Tag Archives: journalism

Lacking Charisma: Social Anxiety and Work

I’m bad at small talk and, despite my desire to be well-liked, I lack adequate amounts of charm and grace. Looking back on my job positions over the past five years, I see a disheartening trend: my failures are more or less due to my desire to limit human interaction as much as possible in any given period of time.

Silicon Valley is all about the small talk. The inside jokes, the laughter. I probably seem like I’m stuck up because I don’t know how to just chat. Either I feel like I’m talking too much, or I feel like I’m boring the person I’m talking to with questions.

I feel like I do well on my job interviews. I seem personable enough. Then it comes to the actual ‘work’ part of a job… and I just want to work and be done with it. Well, that’s not entirely true, I love collaboration… working in small teams… when my ideas seem to be worth something and I can help contribute to a final product. That’s when I like talking to other people. But otherwise… I just crawl back into my shell.

It really, really sucks. I just want to be that girl that’s always smiling who everyone likes. Maybe I’d annoy some people because I’m just so perky, but when they figured out that the perk was genuine they’d have to like me, at least a little bit, right?

But instead I have trouble making eye contact and forming sentences that seem to resemble phrases that might generate some sort of interest.

I don’t know if there is something ‘wrong’ with me or if I’ve turned myself into this anti-social monster. Sometimes I wonder if I have some kind of autism. I’ve never been good at socializing. When I was a kid, I’d only want to talk to adults, and that wasn’t because I liked talking to adults more, it’s just they’d forgive me for being awkward in exchange for accepting that I hadn’t reached puberty.

How much of growing up ‘the cootie girl’ influences ones ability to succeed down the road? There are so many voices in my head telling me that I’m a failure, and it’s hard to shove them all out and achieve some sort of clarity.

At my job, I go into the office, I basically run to my desk, and then I work all day, and then I go home. I’m too afraid to even say goodbye to people. I just appear and disappear. That’s no good for making employers want to keep you on as a worker. And don’t even get me started about why I should have never attempted to pursue a career in journalism with social anxiety…

Do you all think that charisma and charm are traits I can take on, or should I just try really hard to learn some super-specific geeky skill that pretty much requires me to be a recluse?

The Unfortunate Quest to be Anything Other than Average

Blaming Attention Deficit Disorder is easy, but the fact of the matter is that I have a serious problem with my inability to complete projects. Of course, I’m working hard to combat this problem and I’ve been doing a good job of it at my current contract gig.

But, even though I think I’m working hard, I still feel like my employer views me negatively. Maybe that’s my problem — as I always convince myself that people dislike me until proven otherwise. There are a few other projects on my plate that I’m behind on, or that are basically gone for good because, well, I took on more than I can chew. I don’t really know enough about interactive design yet to build multimedia sites, yet I tried once and it didn’t work. I’d like to take some classes in these things so it won’t take me hours browsing through tutorials to make a relatively simple site that has more than just graphics and text, but unfortunately, I don’t have time or the money to do that right now.

With my writing work… I feel like such a fake. I don’t think I’m a good writer. I think I’m a much better designer, without the technical skills to profit from my somewhat decent talent in that area. Meanwhile, writing is easy… to fake. Anyone can pretend to be a writer. But what matters is the content.

Maybe I just lost my love for writing. Once I wanted to be a journalist. But now all I do is dream about a day when I can design for a living. I feel like I get color and line and composition. What I don’t get is the composition of paragraphs or sentences.

I’m just tired of being a F&#& up. How did I get so far this fast and yet at every turn I run straight into a wall of my own creation? I’m over and done with it. I want to be successful, but my motivation levels… my non-temporary motivation levels… dwindle faster than George Bush’s ratings since going to war with Iraq.

Am I the only person who practices somewhat subconscious self sabotage? I’m so afraid of proving to myself that I’m actually a failure that all I can do is fail before I have the chance to do it unintentionally.

I need to stop feeling like I need to do something GREAT in order to succeed. I know it’s the little things that are meaningful, yet I don’t believe it. I want to be famous, or brilliant, or… anything other than average.

