Evidence to the Contrary — Millennial Money with Katie

I know this because it’s how I used to think about my earning potential. 

There was a story I told myself—somewhat unconsciously—about what “people like me” could earn. I graduated from a big public university with a communications degree, I told myself. I don’t know how to operate Microsoft Excel, much less code, and I lack hard skills. A six-figure income felt so out of reach that it never occurred to me to strive for it. I’m an ad copywriter, and that just doesn’t pay well, I’d say. But that’s the path I chose, so I have to live with that, unless I go back to school and get a more valuable education.

This outlook doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. I usually employed it as a self-deprecating veneer, but it papered over an underlying skepticism of my ability to create something of value. I had vague notions about what types of skills did create value: Law degrees! Organic chemistry! Computer science! (I wasn’t aware of things like private equity or hedge funds at the time, so I didn’t yet know that hard skills are for chumps and ‘person with a job that benefits from the carried interest exemption’ was where the real money was, but I digress.)

Then I started (inadvertently) collecting evidence to the contrary. 

My friend—we’ll call her Bella*—graduated from a big state school like me. She studied a similar amalgamation of commsmarketising (communications? marketing? advertising?) that usually translates to generic job titles, $48,000 starting salaries, and long years spent at agencies living out an unglamorous version of the Andie Sachs fantasy with fewer chic outfits. 

But she took a hard left turn and vacated her underpaid agency gig to become a fitness instructor. After only a year or two, she was pulling in nearly $90,000 to teach two 45-minute classes per day, six days a week. (She ended up being named the top instructor in our city a few times over in the years that followed, a lululemon ambassador, and a development coach to other instructors, including me.)

Hm, I thought upon learning of her shockingly high income for roughly 15 hours of work she loved per week, that’s interesting.

Next it was another friend, Sarah*, who made $12/hour with me at our first internship. After the program ended, she spent a few months being underpaid at some local shop. Before long, she quit and started her own. Within a year or two, she was making $20,000 or $30,000…per month

Holy shit, I said when we sat down for coffee and she talked to me about her business model. It hadn’t occurred to me that that was an option, and I was foaming cappuccino at the mouth.

Then it was Shelly*, a friend who had worked as a public school teacher but did freelance copywriting on the side, since teaching didn’t pay very well and being on the receiving end of high school boys’ jokes was about as fun as going to the dentist. She shocked me one summer when she told me she was leaving this career she didn’t enjoy to pursue her copywriting business full-time, and it only took her two years to double her teaching salary. 

The final push was my friend Payton.* She had worked at a local megacorp similar to mine for a couple of years—but when I was doubling down and gunning for a raise that would take me from $53,000 to $60,000, she was leaving her corporate job to join a small business owner as the team’s creative director. She earned around $100,000 plus equity out of the gate.

I remember leaving a conversation with Payton one early morning in which she detailed the inner workings of her job, and I couldn’t believe how she had sculpted this high-paying role out of thin air that animated her zone of genius so perfectly. As I drove home to get ready for work, the lines on the road lulled me into a sort of hypnosis. I reflected on my rapidly accumulating evidence that maybe my story was bullshit.

All four women went to public state universities. They all graduated with the same degree I did, or another that’s associated with low pay. None of them worked for prestigious consulting firms or investment banks. They all held similar skill sets; that is to say, none of them could write code or perform advanced calculus. Yet I was the only one telling myself that those things necessarily dictated my earning potential. 

I began to see opportunity differently—which meant I started taking different actions. This was ultimately the awakening that led me to buy the domain for a site called Money with Katie Dot Com and commit to publishing two blog posts per week for a year. Four years later, that business has $1.5 million in annual revenue and is responsible for supporting not one, but two six-figure incomes. 

Because that’s one of the most unexpected byproducts of changing your story—in doing so, you don’t just prove yours wrong, but you can prove someone else’s limiting story wrong, too.