Liz Mak: At that point our whole mentality was basically make it into the industry get a full time job. And we're also chasing this like possibly imaginary concept that we had heard of called stability. But once we finally found that we are kind of like: So what do we do now?
Getting a steady job in podcasting isn’t easy. But once you have a job, how do you measure growth or negotiate for a raise or make sure you don’t get stuck in a rut? In this conversation, two producers share what they’re learned about how to keep themselves motivated to produce great work.
I’m Tanzina Vega, and this is Werk It: the Podcast, a compilation of some of the best moments from the live event
Adizah Eghan: Hello everyone. I'm going Adizah Eghan. I'm a producer at Snap Judgment.
Liz Mak: Hi and I’m Liz Mak, also a producer at Snap Judgment. Welcome to UnStuck in the Middle. So today we're going to just talk about when you reach the beginning of the mid-career phase. So also if you'd like to tweet at us and share your thoughts or your questions. praise and be great. We'd like this to be a conversation so just hashtag at #WerkItUnstuck (that is werk it with an ‘e’).
AE: Yes. And I think we imagine this conversation to be like the conversation that you have with a friend you know at the park, in a bar, like at a coffee shop or something really. I don't know what I'm doing either. And so like it would be really great if we could kind of keep that energy on Twitter. So that's our hope with using this hashtag. So please like tweet at us. You know if you have something that you want to add, tweet it and we might read it through throughout our presentation.
LM: Please help us make our vision come to life. So about ourselves: I will just tell you before we start an idea and I actually began working at Snap Judgment on the very same day our anniversary is August 8th 2016.
AE: That's my day one. And before we got there I had been on on-call reporter at KQED and Liz was a part-time producer and reporter at KALW so we were both at public radio stations in San Francisco. And you know we were both going through this really intense freelancer rough patch or actually we had just kind of like like we saw our way out of it. So this is when you're doing like you know tape syncs, you're working like little jobs for like what feels like pennies. And it's also that point where you're not really sure if you're going to stay in radio. Or like…
LM: Does radio even want you?
AE: Yeah. And you know you see your other peers. Some of them are like taking jobs at coffee shops are like going into for us would be like oh I'm going to take this job. It's like PR agency right. So everyone's like kind of on the fence, not really sure if they're going to stay in.
LM: Or you work at a vegan restaurant for three hours while you're trying to pay your bills.
AE: Yeah. So we knew we both had skills to offer but like both of us really wanted like a job job, an on-staff job.
LM:Yeah. So at that point our whole mentality was basically make it into the industry, get a full time job. And we're also chasing this like possibly imaginary concept that we had heard of called stability. But once we finally found that we are kind of like: So what do we do now? And this is the idea of being stuck in the middle and also getting yourself unstuck from it. You're no longer with a bottom you're like solidly in the middle. You're comfortable for the first time. But at the same time you know like a lot of us have ambitions like you keep wanting to push yourself higher, get your skill set even better; and that means you need to make new goals. You might also have to navigate through like previously uncharted territory. Right. Like a new figuring out a new kind of work-life balance or you might be negotiating salaries like a whole different level than you had before. So we're going to talk about that process today as we have lived it and how we've been working through it up to today. And I think one of our big takeaways is just that having a partner really helps.
AE: Absolutely. So something that worked for us as freelancers as people in staff positions.
But you know it's interesting -- so as I was thinking about what to say for this talk. I recently learned about the “tend and befriend theory.” Are people familiar with this? No. OK. Who's familiar with like fight or flight? This is like in stressful situations like working for a weekly show or being a freelancer. You turn you tend to resist and run as a behavioral tactic. And so there's actually -- so this was actually studied in men, which is kind of no surprise, but then there's this woman Shelley Taylor who studied women and realized that there was another type of behavioral reaction that women had to stress which was to tend and befriend. Which is basically like in stressful situations women band together and support one another. And so you know I think this is pretty apt for what Liz and I have been doing throughout our two years at Snap. We work at, like, a weekly show. We have to put out something pretty much every week. We're supposed to produce like a certain amount of stories every month you know. And so -- and then we started and we didn't really know what we were doing so we've kind of used this tend and befriend model to help like lift each other up.
