I’m 30 years old and at the bottom of my career – again

My starting salary couldn't support my 30-year-old likes (Getty/iStockphoto)

My starting salary couldn’t support my 30-year-old likes (Getty/iStockphoto)

It’s my first day at work. A patient man is explaining to me how to use a franking machine, while I smile blankly, unable to hear him over the voice in my head that is screaming: You should already know how to do this. Because I’m not a college grad wearing a Topshop blazer with the tag on it yet. I am a 30-year-old woman with eight years of experience in the labor market who has just started an internship.

Changing careers at this stage in my life was a bold move. With a US visa rapidly expiring and a failed green card marriage, I sat in my Brooklyn apartment wondering why I had wasted my twenties on having a good party instead of scaling the career ladder; why I spent seven years in a job where I dropped out of college just because I didn’t have the courage to apply for what I really wanted. With my life in shambles, I decided now was the time to start taking my career seriously.

During my unsuccessful attempts to break into the publishing industry over the years, I learned that the traditional path would not work. My so-called transferable skills, as I’d heard them called in many university lectures, weren’t transferring. My desired industry was totally unimaginative, and while I could demonstrably meet all the requirements of their job postings, without a master’s in publishing, I wasn’t getting anywhere.

I couldn’t get an entry-level job, let alone one that was compatible with my experience. So I got creative. I started emailing independent publishers and within two weeks I was offered an internship in London – for a third of my previous salary.

At 22, that amount was a fortune. Surrounded by a group of friends of architects earning a pittance, I was rich. I gave away my relative wealth benevolently, buying drinks for my struggling friends, paying a larger share of the rent. And now here I was in my 30s, begging for beers from these same people.

My starting salary couldn’t support my 30-year-old tastes. He could no longer dine in a restaurant with small plates and tasteful lighting; I couldn’t take an Uber anymore when I found myself on the other side of London at three in the morning. No, it was two night buses and a 20 minute walk for me. I was eating French fries off other people’s plates while I listened to them talk about their promotions, about how they’d finally, after years of hard grafting, saved up enough money to buy a house.

And yet, it seems I’m not alone. Thanks to the Covid pandemic, more people than ever before are considering a career overhaul. But while 60% of the British workforce wanted to learn a new skill or move to a new department, only one in 10 was considering a complete industry change. And 46% of them stated the salary increase as the main motivator. Clearly, it wasn’t mine.

For me, it went deeper than just the pandemic. The narrative around the job, at least in my experience, was that everyone hated their job. It was normal to hate his job. But I began to ask myself: was it necessary? Why did I convince myself that my luck was already cast? Why did I think the career choice I made after graduation would be the last one I would make?

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While it’s a little incongruous to attend training sessions alongside a group of 22-year-olds, I’ve found that there are benefits to starting a new career at that age. I’m not afraid to stand up for myself at work or volunteer on a project I might have been passed over for. I speak at meetings; I have opinions on subjects that my six months in the industry suggest I shouldn’t have opinions on. My stress management is far superior compared to what it was before. Have I shipped a stack of books to France without a customs form (thanks to Brexit)? Possibly. Did I do this more than once? Certainly. But would it be the end of the world? No, it was not.

Work dilemmas that would have seen me crying in the bathrooms at 23 now just send me on a brisk walk around the block before I sit back at my desk and get on with it. And while I’m late in my career progression compared to everyone around me, I know I’ll get there eventually – it’s just going to take a little longer.

There is no amount of money I would trade for being excited to go to work in the morning. Even if I have to take two buses to get there.

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