Category Archives: Career

I refuse to give up on the American Dream

My American Dream, like many others who grew up in the “upper middle class,” was to continue living that lifestyle — maybe better — as I grew into adulthood and beyond. That meant a house with a lawn, a few bedrooms (with at least one extra for guests), in a neighborhood where you felt safe and could go for a walk down the street without worrying about being shot or mugged. And in that dream was a family — 2 or 3 kids — and the ability to have them take dance classes or piano lessons or attend baseball camp over the summers. And all of this was going to be my reality before I turned 30 (pre birth of the kids).

At the age of 27, I’ve revised that dream slightly, though likely not enough. At 27, I have ~$120k saved. $109k in investments, $27k in cash & cds – what I owe in taxes this year ($10k?)

And still, that savings feels like nothing compared to what I need to give my future family the lifestyle I had as a kid. That amount is pennies towards owning even a 1br condo here.
Around this area, 1brs are going for $599k or $335k or $459k.

Meanwhile, I’m paying $635 per month, or about $7650 a year to live in a small-ish room in a nice-ish condo. I have two roommates (one of them is leaving this summer so we’re going to have to find another roommate, but that’s a tale for a diff post.)

It just seems unreasonable to dream of owning property ever. At least not here.

The American Dream seems out of reach mostly because of my choice in significant other, and maybe in my choice of career. I’m not quite hitting six figures yet, but I’ve saved a reasonable amount of money each year.

My boyfriend still lives at home, so any money he makes he can save. But at 28, he still isn’t working a full time job, he’s making $20 an hour on contract because he doesn’t want to look for a different job and he’s planning on maybe going to grad school next year. I am very supportive of his plans for grad school but with that come loans that will hit when we’re in our early 30s, exactly when we’ll want to have kids. And he has very little savings and no IRA. And he doesn’t want to talk about it. After all, we’re just dating now. But as I’m approaching my 30s, the money has to come into play, a little bit.

I look at my friends who are dating men who are more stable in their careers. I look at my friends who are dating older men who already can afford houses. Some of these friends also work full time, others are working at jobs they love that would never afford them a house on their own.

In my life — I see myself as the breadwinner. The one who will bring home the soy bacon. And I don’t see myself as having the ability to be the same kind of breadwinner my dad was — the kind that could afford the house, the summer camp, the suburban lifestyle. So sometimes I wonder if I should have been more picky in choosing a life partner. I could have targeted men with full-time jobs, already established in their careers. Instead, I fell in love with a guy who isn’t going to push to make a lot of money in his life. And while I admire that about him, it also scares me enough that I’m coming to terms with the possibility that I will rent for the rest of my life and never have children. I just cannot afford them.

Still, I don’t want to give up on the American Dream. It feels about 10 years away right now, but by then it will be too late to have kids. My having children will basically eat up my entire savings — I’m figuring $40k a kid due to my PCOS and need for various fertility treatments, so 2 kids (with no guarantees it will work) and I’m back to square one.

How much of the American Dream should I give up on? Should I strategically place myself somewhere I can earn more than $100k a year? The odds of my stock options ever being worth enough to get me where I need to be at 31 (when they’d vest) are slim to null — even if my company does well. So I get depressed about this… I can’t comprehend how to get to financial stability in my life. Or, I can’t comprehend it where I’m the breadwinner of the story… where I can’t count on a reasonable dual income household. And that really freaks me out. Well, it makes me, again, accept that I’ll be renting a tiny room in a shared space with no kids my entire life. Maybe that’s not so bad. But that’s certainly not my American Dream.

All of the Happiness Your Money Can’t Buy

I was driving home from work the other day on a four-lane street with red lights every couple of blocks. My tank on empty, the orange light slowly blinking its death dance. Like many other days of my life, I was panicking. Tears were streaming down my face in an over-dramatic fashion, my heart racing, my mind toying with thoughts of suicide — more for effect than attempt. Still, the deep feeling of being overwhelmed, and more importantly, lacking a clear, quantifiable route towards happiness, kept my smile at bay and the tears flowing.

