The most striking feature of my first year in the real world is the difference between how I felt at six months and how I feel now. In the last few months I spoke with two people on opposite ends of the journalism spectrum: a freelancer with a solid, successful career and an undergraduate who is looking toward a possible future in science journalism. Somehow, in the course of these conversations, these two people both described my current career as The Dream. That helped give me some perspective and, yeah, I'm not doing too shabbily.
Where I Am (aka The Dream)
Right now I am part-time at a TV station and part-time freelance. For many journalists, this split is ideal because it gives you security and freedom at the same time. I have also somehow managed to get my hands on a bunch of freelance jobs where I'm assigned stories, so I don't have to pitch unless I really want to. No complaints there.
Honestly, I never wanted to be a freelancer but now I will probably be doing it full-time because it means I can make good money doing work that I enjoy. Although I do miss having a work life separate from everything else, the upside is that I'm (finally) financially secure enough to move to San Francisco and take my bills off my parents' plate (more later about my great parents).
Immediately after graduation, I moved home. There wasn't much of a plan here, I just desperately needed to get out of New York City. Vaguely, I figured I would be home for a couple months until I got a staff job somewhere in California (I had been applying for jobs since November). In the meantime, I got to do some life cleaning. I sorted through old stuff in my childhood home and finished any leftover work I had from school. I even published something (for free) on Huffington Post. It was little progress but I had just graduated and didn't feel any need to rush.
By March I had started volunteering at my local PBS station because I had connected with an amazing person there at the National Association of Science Writers 2012 conference. I also began freelancing with a new lifestyle website, which hired me after rejecting me for a staff editor position. (I was a little miffed at the time but now I know they were right.) It was three months out and I was making basically no money. Lucky for me, I have the most supportive parents ever and I was living at home for free without having to pay any student loans. Still, the feeling that I was sucking at life was slowly creeping up on me.
I tried to avoid obsessive calendar watching but June hit and I was freaking out. I was six months post-graduation. I had added on one more freelance contract via one of my generous SHERP classmates and...that's it. After applying for hundreds of jobs, I had done only a handful of phone interviews to no avail. I was writing a bit and had fun at my TV internship but, overall, my career was lagging far behind expectations. I was angry and frustrated and sad and stressed. Basically, I was getting ready to apply for a barista job (because I've heard those are legitimately great).
So how did I get from that to The Dream?
Three things deserve the majority of the credit for my progress since June: great connections, a lot of luck, and a family that is able and willing to give me their unwavering support.*
I eventually got four different contracts through connections I made in graduate school --- five if you count the fact that I went to the SciWri conference because of SHERP (the TV station hired me in July).
People probably think it's a cop-out to credit luck with anything but I really have no way of explaining some of the opportunities I've gotten. A rural public media station had the money to hire me. My first freelance contract (with that lifestyle website that semi-rejected me) has become one of my favorite and most consistent jobs. A newspaper contacted me to do work for them, even though I had never heard of them. That's pretty darn lucky.
Again, I really cannot stress enough how important my support group has been. I got to go to school for free. And live at home. For. Free. Plus, I was completely comfortable disclosing my frustrations to my friends and family and they had the faith in me that I often lacked. All of that made a huge difference.
The lesson I would most like to pass on to other struggling, recent grads is to share their hardships. I don't mean whining or venting. Just be honest. I still can't believe the number of completely functional adults who told me about how they lived at home after school, after they were married, or after being laid off. It kept me (mostly) sane to know that a lot of people have a hard time successfully moving on after school.
Wow, sorry this was so long and overly personal. I just wanted to get it out there because it's the kind of thing Six-Month Me would have really appreciated. Now Year(ish) Me is off to do some journalism.
*I also want to give a shout-out to my friends who actually responded to my shameful pleas for companionship. They drove for hours to hang out with me. Now, I hope that as they all become doctors and artists and lawyers (yes, my friends are super impressive like this), I can return the favor.