I’ll be honest: I can be really intense, really stubborn, really awful about holding grudges and really easy to piss off when it comes to work. That being said, two distractingly obnoxious things happened in Boston this week in publishing—the Dig vs. Full Body Casting rant on our website after a writer posted a less than stellar blog post on the last performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the AMC Harvard Theatre, and Taylor Cotter’s glorified diary entry on the Huffington Post—and I got mad. I don’t know where this false sense of entitlement and know-it-all attitude came from with half these kids who’ve been working all of 2.5 seconds. I see it with my interns sometimes. I see it with new bloggers who size me up at shows thinking that their Blogger experiment is on-par with the alt-weekly I edit and therefore they’re better than me. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this vibe was not present when we graduated four years ago.
I wrote this up yesterday and initially deleted it. I’m reposting it, because sometimes I need to remember where the hell I come from. Unfortunately for Taylor Cotter, those who write for that TNGG blog on Boston.com and every other “millennial” whose motto seems to be “fake it ‘til you make it,” they may need to remember where they came from in order to figure out where the hell they’re going in the first place.
Lessons for the Newly Employed (or my response to that godawful Taylor Cotter piece)
I went to Sarah Lawrence, which doesn’t make you declare a major because they don’t have them. They have no journalism program, only writing workshops, small ones, and the way the Sarah Lawrence class registration system works (or worked, I’m assuming it’s the same) is based on a lottery system for underclassmen. (Seniors and underclassmen who begged got to be put on special “Priority Lists” at the discretion of the professor, so that a graduating senior had the chance to get into a class they had been been bumped from in previous years, etc.) I took as many nonfiction workshops as I could/as many as I got into, I took an Ethnomusicology class to beef up my music research skills and I took a year-long anthro class that focused on ethnography.
Throughout all of this, with the exception of my junior year abroad, I interned at four publications—Show Business Weekly, GIANT (RIP), Men’s Vogue (RIP) and Rolling Stone—with the understanding that I was working towards something. I thought it’d be awesome to land an internship at a publication I was familiar with by my senior year, and that if I worked my ass off and received a good reference, it would help in securing an internship the next semester at a more reputable mag. So by the time the acceptance into the Rolling Stone internship program came around, I was ecstatic, and I actually felt like I had worked for something. I transcribed a ton of interviews, learned how to have a normal conversation with a famous person as a result, met some awesome people, got along great with my internship coordinator and asked her if she would mind if I listed her as a reference on future job applications. She wrote a glowing reference, I thanked her for that and for her kindness throughout the semester, and I graduated and moved back to Boston.
Within a few months of moving home, I applied for a staff writing gig at a localnightlife magazine, and was the first runner up for the job. It sucked, losing out on that. I started doing CD reviews for a blog called Chicks With Guns based in LA to build clips and keep writing. I found a job writing copy for Cheapflights.com as an SEO Copywriter—it’s not an editorial gig at a newspaper or a magazine or anything, but it works, right?!—which paid FANTASTICALLY and led to a sick gig with a European company that offered up 5 weeks paid vacation a year. That lasted about five months until I was laid off.
Lesson for the Newly Employed #1: Do not think for a second that your first job, or any job, is sure to be yours for long, even if you’re great at it. Shit happens, and the last one in is usually the first one out when a company has to start cutting people.
In between the Cheapflights.com gig and the new copywriting position I finally secured four months later, I launched a local music blog with two (then) friends of mine who had Canon Rebels and could hold their own against other concert photographers in town. The blog started gaining attention in Boston, and we were welcomed into the Boston music scene as three girls who loved local music and who wanted to contribute something cool to the community. That summer, I balanced a lucrative job I hated with a 1.5-hour reverse commute with my passion, which became that blog. Eventually, resentment, jealousy, entitlement and a lot of other ugly shit that never should happen between friends did, and I was unceremoniously axed from the blog that I had named, drawn up the logo and written the majority of the content for in the seven months since its inception.
Lesson for the Newly Employed #2: Working with friends redefines the word “difficult.” It can be done and it can be great, but do yourself a favor and get shit in writing at the onset to avoid losing something you’ve worked really hard for.
After leaving the bar after the conversation that ended my relationships—personal and professional—with those two people, I went home and emailed a few of the editors of local papers who I had befriended while out covering shows for the blog. I told them that I was no longer writing for my old outlet, that I was looking for a new one and that all I wanted to do was write about music. One of them, David Day at the Weekly Dig, responded right away, inviting me to the Dig’s office for a meeting the next evening. We talked shop for a second, I started off doing a couple of Exit Polls for the paper over the course of that month, and by the end of November I had my first Q+A published on the front page of the Dig’s A+E section with a local band I loved.
Lesson for the Newly Employed #3: Be friendly and open, because you are owed nothing. You never know when you’ll be in a rough spot and you’ll need to turn to your contacts for the hope of an opportunity you couldn’t find on your own.
I spent the rest of that winter writing for the Dig, and covered SXSW for the paper that spring. Because of my clips, I was also able to score a Boston Globe byline for a “Boston in Austin” feature that profiled local acts making a splash at the music festival in Austin. All throughout this, I felt fucking LUCKY: I was pitching ideas and some of them were turning into stories! That was thrilling! Someone took me seriously and thought I could do this! I never once thought “Well, good, this is what I deserve” or “This will do for now.” I understood that success was never guaranteed and that I had to keep trying to get stories out there, because that, to me, was how I was going to lay bricks for a future doing what I wanted to do—even if it involved transcribing my interviews on my lunch break at my copywriting gig, and even if it involved falling asleep on the Commuter Rail on the way to work and missing my stop because I had hit show 3 out of 4 that week the night before.