Happiness is a word I’d like to be able to define, to purchase, to set on a shelf and put on one arm at a time when I need a heaping of motivation and will to live. But it doesn’t work like that. I’ve spent my life trying to find happiness and keeping myself from it. I can complain on and on about my parent’s poor job at instilling a sense of healthy confidence in me, but I refuse to blame them entirely for my failures, or successes. The truth is, though, having been raised by a family with no comprehension of non-narcissistic care or love, it’s tough to comprehend my own definition of success, and if that success should even equate to happiness.

If I were homeless, or unemployed for an extended period, my parents would certainly see me as a failure. I had never seen my father proud of me until the day earlier this year when I announced to him I had secured a $65 / hr job (well, contract.) He immediately bragged to other family members about my success. “My daughter is a real person now,” he said, beaming, and although he never really understood my job (social media marketing?) he was still quite content with taking some sort of credit for my income. And when that contract ended and I moved on to another job – lower paying albeit still of a good salary, he didn’t let anyone know my income had been reduced, though he quit bragging since I had again joined the group of Americans making under $100k.

Happiness… in my life… has always felt like something you need to strive for, in being someone other than yourself if you can’t be perfect. I was never perfect. I was far from it. As a child, my parents assumed I was smart, and because I could draw something that somewhat resembled a still life sat down in front of me I was also a brilliant artist. My singing voice, while something I enjoyed using, was not, however, reflective of natural talent.

My mother always beamed when I was on stage, however, as she both knew I had no talent and wanted me to be her shining star. For what it’s worth, she’s tone deaf, and I’m unable to maintain pitch, so quality vocals equated to being able to belt loud with a lot of vibrato, even though later I learned that my soprano voice could never accomplish that style in a healthy way (despite that, I still try to sound like Sutton Foster when I’m alone in the shower.) I always felt if I had talent people would love me, and I’d be happy. But talent, at least in the performing arts, has not proven to be my forte.

My father would always be proud of my academic accomplishments, though his praise faded once I reached second grade and lost my drive, focus, and/or care on academics. A math man who likely also has ADD (though he’d never admit it), he would teach me about math and science and I would not pay attention, then he’d get upset with me for not listening, and eventually he gave up trying to teach me, he gave up on my ever being an academic. And so did I. I would daydream in class. I never read my assignments or did my work. I don’t know how I got by school, but I managed to do as little work as possible, and make up stories when asked questions about history that were on occasion 75% accurate (or at least creative enough the teacher didn’t mind passing me out of pity and amusement.)

School was always about watching the red second hand slowly scroll around the clock. I enthusiastically participated when I randomly knew an answer, I dreaded gym class and wished art class were longer. In high school I took as many arts electives as possible and had to take the lowest level match class junior year because I had already completed the higher level math — taking Algebra I in 8th grade, Geometry in 9th and Algebra II in 10th, I needed one more year of math and Functions, Statistics and Trig was beyond my ability to fake. I easily see myself as a giant failure of academia. Whether that was due to lack of intellect, focus, or out of a deep-seated hatred towards my parent’s idea of success, I don’t know. I just failed. But, I also passed. I passed, I managed a 1230 on my SATs (back when the total was 1600), I showed off my paintings for college applications — having decided only to apply to schools for theatre design, not academics — and received admissions letters from four out of the five, with the fifth — Emerson — denying my admission since I had only taken one year of a foreign language in high school (the theater department told me I would have been admitted otherwise.)

I still hated school… but I was excited about college, about starting over, about maybe finding happiness. I hadn’t found it at home. My life was this — disappointing parents while at the same time parents being convinced that I’m the next Picasso (I’m not), being obsessed with people I admired, convincing myself that I was a waste of space, ugly, nothing, and not good enough for anyone I’d want to spend time with, sitting in the hallway painting flowers, trees, hoping that someone would recognize talent in me, see me as good enough, but I just felt more and more lost, removed from people, hated or misunderstood, but never connected. And the only thing that remotely brought me happiness was being a goofball, slightly annoying, and making my friends laugh. That’s how I had any friends… I was a joke, and that was my happiness.