Successful Shoe Return; Job Stress; Understanding Economics

Please pat me on the back. I walked into Macy’s to return my non-functioning shoes that I purchased for $45 last month (the heel of the right shoe somehow deflated each time I put any weight on it) and by some miracle of miracle’s I managed to walk out of the store, return receipt in hand, without making another purchase.

(Although I admit, I did eye the earring display by the door and have dirty thoughts about buying half of the items shimmering in my view).

Now, before you get too pat-happy, prepare to punch me. Five minutes or so after my accomplishment, I walked into Borders and spent $36 on two books. I felt like the books were worthy purchases though. Sure, I could go to a library to get books for free, but on the rare occasion I manage to motivate myself to read anything, I’m the type that loves to take notes in the columns. The librarians don’t really think my notes add value to the books, so it’s best for me to purchase them up front.

My goal over the next few months is to actually start reading. I have terrible ADD and I rarely pick up a book and make it through from start to finish. I’ve given up on fiction almost entirely, but non-fiction is worth my time and painful attempts to focus.

Since I’m on this personal finance kick and slightly depressed/confused/bewildered about how Wall Street works, I decided to invest in some economics for dummies-type books.

So I bought:

1) Economics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy (by “The Economist”)
2) Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery, by David Warsh

I like buying “smart people” books. My shelves are filled with them. Do I read them? No. But I do need to figure out this economy thing. It’s one subject that I’m embarrassed I know next-to-nothing about. As a business reporter, I owe my readers (and myself) a bit of a fast education on the topic.

Speaking of my profession, I won’t go into detail (since I want to remain anonymous), but I’m a bit stressed out about my new job. The job is awesome for so many reasons – flexibility, salary, the people I get to work with and meet, and above all, the ability to learn something (or a bunch of things) new every day. How could I ask for more? I know I’m so lucky to have landed in such a great position given my age, my experience, and perhaps even my potential.

Well, that’s the problem. I really want to do a good job, but it’s not like I can just complete all my projects early, take on additional projects, and seem like a great worker. Ultimately my success is dependent more on quality than quantity of my output, though quantity is important as well.

The sad thing is that even when I try to be careful with my reporting, I have a tendency to make little mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes once in a while, but I seem to do it all the time. I’m looking into going to see a psychiatrist because I’m thinking perhaps if I get on some drugs for my ADD I’ll be less likely to miss my errors. But all that mental health care costs a fortune, even if my insurance covers some of it. Then again, if it’ll help me keep my job, it’s worth it, right?

In any case, I’m confused about the whole career situation. More than anything I’m frustrated with myself for not kicking ass at my job. I don’t want to let my anxiety hold me back from success. Then there’s also the question of whether I’m smart enough to be in a position that obviously requires a high level of intellect and ability to collect, analyze and re-hash complicated information.

My boss recently criticized me for my lack of voice in my work. He said he hired me because I told him that I’m a blogger. But my writing for work has been so boring and dry. It’s lacking any sort of personality, I guess. I wonder what he’d think of this blog or any of the other blogs that I keep that are chalk full of personality. It’s a lot easier to have a voice when I’m writing about things I’m intimately familiar with, but the topics I write about are not things that are easy to understand or to explain. Maybe someday I’ll get to the point where I can write short, edgy posts with tons of voice that people would actually want to read. Until that day, I better get “good enough” so I can keep my job… and keep improving.

Women Don’t Negotiate = Women Make Less Money.

I got a new job. I can’t go into details on here regarding what that job entails, as I don’t want to blow my thinly-veiled cover (to those who know me, it’s impossible for me to blog without giving away who I am.) Needless to say, the position is 99 percent of the way to dream job, and I’m really proud of myself for somehow falling into the opportunity.

The focus of this entry is not my new job, persay, but my terror of negotiating and my delight in figuring out that I can get what I want in a negotiation without feeling guilty.

