there was a phone call, it would be his landlord asking for the rent, or credit card companies asking for a payment, or the IRS telling him to pay his back taxes. And then he wrote a book that helped him turn his life around. He was 44 when he figured things out.

I have faith that you’ll figure it out, too.



24 Comments / Post A Comment

jfruh (#161)

Is there no middle ground between “living with parents” and “moving to big scary city after quitting stable job”? Perhaps for your own personal growth it’d be a good idea to stick with this job for a bit but find a cheap apartment in the city you live now. A transititional phase, if you will — maybe more expensive, but an important step in emotionally preparing you to make the leap.

raw money (#3,975)

I’m not sure I like the Anthony Bourdain story at the end. It’s very popular when giving advice to young people to say that [insert famous person here] didn’t have his/her act together until they were older. I think it’s perfectly fine not to have things completely figured out in your early twenties, but the fact is that if you live hand to mouth into your 30s, you’re probably not going to come out in a comfortable financial position. I’m not talking about the writer specifically, but most of us are not going to strike it rich in our 40s. Sure, take risks! But make sure it’s calculated, like the rest of the response suggests.

EDaily (#4,396)

I’m in my thirties and am considering a career change! Which I did not know I wanted until this year. It’s never too late to start over! (Just going to repeat that to myself.)

lemonadefish (#3,296)

I am pretty much a scardey cat, especially when money / financial comfort is on the line – but, it sounds like you’re in a great place to start a job search! Identify some places you’d like to live, try to find some jobs, spend some of your $10,000 flying out to do interviews (stay for a few days, and pack in several if you can arrange it). Not half as scary as just picking up and moving somewhere you don’t know you can find something…

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

There are a couple of options to consider.

1. Supply far exceeds demand in journalism. Although there are some high-profile success stories, the majority of newspapers are cutting back on their staffing. Therefore, you may wish to consider moving to a new field (e.g., IT business analyst or technical writer, training, corporate communications). To be honest, I think that moves within journalism are going to be limited for awhile.

2. I’d definitely avoid moving to a new city or a new country without a job established there. The Billford has provided quite a few stories about bank accounts evaporating after moving to a new city without any revenue coming in. And if you’re going to look for a media job, it may take longer than more business-oriented jobs.

Some good news is that journalism provides the communication skills which can transfer into other areas. One of my degrees was in journalism and I moved into IT after graduation. You’re definitely not limited only to working for newspapers.

jquick (#3,730)

Yet another post with someone who has an English, writing, journalism … degree. Why/how is this so popular? Are job availability and earning potential considered when deciding majors?

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@jquick if it’s helpful, I can tell you why I majored in journalism those many years ago.

1. Journalism at the academic level is easy. You talk to people, write down what they say and get your name in the paper. My journalism classes were MUCH easier than my computer science classes.

2. Working on the student newspaper gets you free tickets to sporting events, concerts, movies, etc. When I reported on basketball games, I sat literally next to the court near mid-court. I was able to talk with the players and coaches after the games and ate free press food at half-time. Very cool at the time.

3. You can make a practical difference in lives if you can write the right story. Administrators react to what’s in the paper if it’s something that they don’t want publicised.

All that said, there’s a big difference between writing for the paper in university versus writing for one in real life. But getting the degree is fun while you’re in school.

Ellie (#62)

@jquick My guess is that people who majored in journalism, English or writing tend to be the same people who write for, send questions in to and comment on The Billfold as well as other news sites on the internet. I would imagine that this kind of site (short journalistic pieces) has a wildly over-proportional sample of those types of degrees among their readership. There are lots and lots and LOTS of people who majored in fields that are more obviously conducive to job availability and earning potential, but these people are probably doing other things and reading or commenting on other websites, as opposed to writing articles for, writing into or commenting on this type of site.

amaeve (#5,095)

@jquick I will say that no one at my college ever even brought up the idea that we should consider how our majors would affect our future employment prospects.

