Work For Someone Who Values You, and Other Career Advice From Latoya Peterson

Elle recently ran a fantastic interview with Latoya Peterson, owner/editor of Racialicious, former Senior Digital Producer of Al Jazeera’s The Stream, and current deputy editor of Voices for Fusion.

She is also a parent, and she is also 31 years old. (Is this the sort of thing that should be prefaced by “only?” We’re culturally in a place where this is not the typical life or career for a person in her early 30s. So, fine: “she is also only 31 years old.”)

You should read the entire interview, but I’m pulling out a few of the best career and financial advice parts:

My path is a mess. It’s a long winding ridiculous road starting at being a sandwich girl, then a waitress, then a call center job, then a publishing job, then a federal procurement job, then a consultant job before that non-profit failed and reorganized and I didn’t know how I was going to make money. I had started writing for a blog for fun and people noticed my writing. From there, I started freelance writing and managed to cobble enough together to make a living.
After that, I figured out what I wanted to do and now I’m kind of straddling two paths: learning to be a manager in media and learning to build big audacious ways to tell stories.

That sounds remarkably similar to my career path. Does this mean I’m destined for a manager role? Well, Peterson suggests to know what you like to do before deciding your next career move:

Around this time, I spoke to an awesome mentor, Natalie Hopkinson, who has pre-teen kids and cool media jobs. And she looked at me and snorted. “You,” she said, “you don’t do calm and quiet. You only think that looks good. But you like to be in the mix.”
And you know what? She was right. I like the ability to downshift when I need it, but my default setting is chaos. Once I understood that, it was almost like I had permission to not feel guilty about working a lot or dragging my poor baby everywhere.

I think the thing I do well, which is also the thing I want to do, is “organize things into stories.” (I mean “stories” in the large-scale sense, here. I was a storyteller even when I was a piano teacher.) This is probably why I recoil at the idea of being a manager in media. My default setting is NOT CHAOS. My default setting is “outfit grid.”

Peterson mentioned her baby in the last quote, so how do she and her husband manage the work-life balance?

We’re still working out the childcare division of labor. Everyone in my house is a feminist, but we’re also influenced by traditional ideals. So my husband takes care of the kid at the moment while I work, but he expected the division of labor to be more 50/50 and I felt like since my job isn’t neatly into a 9–5 bracket, he should just be flexible. So it’s an ongoing dance. I recently realized that I could take more of a lead with the kid and not act like “fun dad” as my husband will occasionally call me. And my husband is learning to say when he needs an extra set of hands, and that even if I say I am done at 4 p.m., that might really be 6 p.m.

You have no idea how much I love everything about this paragraph.

And lastly, two big pieces of career advice:

1. Work for a company who values you. When Peterson was 21, she realized that the reason she wasn’t getting a pay increase was because “My company did not value me enough.” (They valued her enough to ask her to shoulder a second person’s workload after a co-worker left, but not enough to pay her for it.)

2. If your boss can’t negotiate for you, it doesn’t matter how good of a negotiator you are. This feels so true that it hurts. Has anyone here lost out on a raise or a promotion opportunity because your boss wasn’t good at standing up for you in the meeting? I have been in those meetings where people decide who gets opportunities and who doesn’t, and it comes down to interpersonal issues among the decision makers as much as anything else.

Read the entire interview, and then let us know the parts of Peterson’s advice that you most appreciated.

Photo credit: Matt DiGirolamo