The day of my meeting to negotiate terms of my new job, I spent all my free time scouring the Internet for advice on how to approach any likely scenerio. I took my current job with absolutely no negotiation, and while I don’t regret it (the job was worth more to me than a few thousand more dollars at the time, when my lack of full-time experience made it painfully difficult to get a job at all), it does suck being stuck at my entry-level salary a year later. Between the company struggling financially and my inability to be brilliant in their eyes, I lost the opportunity to be promoted five months into the gig. And since then, I haven’t even dared to ask. I’ve been working my ass off and I’m pretty sure I’ve been earning my keep, to say the least. It has just become increasingly clear to me that in order to be valued as I ought to be, I need to move elsewhere.

So I applied for dozens of positions and even got offers for a few, but ultimately turned them down. They all paid more than my current gig, but I decided while I’d like a fatter paycheck, salary isn’t the only thing that would get me to make the leap to a new position. I’m picky. And I really wanted to find a job where I knew I would feel like I’d be able to give just as much as I take, if not more.

Found that job, or so it seems. I had no idea what the salary would be. It’s one of those Web 2.0 jobs where there’s no pre-defined standard for base salary at any level. It’s a guessing game for all involved, to be determined based on either my former salary or my current and potential value.

The one strict rule in negotating, it seems, is that you’re not supposed to note your current salary at any point. Nor should you bring up a number first. In my situation, I was practically forced to put a number out there. I blurted out a range, which was higher than what I’m making now but not entirely ridiculous. The low point in the range was what I figured I should be making at my current job if I was in a company that actually paid attention to the growth of its employees and wanted to reward them for their hard work. The high of the range, $5k more, was what I’d like to be making, even though I didn’t think that was really possible.

Side story…

The other day I met up with a young woman who used to intern with me at a community newspaper. She graduated a year after me (I was interning the year after I graduated, while she was graduating that year with a degree in journalism.) Turns out, she hated the internship (and seemingly journalism as a whole, but maybe it was just the internship.) So the other day we re-connected on Linked In and it turned out she was working in a PR office a few towns over. So we decided to meet up for lunch.

We talked a lot about issues of age, salary, and feeling like being taken advantage of at work (mostly due to our age.) Turns out that her salary, surprisingly enough, was $3k less than what I’m currently making. She was frustrated with her job, mostly because of the pay – I’d imagine mind numbing PR work without a rewarding salary would get old fast. We’ve both been in our positions a year now, even though I’m officially two years out of school and she’s just marking her one year anniversary of graduation.

She took such a low salary without negotiating at first because she needed the experience as well, but likely she could have gotten her base pay up to that $35k figure that seems to be standard for entry-level corporate or agency work (unless you’re a software engineer or something). Now she’s stuck. She could ask for a raise, but the raise would bring her up to what she should have started at a year ago.

Back to the main story…

Negotiation is an amazing tool when used properly. It’s amazing what you can get just by asking. Women are taught to make other’s happy, to be people pleasers (at least most of us are) so negotiation seems like a painful experience. Aren’t they offering me what’s in my best interest? Not likely. It turns out that men often think of their own interests first, whereas women are the opposite. So a man will low-ball a salary and expect the other person to negotiate. If the other person is a man, chances are he would negotiate for a higher salary or at least better benefits. If the other person is a women, it’s questionable if she’ll say “Ok” or go with the great tactic… “hmmmmm…”

But I’m living proof that it can’t hurt to ask. At the start of the negotation process, I was given a salary quote, which was the lowest number I had noted in my range at my first interview. While I could have taken that and been happy with it, I felt like that was a little low considering my additional commute time for this new job and all the added responsibility. I was thinking of asking for $2k more, but I realized if I did that, then he might pick a number in between the two, and I’d end up with only $1k more. So instead I mustered up all my courage and pushed the number up $5k. It was quite a nervewracking moment. I was waiting for him to say no. He almost said no. Then he said, “done.”

