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 speak to a 31-year old Design Strategist and previous Money Diarist in Denver, CO who works in museum design.
“How did you land that job?” “What was your major in college?” “What has your career trajectory been like?” These are just some of the questions that pop up regularly in the Money Diaries comment sections — especially diaries from women with six-figure salaries. Given the level of curiosity, we’ve decided to take a closer look at the professional lives of women making over $100,000 a year. In speaking with them, we hope to shed some more light on their dreams and goals, educational backgrounds, and salary trajectories. After all, though career success should not be determined only by salary, the story of how others have managed to make six figures — and how they feel now that they do — is something most of us want to hear. Plus, it's a way to empower other women in their own journeys.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Some combination of a formula one race car driver/marine biologist/professional hockey player. Then, by high school, I had my sights on being either an FBI agent or an artist. I knew I loved the arts but I wasn't totally sure how to make a career out of it and still use my brain (I love problem solving, but not math). When I applied to colleges, I decided I'd go for the arts if I got into the one art school I applied to, otherwise I'd study criminal justice and go the route of FBI agent.
Did you have to take out student loans? If so, how much were they for and how long did it take you to pay them off?
I didn't. My parents set up a trust for my sister and I specifically for college and I'm eternally grateful for that. For a while in my career, I didn't make a lot of money and was living in a very expensive city, so not having student loans was amazing. I don't know how I would've survived given that I could barely make rent every month.
Have you been working at this job since you graduated college?
No, my career path was as follows: I started in the museum design industry doing exhibits for science centers and history museums, but I entered the workforce right as the economy took a downturn so I was laid off of my first job after two years.
I found another job in the same industry six months later, but the pay was really low. I worked in museum design for a total of roughly four years, then got a lucrative offer for a firm designing fixtures for stores. The boss at that job was horrible to me and I hated it from day one. So I decided to look into UX design, a field a lot of my peers were getting into, and a former boss took a chance on me after we met at a bar and I worked at his agency for five years. I learned so much. I started as a junior and left as a director, managing clients and projects. I'm now doing design strategy — less cranking out wireframes and more guidance of startups — and I love it.
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
Nope. Sometimes I wish I had gone to grad school because I have a bit of FOMO (school is fun!), but otherwise I'm really glad I started in museum design. It’s such an interesting niche and I think has made me a better designer today from all the weird projects, clients and rigor my bosses put me through so early in my career.
Is your current job your “passion?” If not, what is?
It isn't my passion. It fulfills me in that my brain loves the problem-solving and the high from facilitating workshops. There are aspects that are creatively fulfilling as well. Illustration is my passion, but I'm so glad I don't do that full-time as a career. I made a go of opening an Etsy store and selling commissions last year but drawing and painting for other people was honestly soul-sucking (I got requests like 'Draw me and my husband with Pokemon' — yuck!). I'm also really passionate about the outdoors, and I love that I get to do that on weekends with my partner rather than trying to incorporate that into my job somehow.
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
The hard projects, bosses, and clients will make you stronger in the end!