In college I felt lonelier than ever. My major — costume design — which I choose because I wanted to be a famous actress but was told I had no talent in acting but only in art — was a terrible choice. I hated costume design, and I was jealous of the actors, and I disliked most of my classes. I didn’t fit in anywhere – certainly not in the theatre school, not the feminist group which I started to hang out with, nor with anyone else. I still got off on being the joke, found a few people who liked to roll their eyes at me and kept them entertained. But I was alone without a purpose — and while failure was not an option, it presented itself at the buffet come sophomore year.

So I was kicked out of the costume design program, but not entirely out of school. I almost had all my credits for theatre studies, so I switched to that, took some other theatre classes, things got a little better. Realized I was interested in some softer academic topics… specifically sociology… enrolled in classes that dissected culture, not frogs or the history of architecture. Loved my class on the sociology of celebrity. Even had some good classes in the theatre school… found I enjoyed theatre criticism, and the professor, a Chicago Tribune critic even enjoyed my reviews and told me I had talent.

Talent… that unique magic that makes one person better(?) than the next was still the only path to happiness I understood. So I clung to the rare moment when a professor would tell me I had — it. Some special way of looking at the world that held value outside of my skull. All I ever wanted was to feel special. And that was something I knew no amount of money could buy. But I wanted to be able to one day know that my parents were proud of me, and that I did it my own way.

Fast forward five years out of college. I’ve had a thousand ups and downs. More downs than ups. I’ve kept running, left college, graduated, moved to California, tried to start over again. Tried to put a claim on my own definition of happiness. To be applauded for something unique inside me so I could one day prove that I’ve achieved the necessary divinity to be a success in my parents eyes, and in the eyes of all the other kids, parents and teachers who didn’t know what to make of me, who bullied me, who didn’t even see me.

And, so, this week I’m driving home from work, tears pouring out of my eyes, like an overly dramatic soap opera star who had just been betrayed, listening to the horn of the train, thinking about how wonderful it would be if I could relieve myself of this duty to be special, to be anything, and just to end it all. Not that I ever would, I’m far to terrified of death, of the moment in which my actions made the end inevitable, and any pain I’d feel, or thoughts I’d have, but I bring this up only to share how lost I am in my quest for happiness, and how painful it is to have no direction. How scary it is to have all my motivation tied towards this blurry and constantly moving picture of success, an undeniably selfish and impractical goal that is on the top of a tall mountain with a cliff on the other side.

Why does this story belong in my personal finance blog? Because right now I’m torn in attempting to develop a healthy and reasonable definition of happiness. I live and work in an area where many are very well off, and the well off are often special in that way I dream of being special. They’re brilliant engineers and entrepreneurs who are changing the world. They’re millionaires and billionaires. They’re humble yet living in glorious homes with breathtaking views, nestled in the hills overlooking the Bay. They’re my coworkers. They’re the people I drive behind on 280, all sharing in the priceless scenery. They’re the people I stand on line with at Bloomingdales when I shouldn’t be buying a $400 dress, and they’re buying $2000 shoes to wear to a charity dinner.

I hate stuff. I used to want stuff. Not even nice stuff, just stuff. Being able to buy without concern about one’s bank account felt good. I wanted a nice house, all this stuff… and to get that stuff I needed money. And maybe that would be happiness, success, that would be enough.

But I’m over that. I’m over stuff. I still would like a house one day but that day seems so far off and unlikely. And I also now realize that owning a house would be a pain. I’d rather rent. I’d rather own little. I’d rather have an old car in case it gets a dent than a nice new car that I’m terrified to drive.

