Being Entry-Level In NYC & Not Getting Fired

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In this week of Ask Chelsea Anything, I’ll be tackling two questions that are all about work: before you get the job, and when you’re facing the possibility of losing the job. So let’s get to it, and don’t forget, if you have a question for me, send it to askchelseaanything@thefinancialdiet.com.

I might have a good answer for you, and if nothing else, my robust career in being a hot mess might just provide a cautionary tale!

Dear Chelsea,

I’m currently a senior worrying about my future career.  I’ve wanted to work in publishing for about six years now, and I had two wonderful internships in the industry.  Books are my passion.  But as graduation nears, I’ve found myself more and more concerned about the financial reality in which this career will firmly deposit me.  Starting salaries are around $35K, and nearly all publishing jobs are in insanely expensive New York City.

I’m lucky enough to not have any debt, and I’m willing to live frugally for a couple years– multiple roommates in a less trendy area of Brooklyn, not eating out, etc.  But past that, I’m not so sure I can “hack it”.  I’ve been setting up informational interviews with publishing women who are near 30 and still at the roommates-in-Brooklyn stage, and I’d really, really hope to have advanced beyond that by then.

Is this typical senior-in-college anxiety talking?  Or is it a legitimate concern?  If I’m worrying already, does that mean I just don’t have that hunger or “want it” enough to succeed in NYC?  I’m not a materialistic person and actually find saving enjoyable, but has living comfortably my whole life so far left me unconditioned and unable to struggle?

Thanks for taking the time to read my email.

— Can I Hack the Hustle?

So there are a couple of assumptions here that we should address, which will hopefully help put your question in a little more context, and maybe make things not seem so dire. First, you’re making the rather-bold assumption that you’re even going to get this job in publishing which, despite its (in your eyes) low salary, is quite a competitive field. As a senior in college, you may still be in that sparkly-eyed college phase where jobs are more about their individual pros and cons in an ideal world, and less about “can I even get this job?” which is often considerably more difficult than you imagine. But that being said, let’s say, for argument’s sake, you get the job you’re looking for.

Thirty-five thousand dollars a year is actually a good starting salary (it’s what I made entry-level, and I was making only slightly more when I moved to NYC). It’s not the potential deal-breaker you seem to be imagining that it is. You can live well on that amount of money, provided you don’t have cripplingly-high debt repayments, and if you consider places like Queens or Upper Manhattan (often more affordable and, in my opinion, livable than these far-flung bits of Brooklyn), you can probably find a comfortable roommate situation at $750 a month.

That being said, you’re right in the assumption that a job in publishing would mean being smarter and more conservative with your money than, say, a job in finance. But I doubt the choice is between those extremes. Likely, in nearly any field you’d be qualified to choose, you’re looking at a starting salary of around that, and will have to do a good amount of scrimping and saving throughout your 20s to get out of that roommate purgatory by 30. But the thing is, so do the vast majority of people, and it’s not as difficult as you imagine it to be. It can seem intimidating when you’re standing just behind the starting line, but as you live every day in the city, you go about your life and make your choices like anyone else does. It’s more the “living in NYC” element that will be an issue than the “$35k starting salary,” which is actually a lot in most other places in America.

But if you want to work in books, this is largely the place to do it. If you want to work in publishing, go for it, and give yourself the chance to pursue that dream. But if you want to give yourself an extra bit of reassurance, take a hard look at the other jobs you’d be considering (and that you would be qualified for — you’re not going to be a surgeon or an engineer or a high-powered defense attorney next year), and how much they tend to pay. I think you’ll realize that publishing is pretty par for the course, and that if you love it, it’s very much worth the hustle and savvy you’ll need to enforce through your 20s. Get a few side gigs here and there, work a couple catering jobs — New Yorkers find a way to make it work.

But in the meantime, the real challenge looms: getting that job. I wish you the very best of luck.

Hi, Chelsea:

I’ve been reading TFD for quite a while and find it really helpful and illuminating. Do you have any advice for when you fuck up big-time at work? Recently, I made what-feels-humongous mistake at work where some of the analysis I did (wrong) was presented to the client. I don’t *think* this is a fire-able mistake, and it’s definitely my first one where I didn’t catch it before it went the client, but would you have any advice on how to recover from this?

Thanks very much,

Angela

As someone who has been fired several times in her life, I feel qualified to advise you on the if you get fired bit, and I enlisted a friend (who works in HR in what she refers to as a “big, boring company”) to help with the potentially not getting fired bit.

First things first, if you get fired, you get fired. Having been through it, I know a few things: you will cry, you will re-trace everything you could have done differently, and you will berate yourself incessantly. None of this is avoidable, because a firing is like a breakup, often one you didn’t see coming. You have to embrace and accept those emotions, and move on from them, which only happens if you let them pass. Cry in the shower for as long as you want, go out with a friend and drown your sorrows while they let you complain and be sad at them. (This might be better in an apartment if you are still heavily in the sobbing phase.) Let yourself obsess for a bit, before you eventually realize that, even if you can pinpoint the exact moment you totally fucked up, there’s nothing you can do now.

And when you’re ready (which hopefully shouldn’t take too long, usually about a week), let that sadness be channeled into an intense fire to do better and move onwards and upwards. Show them that they made a mistake, kick ass, take names. That’s the process you have to follow, and if you try to skip ahead, you’ll only end up dragging it out. You have to feel it, but then you have to channel it into something more productive.

If this job is a remotely good one, they will probably give you some kind of severance or notice, and offer to give you a letter of recommendation. Figure out exactly how you’re going to spin this, and don’t be ashamed of spinning straw into gold here. You fucked up, yes, but that shouldn’t condemn you for the rest of your professional life. Take what they offer you, use those letters of recommendation, and get yourself something better. You don’t have to walk into your next job interview sobbing about fucking up in front of a client, you just have to learn from this and not make the same mistake. That’s all you can ask of yourself.

But all that said, you very well may not be getting fired. And so I asked my girlfriend, who we’ll call Dani, who works in HR at said big, boring company. She has dealt with a lot of firings and almost-firings in her day, and had these words of advice to give about the situation:

Your boss(es) definitely noticed, so construct a very contrite, concise, and adult email explaining that you understood your mistake, and how, not just why, you will never make it again. Without mentioning firing, convey that you understand any steps they may need to take on their end to protect the business and save the client, and offer to provide any help you can to make this right. Your boss is probably going to be taking responsibility for this to the client (if he or she is a remotely good boss), so you can’t do anything client-facing. Don’t say anything to them, keep all of your damage control internal. Make it clear that, even in this moment, your priority is to protect the business, not your own job. It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s what your boss (who is probably also facing a river of shit right now) wants to hear. Good luck.

So there you have it. I, too, wish you the best, and promise you that, even if the worst happens, life will go on. It always does.

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