Moral of the story – female or male, but especially female, make sure to ask for what you want when you’re negotiating. It might make sense to accept what’s offered to you for your first job out of college, but even then most people respect a little negotiation initative. Afterall, business – whether it’s working for a giant corporate company as a sales rep, or as a development associate at a non-profit, is ALL about negotation. And if you can’t ask for what you want when it comes to your livelihood, what’s to say you would be able to do it on a daily basis to help your company get ahead?

Building Up a Freelance Career

There are tons of opportunities to make a few bucks here and there when it comes to writing. This blog, despite all of those AdSense ads, is not one of them. I seem to be making about three cents a week with AdSense, and that’s on a good week.

However, with all of the magazines in the world, online and in print, there’s plenty of room to pitch stories and freelance for some extra cash each month. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of working as a freelancer, but I’m not sure I’d be comfortable moving to a full-time freelance career. First of all, every month would bring in a different amount of money. Health insurance would be all up to me to figure out. I might ultimately make more money, but the uncertainty freaks me out too much to take that leap.

In the meantime, I’ve been lucky enough to be doing some minimal freelance writing work for my uncle, who runs his own online marketing company. He develops e-newsletters for a company that are sent out each month. Included in those newsletters are summaries of related news articles. Guess who writes those summaries? I make $50 per month doing that, but that $50 covers one voice lesson. It actually used to be $100 a month but one of the companies he developed the newsletter for decided they were done with their monthly marketing e-mail. The extra $100 a month was really nice. It seemed to provide the extra cushion I need between overspending and just having enough money to break even each month. The job is nice because writing up the blurbs comes naturally to me and I feel like I’m actually helping my uncle out while also making his life a little easier.

I’ve done occasional freelance work for newspapers, but it’s a ton of work for $50. My cell phone bill for making all the calls ends up costing more than what I make. So I’ve put a stop to newspaper freelancing for now.

Lately I’ve realized that the real money to be made in freelancing is writing for PR and marketing. I don’t think I’d want a full-time PR or marketing career, but I do enjoy spending my free time writing marketing copy. It’s nice to spend my days reporting and writing hard news, and then getting a bit fluffy come evening. Of course, I have to be very careful not to run into any conflict-of-interest issues, which is always a very real concern for me as a journalist. I’d only write marketing copy for a company outside of the sectors my magazine covers.

On top of writing, I’m also trying to build up my freelance web design work. It’s amazing how much money one can make designing a simple site for a person or a business. My uncle hooked me up with my first gigs, where he pitched me as a cheap alternative to other web designers. I guess most web designers charge about $1500-$2000 for a simple site. I’ve charged about $600-$700 per site. I feel really weird charging people that much money, even though I realize my prices are more than competitive. I’ve also worked for small companies or people who have a large chunk of disposible income, so my uncle tells me not to feel guilty about setting my prices in that range. He said he’d charge $2500 or more to do the exact same thing.

Knowing that, sometimes I wonder if I should really focus on gaining skills in web design. After all, it would be neat to either work full-time as a web designer or, ideally, to supplement my income as a reporter by designing about two sites per month. The extra $1200 per month, or even $600 per month, would really help balance out my budget.

As far as career goes, I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing in a month. My company, as I’ve noted previously, looks as if it’s about to go down the tubes. But I’m not too concerned. Some exciting opportunities have popped up. It’s kind of nice how things seem to always work out. A networking contact of the past has contacted me about an opening at her company. It’s not everyday someone contacts me about a job opening.

I definitely have tons more to say about job searching as both an entry-level candidate and now as a candidate with rather specialized experience. But that’ll be another entry.

Do any of you freelance full-time or for supplemental income outside of your job? Any advice for a gal who’s interested in building out her freelance work?

Agism & Career

Business magazines love to gush over CEOs who barely left the crib. In December, BusinessWeek ran a story on “CEOs 40 and Under.” Meanwhile Forbes highlighted “America’s Youngest CEOs,” who were all around 33 years of age. But most of their success as an entrepreneur began in college or soon thereafter. Then you’ve got Red Herring’s “Tech Tots” who are all under 30 years of age… some are even as young as 17.