So… in this constantly shifting concept of happiness and success, I’ve finally come to a conclusion…

1) I want kids. But the reason I want kids, to raise them better than my parents raised me, is selfish, and probably won’t work. Therefore, it’s probably the best that I don’t have kids.

2) I could spend my life being successful and I’d be miserable. I’m only truly happy when I feel like I’m helping people. That’s selfish too, but maybe that’s ok.

3) I’ve never learned how to love, or to care for other people. But I have so much love to give. So much care. And I need a place to spend that without worrying about getting something back for it. Without money or success getting in the way. So I want to get my life in order by February, and then find a place to volunteer. Maybe with kids. Maybe at a hospital. I like to help people. I don’t know if I can, I don’t trust myself to be able to, but if I had a choice between a new pair of jeans or spending a day with a sick kid, I’d surely chose the later. So maybe I’m not as bad of a person as I think I am…

4) I need to start somewhere — to volunteer — see if I can maintain this generosity in action versus just in thought. If that works out, maybe I need to confront my career path and ask myself why I’m here. Marketing can help people, yes, but no one will pretend my current product is designed to help society. It’s designed to help business. And that’s great. And that’s capitalism. And that’s my ticket to maybe, just maybe, being a millionaire like the woman at the mall with the small dog and casual Burberry ensemble.

… but if I ever made it there, if my bank account statement ever read $1,000,000 or more, would that change anything? My father (if he were alive then) would call everyone he knows to brag that his daughter is a millionaire. My mom would expect me to buy her things, and complain that she never has enough money. My boyfriend wouldn’t care. I might be able to put a sizable down payment on a house here, but I’d still feel empty. Had I obtained the money through building my own company, maybe that would feel a little bit like success, but I’d still feel empty. I’d still feel like I’m chasing everyone else’s dreams.

Today, I want to find out what my dreams are. I started reading “The Last Lecture,” the famous book of lectures by a a then dying Carnegie Mellon computer science professor who wanted to pass on his legacy and wisdom. Two adderall and a now empty carpet into cleaning, I picked up the book that was gifted at a “Women and MBA” weekend at CMU, and started to read. I got to chapter three — entirely focused on the words, my mind not skipping any of them — and then stopped, and started to write this blog post.

What are my dreams? I think that’s to lead a simple life, to make people smile, to feel needed, to read, to love, and to care. Most importantly to feel it’s ok to care deeply for imperfection, and to strive for happiness sans external praise in the form of applause or paycheck. After all, life is extremely short, whether I end it myself today or live to 100, and as long as I’m living I might as well find the means to smile.

Your Drug is My Love

This morning, I’ve achieved clarity, all with the help of two tiny blue pills.

I’m pausing to reflect — not because I feel a urge to stop being productive — but just to note my state of mind and then return to productivity.

For the past 27 years I have been a roller coaster of mood swings stemming from my lack of control. Control over my intentions and my actions. The fog which I live in. The way in which time seems to pass faster and faster as I daydream in a haze, terrified of tomorrow.

Today, a new life begins. Or so I hope. So I hope this isn’t only a sugar pill reaction. My mind convincing itself it can be saved. I don’t think it’s that. Too many people are helped by this drug. Too many Ivy Leaguers swear by its ability to help them focus for this to be created in my mind.

It was 10:48am 8 minutes ago. It is now 10:56. Yesterday, the same time would pass and it would be 12:30pm. I feel like seconds are seconds again. Minutes aren’t escaping to distraction, to anxiety, to a thousand thoughts in my head battling for attention, binge eating the clock until the sun goes down and it’s suddenly 4am.

What is this new life of mine? Can I really be this changed? Can I now face my fears of inadequacy from a level playing field? Only time will tell. Time that’s now mine.

The drug will wear off, I’ll grow numb, I won’t remember life without this clarity, or this new kind of fog. Somehow the anxiety is gone. Somehow I feel ok despite my mile-high to-do list.

