How I quadrupled my income at the age of 25 (2 years out of school)
Everyone wants to know the secret sauce to quadrupling your income, and quite honestly, I don’t have it.
I can only tell you how I did it, but it by no means applies to everyone in every situation.
You need to take a look at your industry, your job, your skills, and the market. If there is no demand, you can’t do it, point blank. Or if you’re in a industry where salaries are capped, you have no hope of doing this.
You really have to see what you have around your, what your environment is, and what skills you have/can pick up, and capitalize on all the opportunities those things afford you.
You aren’t me, and I am not you. If someone says they can make you double your income over night with no work at all, they’re lying.
So, here’s my story.
Started @ $65K (Negotiated a 30% increase)
I started at $65K a year out of school. They initially offered me $50K and I negotiated a 30% increase because… I’m a mercenary. I had student loans to pay and I knew I had to go with the highest-paying job out there.
The highest paying jobs out there for entry-level people? It is also likely an industry that has a lot of potential for high-paying salaries and maybe opportunities to make a lot more than you thought possible.
If not, why would they pay so much for someone to start? They can’t just hire ANYONE. They need people with a specific set of skills – determination, work ethic, intelligence, and willingness to put in the work and stick it out. They’re not hiring someone at a minimum wage job that I did when I was in high school, simply slopping food onto a plate to serve.
OR, in my case, it was all of the above and that the job kind of sucked.
The highest-paying jobs out there for entry-level people, are also very likely to have the highest stress levels, longest work hours and highest attrition rates, not to mention that it probably doesn’t have a lot of women in it (if any).
This was exactly what I encountered. Barely any women (I think one in her 50s), and everyone looked haggard from being pushed so hard to deliver on the nights and weekends.
Almost Quit my first year
It was everything I mentioned above – long hours, stress like crazy, my weekends were not mine any longer.
My first project, was one of the worst they had seen in a long time (talk about baptism by fire). It was a project that was normally meant to take 24 months, crammed into 6.
It doesn’t matter how many people you put on a project like that, you cannot make magic happen out of thin air. Time is also a crucial factor on many projects, and somehow it was sold as such to ‘win the contract’.
Not only that, they also had a tight budget. So they couldn’t hire a lot of people on the project to help ease the transition, and we had to share hotel rooms. It was brutal.
About a month in, I mentioned it to a colleague and he told me kindly to stick it out, and not all projects were like the one I was on. He told me it was very rewarding if you had the mental aptitude for the job, and he also generously told me he thought I would be great at it.
I suspect it was partly altruistic because he also needed me to not leave in the middle of this project. I was there pro bono to cut my teeth on the project, and they threw all the worst grunt work at me. I remember going cross-eyed from all the details, and spent 100+ hours in a basement at the office, working like crazy.
Nevertheless, I listened.
Anything that is difficult with a high attrition rate, is likely to have very little supply and a huge demand which equals higher salaries. This job sucked. This project in particular was the worst they had ever been on but if you could come out of it with character, and show that you were up for it, even if it seemed impossible, it meant you had what it took.
If I had quit the first month, I never would have realized that after putting in a serious effort to be ‘the best at everything they had to throw at me’, I wouldn’t have reaped any rewards.
Out of my year of entry-level graduates hired across Canada, I am the only one left standing. Everyone else has quit for something else because the job was either too technical, had too many long hours, and/or they simply just weren’t into it.
The other observation out of that is — even though you can make a fkload of money in a certain job/role, it doesn’t mean you’re suited to it.
This is why I don’t see the point in people wanting to know what I do. You can easily read my post: “Jobs that pay 6-figures; make lots of money and let you work from home” and run your finger down the list to pick something.
What I do DOES NOT MATTER TO YOU. It can’t and shouldn’t. You are not me, and I am not you. For lack of a better explanation, Dr. Seuss had it right – you have to be the best YOU, that you can be.
To make a lot of money in a job/role like I do, you have to be really good at what you do, and to become an expert in what you do, you have to CARE. You have to actually enjoy the job.
Is it my passion? No. I like to eat and shop for designer clothes and accessories (secondhand, mind you).
But do I care and enjoy it as a job because it is challenging? Yes.
Also, I wanted to quit because I had no friends or colleagues my age. I know it sounds trite but it was hard being the only young girl on all the projects surrounded by mostly middle-aged men.
Spent the next 2 years learning
Once I decided to commit to the job and really give it a try, I set my mind to it and did it. I studied, I took ALL THE COURSES I COULD. I read through all the boring, technical material that was created (omg…..it was horrific), and I didn’t understand any of it.