Each age has its benefits and hindrences, even though at some point age stops mattering, or so I’ve been told. Additionally, being female, age has further significance when it comes to how others view you in a work enviornment.

Since I can’t speak for 40 year olds or 30 year olds or 27 year olds, I’ll focus on what I know best.

I’m 23 years old. What does that mean? Well, I’m certainly no longer 18. That seems to be the last age with a real clear definition in my mind. Once upon a time 21 seemed like a big milestone, but two years past that birthday, I see little has changed upon passing that overrated celebration of aging flesh and mind. 18 meant something. It wasn’t at all about getting the right to vote, or to gyrate naked on some dirty, wealthy man in a strip club had I any desire to do so. It was just the year that I legally grew out of being my parent’s kid and became my own person. Of course that took a few years to accept, but when I turned 18 I stopped being a kid and became, well, sort of an adult.

Then the years flew by. Heck, that was nearly six years ago. I was a freshman in college then. Somehow I managed to wrap up undergrad in four years. Two years later, I’m an entry-level worker in the wonderful world of reality.

The first year I got out of college was really tough for me. I didn’t quite understand how old I was, I just felt like this 14 year old playing dress up when I went on job interviews. I’d put on some suit, fix my makeup, ensure my lip gloss was no more than a nanometer out of place, and headed off in my “new” used car, and attempted to promote my greatness to some stranger who responded with little more than a nod.

How I got through that year, I’ll never know. There were certainly days when I could have called it quits. I’m glad I stuck it out, though.

After all of that, I landed a full-time job. As I noted before, I work in the editorial department of a magazine. Being as I work in business journalism, the people I work with are extremely smart. They’re also all at least four years older than me. That is, others who have the same title I do (and started after me) are at least four years older. Most of them have advanced degrees. So it’s just an awkward spot for me to be in… given that in order to prove myself I not only have to prove that I’m a hard worker and talented enough for my age and experience, I have to prove somehow that I’m really just as smart and talented and motivated as my colleagues who’ve been around the professional block.

It feels weird for admitting my age to co-workers to feel like such a dirty thing. If someone asks me how old I am at work, it feels like they might as well ask me which site I prefer to surf for my weekly dosage of porn viewing. It’s not something I like to discuss publically. I’m embarressed by it. I’m only 23. Then again, people can be successful at any age. Folks are getting into Stanford at 18 (there goes my Ivy Envy again) and they’ve surely accomplished great feats well before filling out their college applications. When it comes to success, age is irrelevant.

But so much of my profession is about being respected and getting to know sources. So much of it is about being able to, well, talk the talk and walk the walk. And to be honest I still feel like that little girl playing dress up. I don’t know if the feeling is enhanced because I’m female or what… one of my co-workers, a female, told me once that she feels like we’re working in a boys club… and it’s true. One out of maybe 400 venture capitalists is female (this is a guess, but it’s likely true), and the stats are probably similiar for CEOs.

Of course the topic of gender requires it’s own entry and… I’m not about to write three entries in one night. 🙂 But age in itself is an issue worth discussing. There’s a feeling towards people who “just graduated.” It just so happens these days “just graduated” doesn’t really give away a person’s age. Plenty of people went to community college, took a few years off, and maybe wrapped up their schooling in their mid-20s. Well, I started undergrad at 17 and I was out by 21.

I’m really tired of hearing that I’m “young” and “inexperienced.” Yes, that’s true, but it’s not like I’m oblivious to the fact. And while I’d like to think I do a good job given… my age, my “experience,” and my abilities… I’m not sure what is “enough.” I believe that if I were male I’d be treated a lot differently. Sure I’d still be “young” and “inexperienced,” but I think my age would matter less.

Am I still “entry-level” just because I’m young? Sometimes I feel like I need to be at least 25, or have a higher degree to be considered anything but entry level. But that’s just my mind playing tricks on me and my billions of insecurities, right?