And for years doctors have put me on anti-depressants, anxiety meds, all these things that just flung me further into the haze, made me feel like a tired zombie. “We have to combat the depression first,” they’d say. As if somehow my depression was caused by something other than my lack of attention. All these years… failing over and over again. And why? The clutter in my mind became the clutter in my life. A thousand songs playing at once.

Now, all I hear is the laundry machine, the birds chirping, the soft California winter air, and I’m only a tiny bit sad for all the lost years, now knowing what it’s like not to be lost. I can only hope this is real. I can only hope this feeling stays constant when it’s Monday, and I’m sitting at my office desk, with a thousand tasks and distractions, already so behind, in order to save my career, my life, and my mind.

When Your Career Ladder Looks Like a Jungle Gym

My resume was a great conversation starter at an MBA recruiting event I went to this weekend. My takeaways were that I can likely get into at least one of my top choice schools if I manage to get a really, really high score on the GMATs (as in, over 700.) Most schools seem to like that I’m not the typical MBA candidate, which is a good thing.

But this post isn’t about my quest to get an MBA, or it isn’t directly about this quest. Instead, it’s about moving up, down, and diagonal on the career “ladder.”

My current job is a huge leap up from any positions I had before in both responsibility, salary, and company respect. But it’s a six month contract which is ending soon, and likely won’t be renewed (more to do with the state the company is in than my work here, my boss wants to keep me on.) So I’m in a pickle. Where do I go from here?

The biggest problem is defining my career goals and understanding how my next steps will get me there. Incredibly, with the large-name company on my resume I’m getting calls back on my applications from other respectable companies. That’s not to say I’ll get past the first interview, but the phone is at least ringing.

It isn’t clear where I’m supposed to step to go up in my career. Most of the jobs I really want require an MBA or a lot of luck. Then there are all these very good jobs that are all so very different and can lead me in very, very different directions. Do I want to do customer support? B2B or B2c? General marketing? Social media marketing? How do these answers change when each option has a specific company attached to it? How do they change when each company has a salary attached to it?

Honestly, I’d be happiest doing online customer support. Because I love helping people and solving problems. That role is at an excellent company, but I bet my pay would be cut in half. Or maybe I could negotiate a little more, but I can’t imagine they’d pay a customer support person the same amount I’d make as a marketing manager or even marketing assistant. I’d be happier in the short-term, and there’s a chance getting a foot in the door at this company can lead to bigger and better things, but is it really a step up in my career? Should I care?

When it comes down to it, I need to look at what I’m good at and what makes me happy. I know I get the most reward out of helping people, solving problems, etc. Those types of jobs don’t pay as well as selling to people. Ideally I’d find a role where I can solve problems and help people while developing and marketing products. That may require an MBA. Right now I can possibly get hired as a social media manager, but that career path is limiting. It’s also all marketing and not as much about improving a product. It can be, it just depends on the role, product and company.

Regardless, the pickle I’m in now will only continue to, well, pickle, before I can take a bite and discover the taste of my future.

Contemplating a Serious Career Change

Maybe it’s because I’m an INFP with ADHD, but I always feel the need for a career shift every couple of years. I get bored at jobs but that’s not the only reason I look for a change. There is something missing at every job I’ve had so far and what that thing is becomes clearer as I get older. That thing is feeling like I’m helping people.

