What I learned from my first year in the workforce

A note my boss left on the templates for one of my first solo nights on the desk. At least he was clear.

I hate when people refer to postgrad life as “the real world,” like there was something less real about my college life.  So I chose to call it my first year in the workforce, but that’s not entirely accurate, either. I’ve been working since I was 16. But last week marked one year at The Eagle, so here’s what I learned in my first year of working a full-time job for which a college degree is a requirement.

I borrowed too much money for college.
How did I spend so much money on my education? Even with grants, scholarships, a brief stint with work-study, and several jobs, I managed to rack up a nauseating amount of debt. I guess my freshman year at an out-of-state school with no scholarships probably didn’t help. A few months after graduation, I received grace-period notices for a student loan I didn’t even remember I had. Seriously, that much debt.
My monthly payments to various lenders, worked down to the lowest possible payments, add up to more than $500 a month. That’s $6,000 a year. What could I do with an extra $6,000 in my pocket? I could build up a solid emergency fund within a few months and then start saving up for the wedding. Or I could buy a car. Or replace my six-year-old Macbook. I could get a dog. I could donate more to charity. I could send my family gifts instead of empty birthday cards. Instead, I live paycheck-to-paycheck and try really hard not to overdraw my checking account.
If your parents paid for your college education, give them a big hug next time you see them. If you’re still in school, think about ways to cut back on how much you’re borrowing to pay for it. And if you’re making huge payments every month and wondering if it was worth it, you’re not alone.

Grownups are whiners.
I am not that busy. In college, I worked about 40 hours a week for The Kansan (while getting paid for only 25 hours a week), volunteered at least 10 hours per semester, held a few officer positions in my sorority, served on the executive board of the SPJ chapter at KU, and managed to graduate in 4.5 years with a 3.25 GPA. It’s not that impressive — at least compared to some of the overachievers I knew at KU — but it was certainly hard.
Now, I work 40 hours and that’s it. The rest of my time is my own. I make it into the gym four or five days a week, go out with my friends three or four days a week, watch a lot of Netflix, and sleep a solid eight hours every night. Sometimes I go weeks without checking my planner. So why did everyone tell me postgrad life would be so much harder than college? Am I doing it wrong?

A copy editor’s schedule is cool when you’re 21 and terrible when you’re 24.
Most of my friends are college students and bartenders. And that’s OK, because my friends are awesome. But most of them aren’t planning to stay in College Station much longer. The young professionals who are planning to stick around typically work 9-5, which means they socialize on evenings and weekends, when I’m normally working. This is not a problem I anticipated when I accepted the job. I thought, “Hey, the best drink specials are Tuesday through Thursday and I’ll never have to wake up before noon. Sign me up!” Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
I go to YPA events whenever I can, and I’ve made a few friends with established careers that way. But I’m still straddling a line in my job. I’m using my journalism degree and putting money into a 401 (k), but the hours make it feel like a college gig. That brings me to my next point…

Copy editing is not my life’s work.
Reporters put up with crazy hours and low pay because they’re passionate about what they do. They feel like their work makes a difference, and that makes it worth doing. I like copy editing. I feel OK about designing. What I do isn’t important to society, but it’s important to the newspaper. But I’m not passionate about copy editing and designing.
My favorite part of the day is the few minutes I spend updating The Eagle’s social media sites, choosing photos for the website, and putting stories online. I was the first person in the newsroom to find out about the deaths of Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il and Whitney Houston — all because I was keeping tabs on Twitter. (I use Tweet Deck on my work computer, so tweets stream at the top of my screen while I work.) The fun stuff only makes up about 3 percent of my job, but some people get to do social media and web content management all day. A lot of them make more money and even work normal hours. That’s what I want. I don’t know if I’ll work my way into a new position at The Eagle or look for something outside of newspapers, but I know my next job won’t be on the copy desk.

One thought on “What I learned from my first year in the workforce

  1. Today, I went to the beach front with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and
    screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell someone!

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