Lesson for the Newly Employed #4: Who said living the dream was supposed to be easy? Ohhhh right yeah no one.
Mercilessly, I was laid off from the most horrible job I’ve had yet that June. I spent the summer picking up more pieces for the Dig and maintaining a personal blog on Blogger that some of my friends and their friends seemed to find funny. I applied for a bunch of gigs in Boston and New York and was grateful for the fact that my previous salary gave way to a liveable unemployment check every week.
And then, in August, the unthinkable happened: David sent me an email saying that he was getting promoted, and that he and the Managing Editor of the Dig were interested in meeting with me to discuss taking over his job as the Arts & Entertainment Editor of the paper.
I got the job.
And I got the job because I had two years of reporting, blogging and social media management experience under my belt, and half of that shit I did on my own with the full knowledge that I wouldn’t be paid for it.
Lesson for the Newly Employed #5: You know that expression, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”? The same goes for pitching. Pitch stories as if you have the job or byline you want, not the one you have. Otherwise, you go nowhere, and you’ll definitely miss that shot you didn’t take.
So, I started at the Dig, which eventually was renamed to DigBoston, and I was elated. I had worked hard and written a ton, and though I had my pieces to show for it, it meant the world to have somebody else single me out and be like, “Hey kid, here’s some responsibility you’ve earned.” To say my past two years here have been easy would be a straight-up lie—DigBoston’s a free alternative weekly, after all—but I was and continue to be fortunate enough to work with a bunch of people whose company I genuinely enjoy. That, and my boss and colleagues were immensely supportive when it came to “doing my own thing” and making a ton of projects happen (Boston to Austin, various features, cover shoots), and I’m not entirely sure any of that would’ve come to a fruition in a different environment or with different people. So, thanks guys.
Lesson for the Newly Employed #6: If you’ve achieved your career goal at 22, or think you’re special because you’re employed in your chosen field, you’re doing it wrong.
I did all the “right things”—the internships, the bylines, the blogging—but none of that came because I “deserved” it. It came because I did the fucking work! That’s it! Who at 22 has worked enough to the point where they can offer advice or something remotely wise about their working situation?! Hell, who am I at 26 to do the same?! I knew where to look for internship postings, I constantly reworked my resumes and cover letters, I applied for the positions I wanted, I got them sometimes and I did my best to exceed expectations whenever possible. When my attitude sucked and I got yelled at or scolded by my boss, even if it seemed unfair, I got that my attitude sucked and that it was on nobody else but me to change it. If an edit ran of a piece I wrote that I didn’t agree with, my initial response was not “My editor is WRONG”: my editor was my editor, and I respected that. I knew that at 22, 23 and 24 that I still had plenty of learning to do.
And you know what? At 25 and halfway through 26, I am still green about a lot of shit. I’ve been working for 6 years, not 60. I write for a couple websites and publications now in addition to DigBoston, and I’m constantly trying to improve as a freelancer: I’m trying to give editors pitches they can’t refuse, I’m trying to come up with as many reinvented angles on a tired story as possible, I’m trying to be the person that they think of first when they receive a press release for an exciting new project or breaking music news. I want to be the writer that makes an editor go “Oh shit, this interview may be a challenge but Hilary would be perfect for it” or “This feature involves a lot of work and it needs to be done in 2.5 seconds, I can count on Hilary.” And if an editor’s like, “Fuck this girl, she pitched me Gotye last week as if she was the one who discovered that ‘Somebody I Used To Know’ bullshit, she gets the blog post I don’t want” or “What the fuck, whatever, this just needs to get done. I guess it’ll go to that girl”? SWEET. I STILL GET A BYLINE. THAT’S AWESOME AND AN OPPORTUNITY.
Lesson for the Newly Employed #7: You are not nearly as on top of your shit as you think you are, and you don’t know everything. And that’s okay!
Though I’m sure at least one of the three people who read this Tumblr will roll their eyes and see this as an opportunity for me to talk about my accomplishments or lack thereof, it’s not. I just shared some serious shit about a lot of the crap I’ve dealt with before getting the job at the Dig, most of it’s not flattering in the slightest, and it’s all in the name of making people realize that landing the job you want is possible and something that should be celebrated, not expected nor guaranteed for a bunch of kids fresh out of school who think they’ve got something on the class before them. Taylor Cotter’s piece is one that says entirely too much about “the millennial generation” in that she assumes a lot, she expects the world and she feels entitled to than more than she can understand. I wish I could go back and tell 22-year-old me to loosen up and take herself less seriously because she’d learn more, maybe something she’d be able to use to make her go at living the dream a bit easier, and maybe something that’d benefit her in the future instead of hold her back from moving forward.
Oh, related: CAN WE ALL STOP REFERRING TO CARRIE BRADSHAW AS THE ULTIMATE MODERN WOMAN JOURNALIST PLEASE? BECAUSE SEX AND THE CITY ENDED IN 2004 AND I’M PRETTY SURE PLENTY OF WOMEN HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT MORE THAN BLOWJOBS.