Of all the jobs I’ve had so far, the moments I’ve liked most were when I felt most connected to my “NF” side. Admin? Hated data entry. Liked answering questions when people needed help. Retail? Hated “selling.” Loved helping people shop for something that fit what they wanted. PR? Hated “pitching.” Liked helping journalists get the information they need. Journalism? Liked when I got to write articles to give a voice to people in the local newspaper who otherwise wouldn’t be heard. Disliked when my whole job was getting stories first about corporate drama. Marketing? Well, it’s hard to find a lot to like here in this sense. I do enjoy the strategy end of things, but I’m lacking motivation to promote something that doesn’t benefit people in any way. Notice a trend?
This has me sitting here, wondering if I have gone the entirely wrong direction with my life. I’m “only” 26 but some jobs out there require years of training… a high GPA… and a whole lot of commitment. The worst thing is that now I am making really good money. That would be great if I loved my job, but it’s hard to stop everything and go into debt for another x number of years of school to ultimately learn less money. My secret TJ side is screaming “that’s stupid!”
One of the fields I’m tossing around is nursing. If I like helping people so much, and I like jobs that are fairly high paced, why not be a nurse? I always wanted to have a job where I could be special and different. Being a nurse is not about you at all. It’s a job just like any other job. But where I’d never get recognized by the masses, I’d be recognized for helping people every single day. Would that be enough to make me happy? Maybe.
The only thing I know is that if i keep on the route I’m on now, well, I’m looking at doing what I do best… getting fired, or laid off, or quitting, and being depressed, but too scared to change my track, and then managing to find something else that is “better” in theory (better pay, more reasonability) but worse in getting me closer to career happiness. If that exists.
There are other things I’m interested in… especially psychology… and if I’m going to be a nurse why not just go for the PsyD? Or, heck, get a postbac in premed and go to school for 12 years to become a psychiatrist? It feels too late for all of that. And I don’t want to kid myself. I’m definitely interested in psychology, but I’m also not a good test taker and I’m of average or only slightly above average intelligence and below average focus and motivation. I’m on a roll right now faking it in the field I’m in, why change? — and, granted, I don’t totally fake it – but I feel like a big phony. But… if I have one life… why give up a chance to feel like I’m helping people every day? Wouldn’t that be worth more than any salary?

An Investment in Career Counseling

Per request of one of my loyal readers, investingnewbie, I’m going to jot down some information on my process in seeking out a career counselor — why i did it, and what services they provide.

When I get into a funk I often start questioning the cause of my depression. More often than not, it’s my career. After spending too many hours in a therapist’s office rehashing the same old issues, I started thinking about how advice from a different angle could help. After all, understanding the root of my dissatisfaction with life is one thing, but being able to proactively create a better future for myself is another.

After doing some searching online, I sent out emails to a ton of local career counselors that went into detail about my current situation. Some, I’m sure, were scared away or weren’t interested in helping me. I knew the more honest I could be, the better a match I’d find in whoever responded.

I got a couple of bites. Career counseling is not cheap (it’s usually $100 – $150 per hour, more for some seriously overpriced counselors) so I wanted to make sure to pick someone who could really help me. One counselor, who was obviously in her 50s or older (likely older) talked to me on the phone for an hour in a free consultation. She basically told me that when she was my age women didn’t have any choices and now we have a lot of choices so I am doing fine for my age and I shouldn’t worry. While that was kind of nice to hear, it wasn’t what I was looking for. She didn’t want to take my money and she spent a whole hour talking to me, which was really nice of her. But I had to move on.

After that I decided I wanted to find someone nearby (not in the city, which is an hour a way and a pain to get to during business hours) so I did some more research. A woman who had been quoted in an article wrote me back and sounded like she might be a good fit. I scheduled a first appointment with her.

Before the appointment she had me fill out a lot of forms about my work life and why I’m dissatisfied where I am at. She charged $125 for the first hour long session, which I scheduled on my 26th birthday. I could immediately tell she was the type of person “not in it for the money” as she spend 30 minutes extra on my first session answering my questions. She really seemed to like helping me. Not saying every counselor is or should be like this, but it just so happens that mine is.

On the first session we went through some different forms about things that matter to me in work and talked a lot about values and goals. One thing I find that’s difficult with a career counselor is that the industry I’m in is fairly new and I have yet to find someone who gets it, or anything I’m really interested in pursuing. Most career counselors have been in the workforce for some time and then decided to become counselors, getting their MSW’s later in life. So while they know the basics of getting hired very well (resume writing, interviewing, etc), actual knowledge of future career opportunities, especially in newer fields, may be limited.

