In September, we published the Money Diary of a 35-year-old earning $150,000 as a senior sales exec in the fashion industry in NYC. In it, she talked about landing a huge promotion she initially wasn't sure she was qualified for, learning to enjoy her success, and treating herself to $675 Gucci sneakers. Below, we talked to the OP about imposter syndrome, her career trajectory, and how her relationship with money has changed over time.
In your Money Diary, you mentioned suffering from imposter syndrome after you got a big promotion and raise at work. Can you talk about that?
"I'd been working at my job for about three years, and it's the kind of company where — like at many other companies — they don't give raises a lot. You make what you make, and you do what you do, and that's it. But my industry is really small, and everyone knows everyone. And an outside opportunity came along — actually, one of my clients passed on my name to one of her accounts — and I got an interview. I wasn't really looking, but I went and interviewed, and they basically offered me a job on the spot for a crazy salary. I was like, Whoa. I was not expecting it.
"In my industry — and just sort among people my age in general — there's this conception that you really need to move on to move up. And this new job seemed like it would be a pretty good experience for me. So I resigned from my job, but my resignation wasn't accepted. They were like, 'No, you have to stay here, we love you.' I'd always gotten positive feedback from work, but not in the way that I received it when I told them I was leaving. My boss told me that there was someone in a higher up role who wasn't working out, and that they'd love to put me in the role.
"I really thought about it long and hard. And I decided to turn down the other offer and take the new role at my same company, which was for more money than the other company offered. And it was such a monster leap from what I'd been doing — really different kind of business, really different kind of account structure. It was really out of left field, but I thought to myself, I work at this company, and I know how to work here. And for six months I was like, Did I get this job because they were desperate and it was convenient, or did they really think I'm this good? I felt like I didn't know how to do anything, even though I'd worked there already for three years. Then all of a sudden it started to click."
For six months I was like, did I get this job because they were desperate and it was convenient, or did they really think I'm this good?
How do you feel now?
"There were definitely growing pains, but now that I've been in this role for about a year and a half, I feel equipped to handle it. I got thrown in at the most hectic and crazy time of year, and every day I was like, I'm gonna quit, I can't do this. This year, I had the perspective to know that August is really terrible, and I would be pulled in 800 different directions from the moment I walk in to the moment I walk out is just part of it. I knew I'd get through it. Busy season will come and go, and it will be fine and go back to normal. I know now how to handle the mental and emotional aspects of it now."
What was your career trajectory prior to this role?
"My first job was at a very well-known label and really corporate company, but there was really nowhere to grow. One year, my boss said he would promote me and would fight for me to get a raise, but when my review came up, he was like, 'Sorry, we're in a company-wide salary freeze. I tried.' I ended up leaving, and I made a really hasty decision and went to a company without even weighing my options, and it was terrible. I worked there for three months before they let me go, and I ended up being unemployed for a summer when I was 27.
"During that time, I was able to recalibrate, and I interviewed a ton. There were jobs that I was offered but I knew they weren't what I want to do. I wanted to find something that really made sense for me, not be pressured by someone who wanted to hire me or by the fact that I was out of work. I finally accepted a job and was at that company for a couple of years. But I had to leave when they went out of business. That turned into working at my current company, and then my current role, something that I really never imagined for myself. But looking back I'm like, Why didn't I think that I could do this?"
In your Money Diary, you mentioned that now that you're making more money, you're spending more money. Can you talk more about your spending philosophy?
"This is something I think about a lot. I'm able to save money much more aggressively now than I was in the past. But I have always been a person who budgets: I take what I make each week, and then I prorate my weekly rent and take that out, and then budget for all these other expenses. And from whatever's leftover, some goes to savings, and then I can do a little for myself, but I still have to be responsible.
"I've made a really conscious effort to max out my 401(k) — I'm contributing about $18,000 per year to it. I try to save at least a couple hundred bucks every week to put in my savings account just to have in case something happens. But I've also decided that I work so hard all the time that I need to be able to enjoy myself too. So I've sort of taken this mentality of, well, I can't spend it when I'm dead. I'm not necessarily saving up to have children, so I have to be good to myself and do things for myself. Obviously, not in a way that's irresponsible or puts me in debt, but I feel that I'm at a point in my life now where I can take liberties that I couldn't in the past.
I'm at a point in my life now where I can take liberties that I couldn't in the past.
"And those Gucci shoes — they're such a silly purchase. But I mean, I'd been wearing my Stan Smiths for two years, and they looked terrible — I'd worn them into the ground. And I was like, you know what, I just want to buy myself something kind of silly and kind of ridiculous. I can afford to do that, and it's okay. But no, I would not have spent $675 on sneakers two years ago when I was making $70,000 a year. That would have been very irresponsible, and my mother would have been the first one to tell me."
