Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Heather Knows Best
If there is one thing I know well, it's career and work.
Scratch that- what I meant to say is that if there’s one thing everyone thinks I know well, its career and work.
This is why I get several messages slipped into my Facebook private message system asking me to help certain individuals find jobs, why I get Tumblr messages asking me about how much money I make (yep, that actually happened), why bums on the street stop me to chat me up since I look all properly dressed and whatnot.
Working is clearly my area of expertise. It’s a famously known fact that I’ve been employed since I was 11. What few people know about this is that it was a very conscious decision on my part. I remember sitting with my parents when they asked me if I would be okay doing this, being the assistant to the local Avon lady who happened to be my Mom’s friend. They told me I didn’t have to do it and there was no obligation to do so. I didn’t have to work at the time and certainly not at that age. I could have said no. Nobody was forcing me to go out every weekend and haul boxes up and down the stairs of residential neighborhoods or make change for $100 bills or take checks or bag the Avon books with the sample products.
Nobody but me. I knew at that very moment it was time to begin working, hop on board the train towards Career, that elusive constellation in my future. And so I did it. I agreed and worked as her assistant for 3 years. Then I took 2 years off, at age 14, to pursue high school and being a student before jumping back on the work train with two jobs that I would simultaneously juggle for the next 4 years. Which would be followed by another series of jobs, juggling act commencing once more until I got to the position I have now. All of this time in my life was a series of blood, sweat, and tears- both literally and figuratively.
There is an absolutely wonderful quote from none other than Lady Gaga in regards to career that if I were still in high school would have probably replaced the Yves Saint-Laurent quote I used in my senior year for the yearbook.
"Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you're wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn't love you anymore."
Gaga gets it.
My work is never going to leave me because it is me. I carry it with me wherever I go and it faithfully follows, guiding me down the roads I need to be on. When I started working full time, I began to slowly sign away my personal life because now I had my work life. If you know me very well, you'll know I haven't fully gotten rid of my personal life but that the line between it and my work life these days is beginning to rapidly close, with career triumphantly winning. Work fulfills me in more ways than I could ever possibly imagine. I felt very alive when I am working, especially when writing which is what I am so lucky to be doing right now. I'm addicted to working. I rarely take days off. Vacations are an art form that is lost on me. I enjoy it for about a day and then I start thinking too much about what I need to be doing. I don't understand how people can go on vacations for upward to 10 days without chewing their hands off.
This all being said, I have some words of wisdom for the Class of 2011. Beyond just this class, these words apply to a broad range of graduates in general. I can't imagine these words will be too popular with everyone because I won't sugar coat it for you. I'm optimistic, yes, but I am a realist above all things. Nobody in my life held my hand when it came to growing up so I refuse to hold yours too. Does it hurt yet? You have to learn how to grip your own hand tight if you ever want to be fully independent and stand on your own two feet.
Life after college, for the vast majority of you, is going to fucking suck. Particularly for the group of you paying your own student loan bills. And rent. And car insurance. And maybe stuck in credit card debt. Basically, you're going to watch the little amount of savings you had go up in smoke and after that occurs, you're going to have to build your own version of Rome. It will not happen in a day and will require you to do a little something feared by many a Daddy's Girl and Mama's Boy: WORK.
The biggest piece of advice to benefit you right now?
Get your head out of your ass.
Consider this your Golden Rule.
There is a hideous problem recurring with so many young adults I know (and read about) today. Especially those who attended private universities. They don't like to look for work. They're lazy. Many of them have had the very unique and enviable position of being able to ride on their parents' coattails financially. Some have had vanity internships that undoubtedly their parents helped procure with money exchanging hands. Others are already settling down to get married, which is fine in normal "we've been together for 2+ years" circumstances but fucking insane for those who have only been dating their significant other for 7 months or less. An overwhelming amount of people I've read about have extremely low self-esteem and constantly need to be reaffirmed that they are "SPECIAL! UNIQUE!" over 'n over. A good chunk of these people still don't know what they want to do yet. An even better chunk of them still believe they can be a writer or baker or lawyer or astronaut not because they studied in that field but because "mommy said you were good at that."
The most absolutely infuriating and horrifying part I've witnessed is that virtually each and every single person I've seen graduate with little to no prior job experience in their field has become enraged that they aren't getting the exact dream job they fantasized about in said field (say, since they were a 10 year old boy in their bed...) with an $80,000 a year salary to go with it.
Remember the Golden Rule: Get your head out of your ass. I know. It's safe there and your farts smell positive and reaffirming. But after awhile, when you hit 25 and still aren't working anywhere and your parents are still helping you make car payments and student loan payments every month, the shit is going to hit the fan or in your case, your face.
Follow these additional rules in looking for and getting a job:
1) Your Dream Job Has Expired
Dream it, you can be it!
Kind of not really though.
Your dream job has undoubtedly changed some since you first conceived it. When I was very little, my dream was to become an artist. This was all based off of the fact that I drew the following three things exceptionally well:
a) a train
b) a nativity scene with a baby Jesus that looked suspiciously like a loaf of bread
c) Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson
I scrapped the dream in favor of writing when I discovered I had more of a knack for producing consistently good sentences that made sense and entertained at the same time. My writing over the years has changed considerably; I will not write my depressing poetry from my semi-Goth phase anymore, for starters. A lot of it changed when I started to read books written by comedic writers. After 10+ years of reading hideously boring textbooks, I was determined to bring about great writing that teaches you something but remains interesting to read. I have my good days writing and my rip my hair out days. It's a nice balance that way.
Your dream job is collapsing. Getting it today means stiff competition against your peers and out-of-work job applicants that have a decade of work experience on you. The dream job you may have had as a child is probably already staffed by now and depending on the shelf life of the position (like beeper salesman) it might have already expired.