LM: Yeah. And I just want to say we are not experts. This is just some stuff that we have picked up along the way. So in some ways this is kind of going to just go back through our past two years together, through these conversations that we've had and how we've dealt with it as a team. So first off we're going to talk about assessing your skills.
AE: Sorry I'm just this PowerPoint is -- I feel like I'm doing a lot right now.
LM:It's like two hands.
AE: OK. So when you first start your job it can feel like there's so much to learn. I know when I started at Snap two years ago I didn't know how to use Pro Tools, right. So I was just like I got to get better I got to be fast. I got to do this thing. Everybody's learning Pro Tools and. And so we so when you have little situations like that like little tiny skills that you're trying to learn as you're working on your job it's hard to figure out like if you're any good. And I think both of us were trying to figure out like OK we made it here but like are we good?
LM: And it wasn't until we were about like a year and that we were like OK. Like I feel like we're no longer running to catch up. So we actually took a pause and we were like OK like let's actually just sit down and get like an analytical overview of all the work that we've done in the past year. And by taking that pause and just looking back we're able to see how far we had actually come.
AE: And there's some ways that you can do this that you can measure your progress. And I actually -- someone that helped me kind of figure my way through this was Juleyka Lantigua-Williams of Lantigua-Williams & Co. And I was talking to her on the phone and basically like how do I, like, assess myself? Like, what do I do? And she kind of like gave me this framework. And it was already something that I was doing naturally. So one thing you can do is think about like how long are my stories now versus my stories a year ago. And this was definitely something like when I would finish like a you know like a my first like 30 minute story like ok. Like. Last year like your long story it was 14 minutes. You know moving on up. And then after that you know it was also like OK voices in a story. Normally I was used to producing like one in terms of narrative movies that sound like kind of like narrative stories that sound like audio or movies. I was used to producing with one voice and then you know a year in and I was doing this story with six voices. OK. Progress, right?
Another thing is like how many stories do you see from the idea stage to the end, that were able, that came through your brain that you were able to kind of like pitch and execute and see out in the world? And then another thing too to think about is, like, how long does it take you to finish your tasks? I think you know there can be a lot of outside factors that. That can affect this but this is just kind of like a light framework for you. But you know and then by doing this it can also help you identify your strengths. So as you're thinking about some of the stories that you've worked on in this case what I've done in the past year. One other thing that's helpful to think about is like what kind of stories do I gravitate towards? And I think something else that's also helped me and like some of my lower moments is like what are some of the things that people have complimented me on? And you know and when I think about that it's like OK. This is clearly something that I'm good at. So those are a couple of things that you can keep in mind.
LM: If all else fails just rely on external validation.
AE: Yes. Yes. And then also so once you kind of figure out you know you assess yourself, you figure out your skill level. You also want to think about what kinds of things can keep you motivated. So our managing editor Anna Sussman said this thing to us. Basically she was like she's been at Snap for over eight years and she was like you know one way I keep myself excited and keep myself motivated is by having one story that I'm proud of a year. And Anna probably produces anywhere from like 12 to 24 stories in a year. And so for her to just have like one big story that she's really proud of is that was really interesting for me to hear, you know. Because I think for me like I'm like I want to have like be proud of every story, but sometimes that can't be the reality when you have to produce, produce, produce. So you know one good story or just like one thing that you can hold onto.
LM: On the next slide. We're going to talk about just a big part, another big part of leveling up is learning how to create and define your boundaries. I think especially at the start a lot of us are eager to show that you know we're willing, you know, we're enthusiastic ,like I'll do anything that you asked me to do. And there comes a time when you have to learn to more closely guard your resources and your time and to just be a little stingy. And that is totally OK.
And you know I also want to emphasize that when you learn to be stingy it's also a really natural way to eliminate things that don't matter to you anymore. You know just like personal example: so when I have been consulting when I was a freelancer. I didn't know what I was worth. There was a time when I got offered a gig for twenty five dollars an hour. And I was like I'm going to stand up for myself and ask for 30 dollars an hour. Because I had no idea that that was a really, really low rate. And after I got the job that Snap Judgment when I stopped being like so hand to mouth, I started to realize the value of my time. I was doing work that I already cared about. It was high profile. So naturally I had less time than before. But it also made me a lot pickier about the outside work I did and how much I did charge.