And I actually really wish that I had majored in journalism, weirdly enough.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@jquick I majored in English, minored in math, and worked full time (for free) at the campus newspaper. I believe that formal journalism school is a joke — someone I know recently got a master’s degree in “publishing and writing,” which REALLY isn’t a thing — and I’m very glad I got an English degree instead of a journalism degree.

@WayDownSouth is super correct about the journalism picks, and I got to see behind the scenes at my college in a way I never thought possible. That curiosity extends into the world and we live in a GREAT time to be a curious and engaged person.

Journalism programs right now are scrambling to stay relevant and not accomplishing it. I think they’re handing out degrees at an equally ominous rate to law schools — and kids keep signing up because everyone likes the idea of “thinking” for a living or crusading for good or etc.

@aetataureate yes to curiosity etc. I will say though, WayDownSouth, you might wanna throw your program under a bus but my English major (that I declared very late) was very academically rigorous. Additionally, I’m not going to hate on my undergrad newspaper, but as someone who was doing actual public radio reporting, I can assure you, it was very difficult and a huge learning curve (on top of balancing a work-study job and other classes.)

I do agree with the “scrambling to stay relevant” but that’s not just true to journalism, and it is sad. Promoting a liberal arts education, where we care about stories, writing, truth, analysis and critical thinking IS important and just because graduate programs are pretty much falling prey to industrial complexes that churn out Master’s Degree holding students who can use Excel and make a PowerPoint (yes, I’m burnt out on grad school, sigh) doesn’t mean that the people in them are all slackers.

I might be a cynic but I’d rather Go Do Good than “not be evil.”

Ah, The Billfold comments, I missed you.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Carmen Aiken@facebook Yeah, pretty much everything @WayDownSouth said is my worst fear about j-school — but it’s worth noting that WDS doesn’t work in journalism now, so there’s hindsight at play, too. (I’m about to start computer science grad school, for the record!) What appeals to undergrads isn’t often what’s a Good Life Idea.

@aetataureate oh dude, I get it. I’m in policy/planning school and straight up, it is a battle to fight out my moony liberal self with like, wait, GIS, data is hard to learn.

Good luck to you! I hated on grad school for so long and thought everyone was just a wimp, but knowing CS people I realize how very strenuous it can be. Highly recommend “what shall we call grad school?” as it might match up more with your discipline than mine!

Stina (#686)

@Carmen Aiken@facebook As someone who graduated from policy/planning and is now on the employed side let me just tell you: It was totally worth it. Keep going! Yay you!

milena (#3,288)

I’d be much more interested in revisiting the rejected promotion request since that seems to be the trigger here– did they give you a specific reason why you weren’t promoted? It’d be good to know if it’s just inexperience, or if there’s no open position for you to move into/the budget isn’t there right now. You could always work towards building more skills and experience to make you eligible for that next level, and you can volunteer to shadow a reporter at work for, say, 6 months, while balancing your current responsibilities and keeping the same pay. As a supervisor, I’d be much more supportive of someone who’s not discouraged by a rejection, who shows initiative and builds a plan with a timeline to meet their goal. If you work your ass off for the next 6 months/1 year and your supervisor isn’t coming through for you/you’re not satisfied with how things are going, I’d definitely suggest a move, company-wise or location. (But you have to stay really on top of things– monthly check-ins, requesting constant feedback, produce high-quality work– you want to eliminate all reasons to do with you for why you’re not fit for a promotion.)

I would advise you to stay put and work really hard to optimize what you have going on. I was dissatisfied at my last job in a similar way, and I worked really hard for the 2nd year to try to earn that promotion. In the end, I left for greener pastures because I felt like the support system I needed to advocate for me just wasn’t there… But I feel good that I didn’t give up when I heard the first “no”.

