Dear Talia Jane,
After reading your article detailing the absolute struggle you dealt with while working for a Bay Area based corporation (see here https://medium.com/@taliajane/an-open-letter-to-my-ceo-fb73df021e7a#.4ds8wym2b), I felt it imperative to address your concerns and above all, your obvious need for financial assistance. It sounds like you’ve hit some real post Haitian earthquake style hard times, so maybe some advice will help while you drink the incredibly expensive bourbon you posted on your Instagram account and eat that bag of rice, which was the only other thing you could afford!
My name is Stefanie. I’m not much older than you. I will be turning the big 3–0 in three weeks time. It seems like a lifetime ago I sat in my sophomore year apartment crying about how I would never again be able to relate to Baba O’Riley or Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. But here I am, having survived my 20’s with some grace and a lot of humility.
However, despite our less-than-a-decade difference in age, it seems we are worlds apart in the concept of work ethic. But somehow, I’m not surprised. Those five little years are incredibly important.
When I was 22, I was let go from an office job. My first post college job. I was sent out into the employment-seeking word three weeks after Lehmann Brothers crashed and two months before the economy went into absolute free fall. But on that Halloween when I was let go, young and confused and scared, I wandered into a bar where the old Irish bartender was a family friend, hoping he’d give me a drink and some advice about my plight. I, too, was an English major. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with that. Work in marketing? Try my hand at journalism again? PR? No clue. All I knew was my dreams of being able to move out and live in the City with my friends had just been dashed.
Listening to my problems, like most bartenders do, Mike walked away and came back with the General Manager of the restaurant. After coming in for an interview several days later, I was offered a hostessing shift two days a week that paid fifteen an hour (which worked out to a weekly paycheck, after taxes, of $168.00). I agreed to it. It would be temporary, but it would be better than making nothing at all. I’d do that while looking for another job that was more my speed, something my mother could be proud of, something worthy of my English Language and Literature degree and my Chaucer reciting mind. Little did I know that in just about a month’s time, I would be looking for a job alongside thousands of men and women who had been in the industry for ten, fifteen, thirty years. And the positions I’d be offered would all be unpaid internships. Something I simply could not afford. Sure, it’d be great to tell people I was working for Conde Nast or Vogue, but what wouldn’t be great would be the fact that I couldn’t afford to be slave labor, even if it helped my resume. Reality had to take over and I accepted that. So I worked in a restaurant.
Nine months later, after living at home with my mom and commuting on the LIRR each day to stand at a hostess desk and bring patrons to their tables, running into old high school classmates who were working in finance or PR and eating my pride when they detailed (and usually lied about) their “amazing” jobs, I was offered a cocktail waitressing shift at my restaurant. Sure, it was on the worst night of the week. Sure, I had never made a drink before. But it would potentially be an extra $200 to $400 increase a week. I jumped at it. And the extra money I was making did in fact make dealing with the high school classmate I served (who worked for Barclays Capital), who made rude comments about how I “seemed to being doing great in life”, worth it. Even if I went and cried in our private party room after and questioned how I had ended up clearing the plates of people I went to high school with.
Six months later, I was offered the weekend bartending shifts for the month of December. Long hours, lots of stress, I smelled like bad citrus and stale beer most of the time, I had to miss Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve with my family and friends, but I jumped at the opportunity. And all of a sudden, after about a year, I was making enough money to live. And after several years, I was making enough money to live well.
A year later, I was making enough money to move into the City with my best friend. I worked four days a week making anywhere between $50,000 and $60,000 a year — more than many of my former classmates with much more flexibility and far better hours. I was able to travel three times a year, go out with my friends, pay rent, pay for groceries. Above all, I was able to write. And at 26, I signed to United Talent Agency in LA and began my journey into television screenplay writing.
All of this was afforded to me not in the first month I was working at a restaurant, but after I put in the hours, made the sacrifices and sucked up my pride in order to make ends meet and figure out what I wanted to do and how to do it. I gave up holidays with my family in order to work extra shifts and make the good tips. I put up with people making rude comments, assuming I was just a wanna-be actress, assuming I didn’t go to college, all to make money. I lived with my mother, my first roommate, and then moved in with two others soon after because living in New York by yourself is a luxury, not an affordable option. I commuted 40 minutes each way each day at first, sometimes missing the late night train and having to sit in Penn Station for an extra hour or two waiting to get home. I dealt with the pitying looks of my former classmates or their parents when they would see me at the hostess stand or walking into the service station in my heels, laughing to myself knowing their child was addicted to coke and hating their “amazing” job. I paid my dues. I did what I had to do in order to survive, with the help of my family. I was gracious and thankful and worked as hard as I could even if it was a job that sometimes made me question my worth. And I was successful because of that.
Had you ended your whole whining disdain about full health coverage and expensive copays by saying you had taken a job at Starbucks, or a waitressing job in order to make money while you were on the search for a new job that requires the basic knowledge most teenagers with a Twitter account hold these days, I’d have maybe given you credit. Saying you moved in with several roommates to cut costs, tried to budget in a way that was more practical, and applied for jobs that were more about salary and growth than bragging rights and trends, I’d say hey, she’s making an effort. But you are a young, white, English speaking woman with a degree and a family who I would assume is helping you out at the moment, and you are asking for handouts from strangers while you sit on your ass looking for cushy jobs you are not entitled to while you complain about the establishment, probably from a nice laptop. To you, that is more acceptable than taking a job in a restaurant, or a coffee shop, or a fast food place. And that’s the trouble with not just your outlook, but the outlook of so many people your age. You think it is somehow more impressive to ask strangers for money by writing some “witty” open letter than it is to put on your big girl pants and take a job you might be embarrassed by in order to make ends meet. And as someone who not only took the “embarrassing job”, but thrived at it, made bank from it and found a career path through it, I am utterly disgusted by your attitude.
Being an English major isn’t the problem. Minimum wage isn’t the problem (in this case). Do I like Yelp? Not particularly. Do I like that CEOs make pathetic amounts of money? Not particularly. But turning this girl’s inability to work for what she wants into a conversation about poverty (Poverty! She lives in the Bay Area alone and has a corporate job and can afford fancy bourbon! Not exactly the picture of a third world crisis!) and wage issues, it’s utter bullshit. This is about this girl’s personal responsibility to be an adult and find a job, or two (God forbid she have to give up a weekend day to be a waitress), an an affordable living situation and an affordable city in which to work. Yelp, as bad as they are and as much as I hate the assholes who use it to pretend they are New York Times food critics about the Applebees on Walnut St., is not the issue in this moment. The issue is that this girl doesn’t think working a second job or getting roommates should be something she has to do in order to get ahead after three months of an entry level job in the most expensive city in the country. She believes Yelp should cover the cost of the financial decisions she’s made which include living alone and accepting that salary, two options that any sane person would never make. She believes she deserves these things that most of us would call luxuries. You expected to get what you thought you deserved rather than expected to work for what you had to earn. And that’s the problem entirely.
Work ethic is not something that develops from entitlement. Quite the opposite, in fact. It develops when you realize there are a million other people who could perform your job and you are lucky to have one. It comes from sucking up the bad aspects and focusing on the good and above all it comes from humility. It comes from modesty. And those are two things, based on your article, that you clearly do not possess.
Trust me when I say, there are far more embarrassing things in life than working at a restaurant, washing dishes, or serving burgers at a fast food window. And one of them, without one shred of doubt, is displaying your complete lack of work ethic in public by asking for handouts because you refuse to actually do work that at the ripe old age of 25 that you think is unworthy of your witty tweet creating time.
You wanted to write memes? Darling, you just became one.