Yesterday, I had to make a big decision that I thought would change my life.
I am an aspiring editor and I received two job offers: one from an established publishing house where I have interned before, complete with a salary, but it was for a sales assistant position. The other was from a lesser-known, digital magazine, was in the department I wanted (editorial), but it was unpaid and an internship. I was happy when I received the first job offer, but I freaked out when I received the second. Here was my dilemma: I wanted both jobs. But do I settle for a stable job at a familiar place that pays but isn’t exactly what I had originally wanted? Or for a job that doesn’t pay at all, but is more of a direct route to what I’ve always dreamed of?
Strangely, I felt myself leaning towards the first option. The more I researched the roles of a publishing house editorial intern, editorial assistant, and editor, the more I realized that these positions were tough and usually underpaid. Positions that require you to do homework during your weekends, no matter how high up the career ladder you have climbed. Having just got out of school, I have long since decided that I never want to do homework again. Having previously worked for a news website where I felt overworked and underpaid, I also never wanted to feel as if I was getting taken advantage of again. I felt myself wanting an easy, comfortable job. Unfortunately, the path of editorial is anything but easy. I started second-guessing my dream of being an editor. The stability and familiarity of the Sales Assistant role started appealing to me more and more.
But I also felt guilty at the idea of choosing to be a sales assistant when I never gave my dream position a shot. I felt guilty of prioritizing money and ease when choosing between these two positions. I also felt scared that if I chose to be a sales assistant, the door open for me to attempt to become an editorial assistant would be closed forever.
I also thought back to what my friends have said about their jobs. I know one friend who regretted his first job because he also prioritized money and took whatever first job came his way. He felt “pigeonholed” afterwards and felt himself getting farther and farther from what he originally wanted. I was scared that this would happen to me. Although people in publishing have assured me that internal transfers within publishing houses happen pretty frequently, that it is possible for someone in sales for instance to transfer to editorial later, I was scared it wouldn’t be as easy as it sounded.
And yet, that same friend who felt “pigeonholed,” or stuck in a certain field/speciality, by his first job, told me that most people’s first jobs were usually bad jobs. He said it was a normal experience because when we are fresh out of college, we don’t know what we want or what we are doing. He said it was a lesson to learn. In the first job, you realize better what you want and what you don’t want. He pointed out that there are people who also surprise themselves with certain jobs, because even if it isn’t in line with a certain career path they imagined, they end up liking it more than they expected. I know of another friend who took a job that wasn’t really in his field of interests, but it turned out to be a great start for him because he learned new skills and acquired new passions he didn’t realize he had before. The first job was like a launchpad for him that helped him get to his next job–a job where he is happy but also a job that he never expected would be his.
In the end, I realize people have different experiences with first jobs, and the lessons they have learned are not lessons that I have earned myself just yet. What eventually helped me make my decision was to remember that what I choose for my first job is in fact, not a life or death matter. My first job will not necessarily engrave my future in stone. It’s okay if I end up regretting taking this job. If I’m unhappy with this job, I can quit. I can try to break into different jobs later. Even editorial. It’s not impossible.
At this point in time, I am at a place where I do want to prioritize money, I do want just a 9-5 job, I do want to work at a place where I feel comfortable and secure, and I am open to learning about different departments in the publishing industry. On the other hand, I don’t want to be underpaid (or unpaid at all), I don’t want extra homework, and I am not entirely sure that I want to work for editorial after all. For me, this indicates that I should go with the position which appeals more to my current interests–the sales assistant position. If I happen to dislike Sales in the end, then at least I know it’s not for me. If I happen to realize I really do want Editorial after all, then at least I will know for sure, and my passion and desperation will fuel me to wedge myself through that Editorial door, no matter how close it is to slamming completely shut.
I chose to become a sales assistant at a publishing house for my first job, and although I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, it’s not the end of the world.