Broke Millennial blogger Erin Lowry talks about how she used to skip networking with coworkers—and why she’ll never make that mistake again.
I’ll never forget the awkwardness of the first time I didn’t get an invite to a colleague’s happy hour. I watched as my peers put on their jackets and gathered their things to leave together and I pinged one of them on AIM. (Yes, this office used AIM in 2012.)
“Hey—are you guys going out to happy hour?” I typed, never one to shy away from some confrontation or apparently inviting myself.
“Yeah,” my friend typed back. “I didn’t bother to ask you because I know you’re always busy after work, and you can never come anyway.”
What he said was entirely accurate. In my efforts to double-down on saving and building wealth, I’d bucked conventional social norms in the name of penny-pinching and picking up extra jobs. I ditched coffee runs, always brown-bagged my lunch, and often opted out of happy hour instead of snagging a babysitting job or going home to do some freelance work. Even more ridiculous, I wasn’t even focusing on slaying debt or saving up for a specific occasion—it was purely for the love of money.
Now, this isn’t to say that being frugal is bad and being branded as the office cheapo shouldn’t be worn as a badge of pride. However, the aggressive pursuit of wealth did cost me in non-monetary ways. It’s the kind of backlash I hope others can avoid at their first jobs out of college.
I Didn’t Value Networking
Networking is an essential part of developing your career and moving forward in a company—you just never know where current peers will end up.
My first job out of college was about as far from traditional as you could get: I donned a navy polo, black pants, and an oversized letterman jacket every day to pump up the crowd at tapings of The Late Show with David Letterman.
This is the kind of job many college seniors dream about. It gives you a paycheck (albeit mediocre) with a dash of arrested development, and the ability to keep indulging in collegiate behaviors and not have your work performance suffer. (Yes, I’m speaking of being able to function with a hangover.)
I was working with people who would go on to be notable writers, actors, stand-up comedians. As a theater major, I now realize this was exciting—and a major missed opportunity.
Instead of focusing on networking and building relationships with my Letterman peers, I overextended myself by getting two other mediocre paying jobs and worked from 6AM to midnight with maybe one day off a week. This left little room for connecting with other 20-somethings, exploring a new city, and building lasting relationships.
The same behaviors continued into my second job, where I ditched bonding times to make more money. Sure, I might’ve had a more sizeable nest egg, but you can bet those who networked well and focused more diligently on one job got promoted ahead of me.
People Stopped Inviting Me
Constantly making excuses for not being able to go got old and people just stopped inviting me entirely. After all, who wants to keep getting rejected, even just for happy hour?
This can create a little bit of a chicken-or-egg scenario. People can stop inviting you because you’re never free to come, but this can quickly morph into, “Oh, she never wants to hang out with us.” Even though your excuse is legitimate, people start to think you’re shunning them deliberately. Fewer things kill networking potential like folks thinking you’re stuck up—a habit I quickly rectified in my third job.
I Was Missing Out
Mostly, when I reflect on the first two significant jobs (not talking babysitting or Starbucks barista) in my early 20s, I regret not indulging a bit more in the cliché YOLO mentality. Routinely ditching concerts, comedy shows, and bar crawls to make $20 an hour babysitting feels idiotic to me now. There are shared experiences my friends still bring up nearly five years later, and I’m pretty certain I was spending that same night sitting on a couch in an insanely expensive apartment binging on gluten-free kid snacks and watching Yo Gabba Gabba! Sure, I probably made $100—but in retrospect, that night out might have been worth $100.
Value Your Time—It’s Limited
Your relationship to money and how you value your time will shift drastically as you get older. You won’t always feel like waking up early to get tickets to a coveted show, closing down a bar, or staying up all night talking to your best friends. You can’t go back and recreate the naivete and joy of your youth, and you and your friends will also start to hit other life milestones like marriage and childrearing.
It’s important to start building strong financial habits in your 20s. I’m by no means advocating you generate massive consumer debt to live it up, but I do know from experience that you’ll regret never loosening up those purse strings. It’s OK to occasionally turn down an income opportunity in exchange for making a lasting memory. Plus, you never know how the dividends establishing those relationships will pay in the future.
Erin Lowry is the founder of BrokeMillennial.com,
where she uses sarcasm and humor to explain
basic financial concepts to her fellow Millennials.
Erin lives and works in New York City.