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’s screaming: you should already know how to do this. Because I’m not a fresh-faced university graduate wearing a Topshop blazer with the tag still on. I’m a 30-year-old woman with eight years of experience in the workforce who has just started an internship.
Changing careers at this stage of my life was a bold move. With a rapidly expiring American visa and a failed green-card marriage under my belt, I sat in my Brooklyn apartment wondering why I had squandered my twenties in pursuit of a good party instead of scaling the career ladder; why I had spent seven years in a job I fell into out of university just because I didn’t have the guts to apply for the one I really wanted. With my life in tatters, I decided now was the time to start taking my career seriously.
During my half-baked attempts at breaking into the publishing industry over the years, I had learned that the traditional path wasn’t going to work. My so-called transferable skills, as I had heard them called in many a university talk, were not transferring. My desired industry was wildly unimaginative, and although I could demonstrably rise to all the requirements of their job adverts, without a master’s degree in publishing, I was getting nowhere.
I couldn’t get an entry-level job, let alone one commensurate with my experience. So I got creative. I began cold-emailing independent publishers, and within two weeks I had an offer of an internship in London – for a third of my previous salary.
At 22, this sum had been a fortune. Surrounded by a friendship group of architects making a pittance, I was rich. I bestowed my relative wealth with benevolence, buying my struggling friends drinks, paying a larger share of the rent. And now here I was at 30, begging for pints from these same people.
My entry-level salary could not sustain my 30-year-old tastes. No longer could I dine at a restaurant with small plates and tasteful lighting; no longer could I hop in an Uber when I found myself at the other end of London at three in the morning. No, it was two night buses and a 20-minute walk for me. It was eating chips off other people’s plates as I listened to them talk about their promotions, about how they had finally, after years of hard graft, saved enough money to buy a house.
And yet, it seems, I’m not alone. Thanks to the Covid pandemic, more people than ever are considering a career overhaul. But while 60 per cent of the British workforce fancied learning a new skill or moving to a new department, only one in 10 were considering a complete change of industry. And 46 per cent of them stated a salary increase as their main motivator. Clearly, it was not mine.
For me, it went deeper than just the pandemic. The narrative around work, in my experience at least, was that everyone hated their job. It was normal to hate your job. But I started to wonder: was it necessary? Why had I convinced myself that my die was already cast? Why did I think the career choice I made after graduation would be the last one I would ever make?
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While it’s somewhat incongruous attending training sessions alongside a clutch of 22-year-olds, I’ve found there are benefits to starting a new career at this age. I’m not afraid to advocate for myself at work, or volunteer for a project I might have been passed over for. I speak up in meetings; I have opinions on matters that my six months in the industry suggest I should not have opinions on. My stress management is vastly superior compared to what it once was. Did I send a stack of books off to France without a customs form (thanks Brexit)? Possibly. Did I do it more than once? Certainly. But was it the end of the world? No, it wasn’t.
Work dilemmas that would have seen me weeping in the toilets at the age of 23 now just send me on a brisk walk around the block before I sit back down at my desk and get on with it. And while I’m behind in my career progression compared to everyone around me, I know that I’ll get there eventually – it’s just going to take me a little longer.
There’s 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.