School Vs. Reality


It’s been about a year since school effectively ended for me and, like a chump, I entered the professional world of being dicked around by unscrupulous real estate developers, advertising firms, and shady businesses. How’s that been for me? I’m glad you asked.

First, I’ve gotta come clean with you: nothing I did in school really prepared me for what I’m doing now. Sorry, higher education; you didn’t have the answers.

That said, I couldn’t do what I’m doing now without having gone to school. Surprise, higher education; you actually were necessary!

Graduating last year without a solid plan was terrifying, but I’d been working freelance for some months leading up to it. Not a lot of freelance work, but enough to soak some costs of living and stretch out the bursaries I’d received. Maybe this was the point when I should have worried: when I was only getting by because I was good enough at school to get free money. Combining bursaries with student loans and some reasonable contract payouts meant I was set for at least six months.

I burned through that really, really fast. Six months is NOTHING. It’s barely a blip. Getting desperate meant taking desperate jobs, which meant taking on real estate writing for overseas developers. They paid well, when they could be bothered to pay at all. At one point, a client actually stole the work I did for them before paying me, started using it on their collateral, and then tried to ghost me. When I threatened to sue them, they tried to lowball me and only pay me for the work they stole.

A lesson learned in this: don’t bend over and take less than what you agreed to do. Get paid what you agreed you’d be paid.

I compromised and got a little over 80% of what I was asking because I wanted to be done with them. Would I work with them again? Probably not, unless I was desperate. I saw what they wound up with for copy after I walked, and it was pretty bad stuff.

School didn’t prepare me for the reality of dealing with clients who want to rob you blind, underpay you for your labor, and then ghost you.

I did work for an advertising company that ghosted me after several successful contracts. I never got a reason, never got a reply, I didn’t even get a polite, but firm, email telling me never to contact them again. It was a little disheartening. I liked the work I did for them, they seemed happy with what I was producing, and they paid market rates. I could cover my bills, start putting money back into my savings, and stretch out that buffer.

School didn’t prepare me for being ghosted and left in the lurch.

Ultimately, I wound up with a real job, at a real company, making a real salary. I went through a grueling internship with no guarantee the work would turn into a job. I was being paid minimum wage. I was living by the skin of my teeth. The internship turned into an introductory contract, albeit a temporary one. I struggled through that, and now I’m on an indefinite contract.

I’m a Marketing Communications Specialist, which is a broad, fancy term for ‘writes a lot of different things from day to day. Also does other stuff.’

School didn’t prepare me for the specifics of what I’m doing now, either.

What a higher education did prepare me for was having to learn how to do things quickly, and apply critical thinking to each task. How do I research a task? What has worked in the past? How should I approach this problem? How long is this going to take to complete? Given my other projects on the go, how much time to I have to allocate to revision, and what is the minimum viable deliverable? Does this satisfy the criteria laid out by my own plan?

School, absurdly enough, prepared me for the abstract of the work. The meta. The work around work. It also taught me to write smart, take notes, and don’t waste time writing a lot if you’re going to cut it all anyways. School was absolutely critical in being able to shift gears from task to task, and shift them often.

The single best gift that school gave me was being able to maximize my productivity when it mattered, and not burn out on the rest. I’m not afraid of a crunch, and I know what I can produce under pressure, with a deadline, in a hurry, on short notice, or without warning. I know where my standard for good enough sits, and it’s just high enough to keep ’em coming back for more.

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