ETA: Re-reading your letter, I honestly don’t think that a fresh start will do much to help you without an attitude/mentality shift. More reasons to practice turning things around for you at your current job, take more risks and “put yourself out there” (ugh) and if things truly don’t work out, start looking for a new job with more confidence that things can improve. Taking $10k and moving to a city like NYC (where the $10k will be gone basically covering your moving expenses, sad to say) without the “chops”, career ambition or sink-or-swim attitude will have you coming back home penniless in no time.

Roger Triton (#5,586)

I don’t understand why I keep seeing words like terrified and petrified being used in the articles on this site.

gl (#5,458)

@Roger Triton Probably because money (not having it, losing it, spending it unwisely) terrifies and petrifies many people. And major life decisions (moving to new cities, getting a new job) also terrify and petrify! And, for those of us (and it seems like the LW is a part of this group) who are terrible at the hustle they can be particularly petrifying, because of the lack of security involved with these decisions/issues.

@Roger Triton Also the world is hard and scary. gl is on it– people who have lived through trauma reinforced via not having money might have a different experience than you.

What is with these comments lately and the feelings police. Hijole.

slurry pump (#5,593)

I have faith that you’ll figure it out, too.

aetataureate (#1,310)

Ugh, can everybody just stop wanting to be journalists, please? Or writers, generally? The fact that we’re all pretty smart and curious and have been typing paragraphs since we were children is not the same as a good, reliable, or valuable career goal.

AirBuddy (#4,178)

@aetataureate As this letter writer actually has an entry level job in the field they studied in, I’m not sure if this is the place to be venting about the liberal arts crisis.

Also I might add, if you work with engineers, be ready for some… creative prose.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@AirBuddy Derp. I work in publishing and said upthread that I have an English degree. That’s not the situation here. Thanks though! Good thought!

I’m gonna be a warm fuzzy (despite my rough morning) and just tell you, preach Mike Dang: “You graduated from college just last year—you have a ton of time to figure things out.”

I spent so much time at 22 thinking I was a waste for living at home, that I couldn’t get a job in writing or publishing or journalism, that I’d wait tables forever. And I might. I don’t know! But, promoting Ask Polly over here, she basically had a line a few weeks ago where you have to remember: I am Very Young and I am Learning How To Live.

I think, and I would say my experience and personal life with lots of hot sauce over here, there is a very big urge for some people bridging this stupid Millenial generation, to compare ourselves to the past. You can’t figure it out, right? Like so many of your peers are full of debt and you were prudent or made your way through based on brains and hustle, and why aren’t we our parents or our mentors or our idols? Why don’t I have a job I’ll keep forever or a partner or kids?

I never believed my mother when she told me but she patiently explained that one, it was hard 20 years ago too. For everyone. And two, if she was my age in 2009 (22! WHEE), she would not have been able to live the life she lived. I mean, basically, it is better to be lucky than smart in this world, or connected, and the myth that we are gonna make it based on our merit is really hard to shake off.

You have so much time. Or you might not. But either way, all you have is now and that’s okay. Don’t take too much shit, but realize that all the shit you take will make you who you are. Take risks. You will be so resentful if you don’t. You’re not alone. Go read Ask Polly.

isabellebleu (#5,572)

@Carmen Aiken@facebook Hear hear! Excellent advice.
One more question that I would have for M, the letter writer – do they like where they are? This whole letter is about their education, career position, finances, fears about success. What I do not see here is reflection on their inner life. Is it nice to live with their parents? Are they enjoying a newer, more adult kind of relationship with family? If there are no hot, assured opportunities in another city with a sizable financial reward at the end of the rainbow, will it be the Worst Thing for their life to spend another year doubling their safety deposits in order to finance a move, and having a pleasant family life in the meantime? What about friendships? Isn’t there a friend or two, also floating in the miasma of post-college, pre-marriage-and-kids life, with whom our letter writer can enjoy growing a lifelong bond? I’m not dismissing financial or career fears, Christ knows nothing gets my knickers in a knot more than money, but assessing all of the non-monetary, non-career Good Things that this person likely has will probably help them just take a deep breath and be okay with this process of Making It, Whatever It May Be.

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