The only way I understood any of it, was to get on projects and apply my knowledge. This is true for a lot of STEM professions – you can study and get great grades in class, and ON PAPER solve problems and know what it means, but when you’re actually in the juice and on a project? It’s another ballgame completely.
Projects are messy, and I learned what I could from all of them. My mission on every project (even now), is to pick up a new skill of some capacity. I don’t try and overreach into others’ areas because I know it would take another 5-10 years to really master what they’re saying to me, but I do try and gain some sort of working knowledge for the piece that I am involved in.
I branched out. I reached out to everyone around me, I peppered them with endless questions, and I spent time alone on lunch breaks and after work hours, puzzling through things that they very simply told me worked, but I couldn’t figure out HOW it worked until I experimented on my own time to learn it in my heart so that I “felt” the knowledge.
The same way I did with personal finance – when I started out, I had no idea what any of these terms meant: ETF, Dividend, Net Worth, Interest Rate, Mutual Fund, RRSP, TFSA.
I learned it, and now I can’t imagine not knowing it – it seems so simple to me.
I took courses paid for by the company, and didn’t understand a thing. I took more courses, and understood some more because I had gained experience on a project.
I made copious notes (still do), and whenever I am on a project, and I think: I saw this before….. I reach into my detailed notes and specifics of what happened, and pull out the answer or cobble some sort of answer based on another situation.
When someone solves something for me in their area that helps me, I take notes.
When I solve something and someone says – oh but that doesn’t work like that, you need to do _______, I take notes.
You get the idea.
The more time you spend learning a skill, the easier it gets, and then the more FUN it becomes because it comes so easily to you. That’s why now, with 2 specialties that I worked hard to acquire so that I am desirable by clients for projects (so that they don’t have to hire 2 people, let alone 3, really..), it all comes easily to me, and I can now ‘coast’ on my knowledge.
Now, here’s the actual part that made a difference.
I wouldn’t recommend rage quitting, but I had been on this project for about 6 months and my company was treating me like absolute crap because they thought they could get away with it, with me being a junior.
“Where is she going to go? She can’t quit. She needs us. She has student loans.” I can’t confirm that it was what they said, but the way they were acting, meant that was how I felt.
They would do things like harass me for using a stamp to mail in my expenses and time sheets, asking me why I “wasted that money on a stamp” when I could have taken a bus to the office and dropped it off in person when I came back home.
It was all like that, from how much I ate, to what I picked as a hotel ….. it was constant expense harassment, and they refused to let me expense my cellphone, my transit pass (I didn’t drive), and I was commuting to the project FOUR HOURS A DAY. Two hours to get there and back, with a mix of having someone drive me across town, and then I’d have to take the bus back the other way to actually go home (we lived on opposite ends).
(I didn’t have a driver’s license nor a car, but I got one right after this project.)
ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME?
I was already working 100+ hours trying to pretend I was a team lead (this was literally my third project, and I had never done a single one before, so it was a complete baptism by fire), and they were making me do work of a senior consultant, as a junior.
In some ways, that worked in my favour – I rose to the challenge (even without the pay increase because “I had to prove myself first“), and I worked longer and harder to try and make up for my lack of experience. I was managing a team older than me who gave me less respect than was due, and the only way I won them over (as misogynistic as they were), was to be fair and organized. I was very efficient, and I didn’t like wasting time in meetings shooting the breeze. I WAS BUSY.
The last straw was not letting me have the Fridays to work from home because they were nervous about the deadlines (I was on time, by the way, because I just worked longer/harder), and wanted to reassure the client with “face time” on Fridays so that they would think we were working harder.
My Fridays were the only day I didn’t have to commute 4 hours, stuck in traffic, getting nauseous from motion sickness, and it was the ONE TIME I was at home, able to get things done and relax.
I told them: No.
They were shocked. My manager demanded to see me. I refused.
And they then sent me the ultimatum of: If I don’t see you in the office at the client, you are to travel to the office where you check in with a manager when you arrive and check out with them when you leave.
The implication? Or else I was fired.
So, I spent that Friday contemplating my options. I had $2000 in emergency fund savings, and about $20K left in student debt to clear. I would barely make it past 2-3 months without any income, even if I ate beans and rice.
But I decided in that moment, that it was not worth being treated like crap, so I quit that day I received that email and left the client in the middle of a project.