However, I’ve found that isn’t too much of a deterrent to learning something from my career counselor. What she has taught me so far is that every person has a unique mix of what work means to them, and that finding the most important things to me (goals and values) is most important in figure out what path to take…

She’s also helped me with some of the nitty and gritty, fixing up my resume that I hadn’t taken the time to tweak much in years minus adding new jobs. She has also decided that I should take a class in marketing or business before really considering applying for an MBA.

I’ve only seen her for two meetings thus far, and she understands that my budget is tight so I don’t need to see her often. Again, not all career counselors will be this flexible. I met with one who asked for $600 for a starter package, which would include 5 sessions, though it sounded like I could do them at my own pace. Some require monthly or even weekly meetings. Find someone who is flexible if you need that flexibility.

My career counselor even decided, at my last meeting, to drop her rate to $90 per session (and she gave me an extra 30 minutes again). She seems, for some reason, to really like me. After I went on about social networking, mobile, and the future of technology she was like “you’re cool” and decided to give me a discounted rate. She thinks I have potential, apparently, which is nice… I’ve been so down on myself lately, it’s nice someone thinks I can succeed somehow. Not that I really believe her, but in the least she can help me come up with goals and meet them, which is really important for me.

I’ll update you all on my career counseling going forward when I have another session. Right now I’m trying to figure out if I’ll stay at my current job. My company is going through some major reorganization soon and I think I may be left out in the cold. I’m not too worried, as it seems the economy is picking up and recruiters are writing to be on LinkedIn for open positions in my field. Luckily, I picked a field that few people specialize in. I’d really like to work for a company where I have the support to do my job, as opposed to my current job where all of the opportunities to quantitatively succeed and put on my resume are most often taken by my boss and coworkers.

Dislike your Job? You’re Not Alone: American Job Satisfaction at Record Low

Think Americans who have jobs in this economy are thrilled just due to getting paid? Think again. According to a new survey by the Conference Board, only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their work. That’s the lowest level in 22 years of the survey being run.

The cause of the mass unhappiness isn’t clear, and while the recession certainly factors in (I’d bet salary freezes and Plexiglas ceilings aren’t helping matters) worker dissatisfaction has been on the rise for more than two decades, according to the report.

Again, this leads back to my question of — what makes us happy? The rise of unhappiness in work seems to match the rise of television being controlled by the five largest media corporations, and advertising becoming a prominent part of our lives. With all of the negative messages we receive every day about how we’re not good enough, it seems no level of work — or money — can make us truly happy.

The study notes that workers claim their unhappiness stems from issues such as boring jobs, incomes that haven’t kept up with inflation, and the soaring cost of health insurance.

“If the job satisfaction trend is not reversed, economists say, it could stifle innovation and hurt America’s competitiveness and productivity,” reports the AP. umer Research Center.

Workers under 25 expressed the highest level of dissatisfaction. Roughly 64 percent of workers under 25 say they were unhappy in their jobs. The recession has been especially hard on young workers, who face fewer opportunities now and lower wages, some analysts say.

Conference Board officials and outside economists suggested that weak wage growth helps explain why workers’ unhappiness has been rising for more than 20 years. After growing in the 1980s and 1990s, average household incomes adjusted for inflation have been shrinking since 2000.

Some other key findings of the survey:

• Forty-three percent of workers feel secure in their jobs. In 2008, 47 percent said they feel secure in their jobs, while 59 percent felt that way in 1987.

• Fifty-six percent say they like their co-workers, slightly less than the 57 percent who said so last year but down from 68 percent in 1987.

• Fifty-six percent say they are satisfied with their commute to work even as commute times have grown longer over the years. That compares with 54 percent in 2008 and 63 percent in 1987.

• Fifty-one percent say their are satisfied with their boss. That’s down from 55 percent in 2008 and around 60 percent two decades ago.

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?