Radio Diaries: Start at the Bottom

Sep 15, 2017

When I moved to Traverse City in 1970, I had a master’s degree and years of experience but I couldn’t find a job.  Desperate to pay the rent, I followed up on a “Gal Friday” position at the local newspaper.

Nobody would use that term today, but back then it described a kind of all-purpose assistant on the bottom rung of the organization.  “Reading proofs, delivering proofs,” the advertising director told me.  “You know you’re overqualified.”  I knew but I needed the work.

Turns out, I also loved the work, the newspaper business—making friends with the typesetters and the merchants.  Soon, I was hassling the publisher to let me write book reviews.  “Okay, write a couple and I’ll have a look,” he said.  A few months later, he invited me to write a personal column.

“Sure,” I said and started writing a weekly essay about my life. Three years later, I left the newspaper to have a baby but I kept writing my column—for 30 years.  When my daughter was in school, I decided to re-enter the workforce and I started at the bottom again, filling in for somebody at the college who was on maternity leave.  By the time she came back, I had earned my own job.

So, my career advice is to start at the bottom.  If you’re good, you’ll move up fast—and you’ll know everything.