Wedged into a two-seater chairlift in Ellicottville, New York the anonymous skier to my right decided to strike up conversation during our three-minute commute to the top of the mountain. The conversation soon turned to what we did, as superficial conversations with strangers are wont to do.
“I’m a junior at St. Bonaventure,” I told him.
“Oh, what are you studying?” he asked, naturally.
“Journalism and theatre,” I responded.
“And what exactly do you plan to do with that?”
It wasn’t the first time (and wouldn’t be the last) someone implied my course of study would more-or-less leave me another overeducated, underemployed millennial with a worthless degree.
“I’d like to be a broadcast journalist,” I told him.
“That’s a hard field to break into,” he said, with that undertone of “What makes you think you’re going to make it?”
“Well, someone has to make it. So why not me?” I told him, just in time for the chairlift to reach the peak and me to make a quick exit.
Seven years later and that conversation still comes to mind on occasion.
Yesterday, as I pulled together all my tax documents for 2016, I typed out how much I’d earned from:
- a portion of my book advance and
- the salary from being employed-full time for eight months and then part-time for two months of the year.
Hitting auto-sum, I sat dumbstruck for a moment before yelling, “Peach!”
$96,795.22 sat on the screen in front of me.
That’s when the random man from the ski lift popped into my mind, “And what exactly do you plan to do with that?”
Nearly six years ago I moved to New York City to work as a page at The Late Show with David Letterman. I hustled and picked up jobs as a Starbucks barista and babysitting. The tax year of 2012 was my first one that reflected a full year living as a New Yorker. It even included switching to a more lucrative — if we can call it that — desk job, first as an intern and later an account coordinator at a public relations firm in June of 2012.
In 2012, I grossed $23,244. (Of that, $11,400 went to rent.)
In 2013, I started Broke Millennial and began to dabble in freelance writing. I grossed $39,291.
In 2014, I switched jobs to work at MagnifyMoney, a startup, and freelancing picked up a bit. I grossed $55, 375.
In 2015, my freelance income increased 5x and I still worked full-time at MagnifyMoney. I grossed $85,424.
In 2016, I quit my stable job in August to try my hand at freelancing full-time. I also got a book deal. I grossed $96,795.22.
This is the first time I’ve so openly shared numbers on my blog. I’m doing so to quantify how a “worthless” degree (or two) isn’t always what it seems.
I’m not a broadcast journalist by profession, but I’ve been on CBS Sunday Morning and CNBC. My writing is regularly featured on Forbes and my opinions have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Refinery29, Playboy, NBCNews, MarketWatch and plenty of other outlets. A major publishing house paid me to write a book.
A journalism degree trained me to write well and think critically. A theatre degree taught me to speak without vocal fry, or too many filler words (um, uh, like), and how to be quick with a dash of wit.
So, to the stranger on a chairlift all those years ago: I’m using my degrees to forge my own, lucrative path in the world. To help others get their financial lives together. To craft a life on my terms instead of opting into how it “should” be lived. All because I was willing to take a risk and invest in myself.
Oh, and I’m making decent money along the way.
And for reference, if I’d stayed with that job in PR and risen through the ranks, I still wouldn’t be grossing nearly $100,000 yet.
Image from Unsplash