Human Of The Week: Madeleine J.

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Feature image of Madeleine J. by GradSimple.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by our interviewees are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of GradSimple. We only edit these responses for clarity. All opinions remain those of the interviewee.

  • Name: Madeleine J.
  • Year Of Graduation: 2020
  • College/University: University of Chicago
  • Major: Economics and Anthropology

What do you do for a living?

I’m a marketing manager at a tech startup, though I’m transitioning to an account manager role next month!

I fell into marketing by accident the summer before college. I was pretty lucky to find a position at a small e-commerce business (it was literally just me and the founder), and I worked there part-time for almost 2 years. The founder needed help with marketing, so I learned everything I could. My career snowballed from there! Everything I’d done at the small business made my resume look really impressive, which definitely helped me secure all my future roles in marketing.

From my experience, small startups tend to give you the best experience, while bigger corporations give you a fancy company to put on your resume. I had a mix of both, but I think the hands-on experience at small startups helped me nail my interviews later on.

Can you tell me about your job search experience after graduation?

Summer 2020 was chaos. I graduated right in the middle of the pandemic, and it was so hard to find a job as a new grad. After getting ghosted by an absurd number of jobs (including a part-time gig organizing virtual parties on Animal Crossing), I cut myself some slack and rode out the year living at home, shifting between my mom’s house and my dad’s house. It felt like I was in high school again. I even lived with my grandma in Florida for a few months.

In hindsight, I’m grateful I could take a break. I thought about taking a gap year before college, but I was scared to lose momentum. I always regretted it! College was incredibly stressful, but the pandemic lowered everyone’s expectations; it felt like I had the universe’s permission to take an “adult gap year.”

A year after I graduated, I felt ready to dive into the job search with renewed vigor. It took almost a month to find a job offer, and I took it right away. Weirdly enough, I found both my full-time roles on ZipRecruiter through one-click apply (I hate writing cover letters).

My first job was an entry-level marketing job at a baby tech startup, and I learned a lot during my year there. Economics has almost nothing to do with marketing, but my previous summer jobs and internships were all in marketing, so I just followed what made sense.

Why did you choose your major? Would you still pick this major now, if you could go back in time?

I’ve always struggled with my sense of self, and college was no different. Since I had no idea what I wanted to do, I copied what everyone else did: joined a sorority and became an econ major.

Honestly, I was miserable. While I’ve always found the “Freakonomics” side of econ fascinating, it turns out I wasn’t cut out to be a finance bro. I rushed through the required classes, filling my schedule in hopes of graduating early. By the time I started taking classes that actually interested me, I was 3 years into college and had just 1 class to go to complete my economics degree.

My anthropology degree is a nod to those classes that I found in third year. I didn’t plan to go into academia, so the degree was completely unnecessary. But I didn’t want to graduate with a major that’d made me miserable, so I loaded my schedule with anthro classes to complete the major requirements in just one year.

If I could go back in time, I would encourage myself to take classes because they seemed interesting, and not rush to choose a path or a major early on.

If I asked you 3 years ago, what would you think you’d be doing right now (in life/career)?

Honestly, I thought I’d be at my first job forever. Not that I wanted to be a “marketing associate” for the rest of my life… the future just felt so daunting. I knew I wanted to move out, but I didn’t have a timeline or any sense of direction. I’d always wanted to live in New York, but moving across the country felt like a very expensive pipe dream. I just wanted to move on from Chicago (where I grew up and went to college) and find the start of my next chapter.

3 years ago, I was just proud of myself for securing a full-time job after a year of feeling aimless. It wasn’t until 9 months into my job that I started feeling secure in my adult life; that’s when I started dreaming bigger for myself (finding a new job, moving to New York, making new friends). 2021 Madeleine would be thrilled if she saw me!

What’s your biggest struggle right now?

Lately, it feels like I’ve hit a plateau. I’ve been with my current company for 2.5 years, I just resigned the lease on my apartment, and I’m in a stable relationship with my boyfriend of 3 years. Stability and consistency aren’t bad, but I feel like my most interesting decisions are behind me. It scares me to think that the next 5 years could look the way my life does now. I like my life, but I crave variety, and everything feels very stagnant right now.

I’m challenging myself to be more open to big changes. That’s why I’m saying yes to opportunities (like my new role at work) and pouring myself into my passion projects (writing my newsletter and hosting events). 

If money was not a factor, what would you be working on or spending more time on?

Writing! And creating in general. I’ve found so much fulfillment in spending time with my friends and doing creative activities together. At 26, I’m kind of over the bar scene (I do love to dance, though). I want to spend more time outside, try more hobbies, connect with more people, and be more involved with my community.

Since money is very much a factor, I’ve been trying to do these things when I can.

If we traveled 3 years into the future of your life, what would you hope we’d see?

I still feel new to NYC after being here for 2 years. In the future, I’d love for it to feel more homey: being more connected to my community, not always needing directions to get around, making more deep friendships… It takes a while for a city to feel like home, but I’m slowly getting there. 

I’d love to feel more aligned on my path forward, too. Like I said earlier, I’ve felt a bit like my life is plateauing lately and I’m not sure what the next “big moves” are. In 3 years, I hope I’m on the path to more big life moves (whatever those may be).

What advice and/or learnings would you give to current students or recent grads?

1. If you want to do something, just do it. I spent so much time questioning my decisions and agonizing over what the right choices were, landing me in permanent limbo. Don’t be like me. Even if you have to do something imperfectly, just start it. Want to start a TikTok account? Just try posting once a week. Think you’ll like knitting but don’t have the money for the supplies? Ask your friends, family, or find a buy nothing page. Starting imperfectly is always better than not starting at all! 

2. How you live your days is how you live your life. I felt so bleh about my life trajectory until I started filling my days with things that aligned with my dream self: seeing my friends, reading, exercising, writing, hosting, etc. Once one thing becomes a regular part of your life, you can add more and more until you have a life that looks like what you envision.

3. Don’t do things that you think you’re *supposed* to do; do what feels right to YOU. I wasted a lot of time, money, and energy trying to be what everyone else was, and all that did was make me sad. Fulfilling your own idea of what you want to do feels SO much better than being the best version of someone else’s dream.

4. Find a hobby that doesn’t involve technology and do it every day!!!

5. Instead of scrolling through strangers’ TikToks or Instagram Reels, find 5-10 creators you admire to idolize. Treat them like they’re celebrities. Follow their advice (as long as they aren’t problematic). Copy their outfits. I find this to be so much more rewarding than random scrolling. My favorites are Pigmami, Anna Barger, and Flex Mami! My queens.

6. Be introspective and let yourself process your thoughts. Feel your feelings! I journal every morning and write personal essays with my realizations, and it is always so freeing to get your mental muck out of your head.

7. Do things with future you in mind. Whenever I feel unmotivated I think: what little steps can you take today to make life better tomorrow?

8. Take care of your health! It’s easier the younger you start. Learn to cook nutritious foods, get an exercise routine, and guard your sleep with your life. 

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

One last thought: there’s no such thing as a “normal” path. You have to build your own life, and it’s as scary as it is liberating. As adults, we can really do whatever we want… so do what makes you happy and build a life that feels good. It won’t happen right away. But one day, all these little things will add up and you’ll realize you have a pretty good life, after all.

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