I Was Living Paycheck-To-Paycheck In NYC — I Left & Now I Make $110K

illustrated by Vero Romero.
In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six figures — when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census with the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Today, we chat with a creative director from New York, NY. Previously, we spoke to a chief of staff in Washington, D.C. and a lifecycle marketing professional in San Francisco, CA.
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Job: Creative Director
Age: 28
Location: Upstate New York, NY
Degree: BFA Graphic Design
First Salary: $55,000 in 2014
Current Salary: $110,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"I wanted to be an interior designer or an illustrator."
What did you study in college?
"I have a BFA in graphic design."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"Yes, I had $80,000 in student loans. When I moved to New York City, I couldn't afford the loans while also feeding, housing, and clothing myself. So my dad ended up paying my loan in full so I could stay and not accrue interest adding to my debt.
"I now pay him monthly payments for my loan, interest-free. I grew up in a middle-class family — my father is a carpenter, my mother is a teacher. We never went on fancy vacations or did anything extra; I am lucky that my parents were able to do that for me."
Have you been working at this job since you graduated from college?
"I did an unpaid internship in San Francisco at a packaging agency with headquarters in New York City. I moved back to New York after three months and took my first 'real job' at a lingerie company as a graphic designer. I was promoted once in that role, which bumped my pay up by $10,000. I then switched to another team after the company cleaned house and let 400 people go.
"After nearly three years, I made the decision to leave New York City. I was depressed, living paycheck to paycheck, and desperate to just feel happy again. I questioned my career path every day. When my lease was up, I left the city for a small agency in upstate New York, where I was a senior UI designer. After a year and a half, I switched jobs again and became the creative director at another small agency that has helped over 300 brands like Lyft, Nectar, Graze, and many other startups with customer acquisition.
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"In addition to all this, I freelance a lot. My nights and weekends consist of sitting at my kitchen table working nonstop. I work for brands and startups nationwide; most are in New York City and Los Angeles. I've proven to myself that I'm able to do work that I love for brands I am passionate about, and I've managed to add more than $30,000 onto my current full-time salary in freelance income in the past year."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"Each day I check my emails, check in with writers and developers, assign tasks, put out any immediate fires that come up with websites, blogs, or social. Then I start designing anything from emails to landing pages to banner ads."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"A few times I have. When I'm interviewed and they ask me my range, I always give a range higher than what my previous job was. I make sure to discuss all of the additional assets I bring to the table and why I should be paid what I am asking for."
Is your current job your “passion”? If not, what is?
"This is a tough question, because people are always changing. I find my passions in life change every year. Making money is a passion of mine, and what I currently do is making me money, so yes, I would say it is a passion.
"I'm interested in anything that will give me the ability to be happy and sustain my life on my terms — something I am still reaching toward. I'm passionate about all things creative. The other things I can see myself doing is real estate and owning my own business, which I'm working on!"
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If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"No, I've gotten a lot of experience with many different aspects of design. I plan to keep building on that and get more education and experience with UX, photography, and motion graphics."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"Don't have a boyfriend in college or in your early 20s. Learn more about money and invest earlier on. Trust your instincts; do things because you want to and they will benefit you, not just to look cool to other people. Live within your means; you don't have to go to brunch every weekend if you can't afford it. Don't be so hard on yourself — you're killing it more than you know."
Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary ($100,000+) and want to tell your story? Submit it here.
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