I recently (as in last week) graduated with my Master’s (hooray!), a full ten years after graduating with my BA in English in 2009–during the Great Recession (less hooray). Like many others in my generation (with the heavily-loaded label ‘Millennial’), I’ve struggled to have a positive relationship with employment and money–namely, finding jobs that pay a living wage and allow for paying back student loans and perhaps even saving for retirement. This post explores things people have said to me about money (after I attended an in-person interview for my post-Master’s position).
“Lol those aren’t real! The full time jobs I mean.”
This was said to me by my best friend of ten years. She works as a labor organizer in the Bay area, and she understands the huge amount of stress placed on workers and the battles they have to fight in order to get benefits and a livable wage. A screenshot of this conversation is as follows:
To give you some context, this was when we were talking about a job interview I had. The job in question seemed like it would be a lot of hard but rewarding work, but the advertised pay wasn’t great. And by “not great” I mean that it potentially would be unsustainable in the south bay area, where the job was located. I said to her that I have a dream of one day having a full-time job that paid all my bills and didn’t require me to have a second job just to make ends meet/pay off my student loans. (Although the Sasquatch romance is still on the table. Any takers?)
“It is important to get paid enough to match your expertise/experience. On the other hand, sometimes one may need to take a step back in order to make two steps ahead.” and also “Do it for a year for the experience, and then leave.”
One of these was said to me by one of the women who works at the organization where I interviewed. The other was said to me by one of my professors. These are professional women who have many years of experience in our field and whom I respect. Essentially, they both have the same message—by compromising now, I’m setting myself up for a better career in the future. Which, on the one hand, is great advice, and advice I feel like I should probably follow. However, on the other hand, I’m already in my thirties (how much time do I want to spend compromising? and how many times have I already compromised?), and I feel like my years of related-but-achieved-before-my-masters experience are being disregarded by the powers-that-be at this prospective organization (here, replace “feel like” with “pretty much was blatantly told”). Should I take their advice, put my nose to the grindstone for another few years and try and carve out a better position for myself later? Or does taking this position just continuing a long history of me allowing others to undervalue my experience?
“You shouldn’t have to fight for cost of living.”
This was said to me by one of my classmates when I was talking to her about the interview. I felt a physical reaction to this statement; she’s right. I know she’s right, and I feel the same way. I shouldn’t have to have so many arguments with myself weighing the pros of this position against the very big con of having to draw upon my savings to support myself in my job. But unfortunately, that’s the reality of the world that we (young and young-ish workers like myself in particular) live in today—in many cases, we do have to fight for cost of living. And in return, we hear that we need to work hard or gather a handful of side hustles. I already work full time, part time, and go to school full time; at what point will I finally be working hard enough?
The question I feel like I am now faced with is as follows: do I want to do amazing work with good people, or do I want to be able to pay my bills? And the larger question behind that–why do we, as a society, support a system that forces us to make that choice? And if I take a job that I enjoy but refuses to pay me cost of living, does my participation just further support a system that I feel is unethical? And, finally, why do all the jobs that pay a living wage involve companies that make me feel, frankly, kind of scummy?
In the end, I took the job. Because of noble reasons of wanting to make the world a better place by working in a field where I can help students? Partly. But also because, after a conversation or two, the organization upped the offer to something that would enable me to both pay rent and make a monthly student loan payment. Would I still have accepted the job if I hadn’t been offered the pay raise? Perhaps that will remain an unsolved mystery. But if there’s a moral to the story (which is debatable), I would say it’s this–if you find a job you like, but don’t think it will sustain you, ask for more. The worst they can say is ‘no.’ You deserve fair pay for fair work. And if you’re in a position where you get to decide the salaries, maybe remember what it’s like to be on the other side of the table.