Does working in the fashion industry come with associated pressure to have expensive clothing? Does your job impact your spending in a different way than it might if you worked in a different industry?
"Weirdly, it's the opposite. I try not to be too flashy in the office because of the commentary, especially from older colleagues. At my office, it's not enough to just compliment someone's outfit — the inevitable followup question is 'Where's it from?" or 'What brand is it?' There's always some sort of backhanded comment whenever I'm wearing something that isn't from Zara, the undertone being 'How can you afford that?' or 'Why would you spend your money that way?' I feel that this sentiment is ridiculous, considering I'm 35 and a senior executive at the company, but it happens a lot. I think a lot of the negative stereotypes around millennials come into play here.
"A few years ago, when I was in a different job, I was wearing a new designer handbag to work and a coworker complimented me and asked me if my boyfriend bought it for me. I saved for months to buy that bag, and I'm still annoyed at that assumption for so many reasons! I still get occasionally asked things like, 'Did your mom buy that for you?' and I confidently reply back that I bought it for myself. It's a great feeling. I buy and wear designer clothes for myself, not to keep up some sort of appearance (which, if you ask my coworkers, would be shopping exclusively at Zara and Old Navy...both stores I love!)."
How do you save and invest your money?
"When I was growing up, my parents saved money every year for me, and when I graduated from college, there was approximately $100,000 in the account. In my twenties, I inherited another $100,000 combined from both sets of grandparents when they passed away. I now have $325,821 in the account. I have invested some of my own money in this account over the years as well, and about eight years ago I diversified and invested my funds in the stock market, with the help of a financial advisor. I have seen substantial gains over the last two years with the strength of the market (although this month, not so much). I have complete control of this account, but I've never touched a dime.
"Some day, the goal is to buy a home and use this money for a down payment. I considered buying an apartment in 2010, but back then I wasn't sure if I saw myself in New York for long enough to make it a worthwhile investment. Today, that is one of my biggest regrets. Given the current real estate market, right now I don't feel that I could afford to buy an apartment that checks all the boxes, so to speak. So for now, I will keep renting below market in my studio apartment."
You mentioned in your diary that you've always made a point not to carry a substantial balance on your credit card, but that you do sometimes carry a balance — can you talk a bit more about your credit card philosophy?
"My parents raised me to be very conscious of spending and debt. They were able to provide a lot for me growing up, but they were insistent on teaching me to be responsible with money. I got my first credit card when I was in college, and it was mainly for things like booking flights home and buying books for school. My parents paid the bill, but it was in my name so that I could start to establish credit. They paid for my education, and I do not for one minute take for granted that I was able to start my adult life without debt. I understand and appreciate the advantage that they were able to provide, so I especially didn't want to screw that up with self-inflicted credit card debt. After graduation, the responsibility of that credit card was transferred to me, with the warning that the bill was my own responsibility, and there would be no bail-out from Mom and Dad.
"My philosophy is pretty simple: I only use one credit card, and I never put myself in a position where I couldn't pay off my balance in full with the money I have on hand. When I was younger, the most I felt comfortable carrying was about $1,000, and once a year or so when it was creeping up, I'd pay it all off at once out of my rainy day fund just to be done with it, because carrying the balance stressed me out. There isn't necessarily a hard ceiling amount I have set for myself right now, but a balance over $2,000 still feels egregious, even though it can be paid off in a few weeks. As of right now, my credit card balance is $0. Carrying a balance still stresses me out."
What's your next career goal?
"You know, I sort of feel like my career was hyper-accelerated when I took this promotion. Most people who have this kind of role in other comparable companies have 10 years of experience on me. Truly. The person who had my position before me was 20 years older than I am. And it's not about age, it's just about years of experience: 10 years ago, when I took a job as a sales assistant making $36,000 and got myself in the door, I never saw myself growing into this kind of role. I didn't even see myself staying in New York. But here I am, and I'm happy at my current company.
"Work is crazy, but I actually see myself staying in this kind of role for a while. The fashion and retail industry isn't doing particularly well these days and that's no secret to anyone, but I work at a company that is, all things considered, very stable financially. The owners are super invested in the business, they do things the right way, and it's the kind of company I really want to work for. I know that they value me, and I know that they like the work that I do. So I never want to just be on autopilot and say I'm satisfied, because I think that's sort of when you can get taken off guard, but I'm happy with where I am right now. I'm just going to see what happens."