I absolutely would not recommend rage quitting. To this day, I feel like utter #$&@* that I fked over the client and the project team by leaving them in the lurch. It was unprofessional and I would never, in a million years, ever do that again, and in fact even though a project has gotten very hairy at times, I have never done that again.
But at the same time, when you as a manager use aggressive measures to dehumanize an employee no matter how junior she is, and to not even have any compassion for the situation (THEY KNEW WHAT I WAS SACRIFICING), you put them in a situation where they have to make a similarly aggressive choice.
You get what you deserve.
They thought they could force me to break and bend to their will but I had a stronger backbone than theirs, and I knew my worth at that point. I had actually taught myself everything I needed to know as a junior and I decided it was time to try something new.
What they didn’t understand was I was also not a fool, and I had been in contact with other people in my industry who had already been encouraging me to quit. They told me the market was the perfect time to dive in and there was no better time.
So, I listened, and the day I quit, I sent out the missive with my resume to my contacts and asked them for help.
I of course, spent the rest of the weekend crying, hyperventilating and wondering WTF I did. My mother was shocked I quit such a cushy, comfortable, stable job, and she couldn’t understand why I would want the lifestyle of uncertainty and stress.
I ran countless scenarios of picking up jobs at minimum wage, or finding another job at another consulting company…. and how long I could last on basically $2000 and credit cards.
So I do not recommend rage quitting. If you’re going to quit, quit with a plan and a budget.
Made $90K in 3 months
Once my resume was out there, the following Monday, as they had all predicted, I got a call. Later that day, I signed a contract to start at $100/hour because they were freakin’ desperate for anyone with my skills, no matter how inexperienced as there was literally no one left on the market to sign or hire. Not a single employee, or freelancer.
They took a chance on me. They didn’t have to.
But I definitely didn’t let them sign me at $80/hour which was what they offered. I asked for $130/hour and they laughed because I was (A) very junior and (B) a woman. They told me I would never, in the history of my freelancing, get that rate in a million years and they had never known anyone to earn that.
We settled on $100/hour because I was willing to walk. I basically told them: You give me that rate, or you can find someone else.
And knowing there was NO ONE ELSE AVAILABLE… they gave me my rate but only signed me on for a month (a trial, really).
All my money problems were solved, and within a month I cleared my student loans in one cheque.
A month later, when my contract was up, I asked for that missing $30/hour. They told me it would NEVER HAPPEN IN A MILLION YEARS. I told them to try, or else I’d rather sit at home eating bonbons and watching trash reality TV.
(I meant it this time without hyperventilating, I already paid my student loans and had a bit to spare, so I was fine, by my standards.)
They went to the client, and I got my rate.
When they called me back in shock to tell me the client agreed to raise my rate (and that I had a great poker face), I told them: So. How does it feel to know someone who makes $130/hour?
We are now on good terms – they know not to contact me unless there’s a contract with a decent rate because I am not a bottom feeder, and I absolutely delivered on that project the best I could. I worked so much overtime, I ended up making $90K in those 3 months they hired me.
Also, always negotiate. Unless it is truly a salary higher than all of your benchmarks and YOU KNOW it is a good rate, you should always negotiate.
If I was offered a contract at $150/hour I wouldn’t negotiate. It’s a good rate, and I’d take it in a heartbeat.
But I am never offered that! Usually they say: $90/hour. *sigh*
And that’s how I did it.
A lot of it has to do with context, luck, the environment, the market, my skills, and timing.
It is why I say that what I do as a job, shouldn’t matter to you at all.
You cannot replicate what I did. Heck, I couldn’t replicate it if you asked me to try it again. Had I graduated in a recession like now, had I not taken the highest paying (random) job out of school… none of this would have happened.
It is impossible to recreate what I did exactly, but you can use the above observations to help you see where you can increase your own value on the market.
The real trick is not doing it the first time, but replicating it again and again. I didn’t get that rate again until some years later, but that’s the ebb and flow of freelancing. It all depends on the market.
Wow, I can’t believe that employer hassled you over tiny things like using a stamp to mail something. That’s ridiculous and I’m glad you rage quit! I graduated during a recession and didn’t have a job at first. I eventually landed an internship that turned into a full-time job. It was low-paying but that was/is the norm in that industry and I was grateful to have a job. I don’t think I would of had much negotiating power — but I didn’t even think to ask for more. It wasn’t until a few years later when I had a male friend who talked openly about negotiating and asking for raises that I realized how differently we had been socialized when it came to money and salaries. What was just part of his MO was something I had never thought to do. Now I always ask for more.