This means you need to have a plan B, a solid back-up occupation. Something you might consider doing that you didn't think you would do. For example, while I majored in journalism, I knew I would never become a reporter for a news station. My lisp would do me in. I stuck with writing and delved further into advertising after being inspired by both former CEO's of ad agencies that I had the pleasure of knowing and yes, copious episodes of Mad Men. Though my old job was soured by terrible upper management, I enjoyed being a copywriter very much and still have a great flair for writing descriptions on companies.
Social media on the other hand was always something I did quietly on the side and never considered pursuing as my career. It's funny to me that I didn't try to look into it sooner. I love blogging and Tweeting and reblogging with my Tumblr. When I received the opportunity to do it as a career, I remember thinking well this feels all too natural...why didn't I try working with this sooner???
As you can see, in the vast field of communications, I knew what I would work well with and played up those strengths and went from there. I also understood what I could not do and steered clear of it. This isn't advice everyone follows, because a lot of people still think they can pursue that childhood dream past its expiration date. If you can't do it, if you can't put the effort and time into it, and if it doesn't feel natural, don't do it. Don't be the artist relying on your 3 drawings to make it into the big leagues. Not gonna happen.
2) Handle Rejection Well
Love hurts and scars and so does rejection. If you've already been on the job hunt, you'll feel the sting for a long time. It might come back to you in the form of a standard mass-emailed letter or it might be a personal letter from a CEO explaining why you weren't fit for the job. You'll hate it so much and it might drive resentment into you to slow down the search for the time being.
Personal story time! When I was applying for jobs out of college, I applied for a position doing executive assistant work for a real estate company in Santa Barbara. The owner personally emailed me back, citing his issue with the fact that I had named my blog URL, "thevodkaasylum" and that it wasn't the image I wanted to give off to potential employers. Initially, I was offended. He didn't know why I named it that and didn't know anything about me. I was upset but the lesson stuck- I changed the name to "loveliesteyes" to match my Tumblr and have yet to receive a single complaint since. (On another note, his email contained a bunch of spelling errors- which I noted when I emailed him back, thanking him for his concern with my blog.)
Another story was a little something I read from the blog of Lauren Berger, The Intern Queen. One of her applicants wrote in a little gem about how her dream job is to be the assistant to Ellen DeGeneres. In the piece, the aspiring gofer mentions that, "Although tweeting Ellen D. daily has not paid off thus far..."
You Tweet her daily? For a position that will undoubtedly just have you filling her crisper drawer with fresh tomatoes and kiwi or picking up some scarves for Portia at Hermes? You and everyone else, sister. Aim a little lower next time- Ellen gets A LOT of retweeting and Tweets in general. She won't have the time to notice you above the crowd if all you're doing is Tweeting to get ahead and spending all of your time on one person.
Work with rejection by asking, if you're in the position to, what it is that you did wrong when applying for the position. I've seen everything from poorly written cover letters, sparse resumes and too-long resumes, even font sizes. Also a disturbing trend of entry-level individuals applying for senior positions that they don't have any qualifications for beyond the degree.
Follow the Golden Rule, kiddos.
3) Apply Everywhere
I got an email from a girl saying she applied to 10-12 positions a week.
I saw a Facebook status update from a friend who applied to 8 jobs in one day.
One of my Facebook friends wrote on his status that he was looking for a job and if anyone knew anywhere for him to work, out of his 1086 friends, to send that position his way.
Do these look like the actions of people who have applied everywhere?
When I was first looking for jobs, I started slow like this. Got zero response. Upped the ante, staying awake well into the burning the midnight oil hours. Would apply to 20+ positions a day, behavior I did on a very close to daily basis. I used to cry from how tired I was of sending out my resume, again and again, but my determination stopped the tears short. For every place of the 20+ I would apply to, I would probably hear back from 3 in return. Maximum.
It's terrible out there and hard, hard, hard. Don't let it get you down though. Keep plugging, keep going, and don't limit yourself. Nobody is above any sort of work despite what the caste system might have taught us. If you're going to be rebuilding Rome, it might need to start slow. Or maybe you need to look at it from a different angle. Positions you apply to might turn into something else, depending on how qualified you are.
Just don't rely on your 1086 Facebook friends to find you a job. That kind of laziness ain't flyin' with me.
4) Don't Wait For The World To Find You
Do you love writing? Photography? Art? Making jewelry?
There are a million websites that understand your love and offer great ways to showcase it. So get on it! Create an online portfolio of your work- even if it starts off crappy. It will improve with time, the more you keep up with it. The emotional growth of my own blog is ridiculous. I'm not the same kind of girl I was when I first started writing here. One of my first entries was about how I bid on and won a wedding dress from eBay as a dare. I look back and clap my hand to my head, Oh Heather! The back of yo' head is ridikulous.
Even though I've grown since then, I remember the kind of girl who wrote that post. She was proud of it enough to share it with the interwebz and was also a girl who was game to try anything once. She also just started blogging and didn't have a clue what she was doing and that this kind of post might not be the best one to start off with, but that's okay because she was learning. Portfolios showcase our growth, how we begin to strengthen our work over time. You can sit there and tell me how you think you're a great writer because "my Mom told me so!" but until I've got some URL evidence to support it, I'm not sold. And neither are future employers.
The world won't look for you- you have to look for it. Just like job hunting, it won't be easy. Start building a portfolio though and watch everything slowly fall into place. Your portfolio of work is going to be your golden ticket to getting what you want, how you want it. Your portfolio is your work which will lead you to your career.
Don't wait on it. Grab that Career constellation with all of your might!
Love to you all (from she who knows best),