The first time I was offered a full time job in the music business I was 22 years old and less than six weeks away from graduating college. As if that were not idyllic enough, the offer came from my favorite record label – a dream come true opportunity to do the exact job I studied for – and only required me to live a few hours away from home in a city I loved.
You know what? I didn’t take it.
Trust me, this was not an easy decision. My interview had been at the label offices, which meant I met the own (a personal hero) and saw the space I could have come to consider a home away from home. The experience was everything I dreamed it might be, and now nearly seven years later I can still remember the excitement I felt when I left because a part of me knew things had gone extremely well.
Then the offer came in.
For a full-time job known for requiring extra hours without overtime, which would have required me to move to one of the top 3 cities in North American and live relatively close to downtown, I was being offered a salary of $26,500 with zero benefits. It was more money than I had ever been offered in my life to do anything by a large margin, but it wasn’t enough. I turned it down not because I thought I was worth more (I didn’t), but because I could not find a way to make the job work with my financial situation at the time.
$26,500 sounds like a lot until you compare it to the cost of being a human in the United States. When the offer came in I was a broke college student in need of a more reliable vehicle and a place to live in a city far from home, not to mention the money needed to move, and I was just months from having to begin paying back thirty-thousand dollars in student loans. I spent days researching roommate options to keep costs low and brainstorming budgets for things like food, but every time I did my potential remaining funds – if any – were terribly low. So low, in fact, that a single incident of any kind (flat tire, unexpected taxi ride, extra lunch) would have put me in dire financial straits.
After much more internal debate than I ever expected I emailed my dream employer and explained that I simply could not take the job with a clear conscious because of the numerous concerns outlined above. They replied by informing me the offer they made was $1000 above their normal starting wage, which I replied to by thanking them, but once again saying I could not take the job. They, in response, blacklisted me and cut off all communication.
I was hurt to say the least, but looking back now it was worth it. I never worked with that label in the same capacity, but in less than a year I was offered a role in another city with a starting wage of $32,000. I took it not just because it was a job I wanted, but because it provided me with the financial cushion needed to not only pay my bills, but also save toward the future. I also had friends in the area who allowed me to sleep on their couch until I could afford a room in an apartment with 3 strangers (roommates), which certainly helped as well. I lived them until I had enough money to move somewhere else with even less roommates, and then again until it was just me and my significant other.
This is not about comfort, it’s about sustainability. Accepting less than your worth for the sake of experience may take you far, but if you want to build a lasting career in this field that is not dependent on a secondary source of income you have to know when to say no and/or walk away. Money is not the source of happiness, and I hope that no one reading this gets that impression. Money is just what enables us to live in this world and with enough of it – not even a lot, just enough – we can stop worrying about the future long enough to be productive and grateful in the moment. That is what knowing your worth and accepting nothing less can provide: A (momentary) sense of peace. With the knowledge you are getting what you need to get by you can focus more on the task(s) at hand and where you may head in the future.