And I think there's something that was super helpful in figuring out what to charge for things. And it's something that actually that Seth Samuel said he's someone who was working as a sound engineer at KALW and he said don't except work for an amount that will make you feel grumpy while doing the job. And I think you know I could have looked at it however many rubrics or talked to so many people about how much did you charge for this job. This was like the most concrete helpful tool that I had for free and how much to charge. And it helped me to get concrete results, too. After I started that Snap Judgment whenever we would get offers for outside gigs I would just I started to just list some amount that seemed kind of ridiculous to me you know whereas I had been making 30 dollars an hour before I started say a hundred fifty dollars an hour. And if they didn't reach that goal I just wouldn't do it. But more often than not people would say yes. And I know it Adizah she had been doing 100 dollar tape syncs and then she started doing 150 dollar tape syncs and I want to say that I also realized like we don't always have the luxury to turn down work. You know and I realize like I had a salaried job at the time and so that helped me reach another level of security that I had not had before. But like when you start valuing yourself you can start to do less work and get more for it. So that was really helpful for me to learn.
AE: Some of the rate from places that it was like they have deep pockets and look this is your opportunity to really like secure the bag you know when it's when you need to be like oh I charge like 150 an hour. There are some places where it's like you can do that. They're like institutions. And then there are other places where the rate is different. So it was also about like realizing the difference between who was asking for your time. But yeah.
So I want to say along those lines like everybody's financial situation is different. And so I think like our takeaway here is sometimes you've got to hustle and that's definitely part of it. But I think it's really important to start thinking about your time, your value, knowing your worth and also prioritizing like the interests and the work that you want to do because that's important, too. And I think what it also helps you do is establish the foundation of your work-life balance. You know the reason we kicked off the session with assessing your skills was hopefully that you'll realize that in a year's time like it will take you a lot less time to do something that it took you before. Like for me you know it took me a certain amount of hours to cut like a five minute story, ten minute story and I've realized that I can do that a lot faster just from experience. So knowing that also frees up your time and gives you more hours to do some of the other things that you want to do in life.
So what does that look like? OK so once I realized that I had some time where I could do that, I started scheduling mornings for myself. So when I was a freelancer I would schedule like Tuesday mornings were my time and that was going to be my time to do whatever I wanted. And then as soon as I got my job that wasn't necessarily an option. But then it -- and one thing that I noticed that started to happen was that when I would I wouldn't finish something and I would just leave things to be like okay I'll finish it on the weekend. And that was eating away at my weekend and I was starting to work all the time. And so something that I started doing was like OK no more work on the weekends unless you absolutely have to. And it made me work more efficiently and like a lot quicker because I was like, you can't do this on the weekend you're not doing this on the weekend and I was still able to get most of my things done and most of my work done.
LM: Yeah. I mean that's a big part of defining your boundaries as just saying no to things. You do not have to volunteer for everything to show that you were a team member. I mean I think that along the same lines as Adizah, I mean I think we are all working on weekends for like a really long time. Where you know they'll say hey there's a hole in show anyone can anyone fill it. And I'd be like oh yeah like, you know my story is almost done and it wouldn't be and then I would kill myself all weekend and then pretend that like I just had it and it had been ready. And you don't have to do that. I think you know you should be able to say hey my story is not ready I need the time my story and that time. I think when you're allowed when you allow yourself to do that and I think a lot of times we impose that on ourselves. You can then decide what you want to prioritize and that also makes you more of an expert at the type of work that you decide that you want to do.
AE: I really think we glorify overworking a lot in this industry. And it's like everybody thinks they have to make all of this content. But I think it's actually like creating this really big problem of how efficiently we work. And if we're all supposed to you know -- and if the idea is that ideally as you get higher and higher you should be able to do these things more quickly like you could have time for yourself. But I'm not seeing that happening. And that's something I want. So my hope is that we start to think about how to work sustainably instead of like doing all this crazy stuff doing all this crazy content. You know feeling like we have to make it all. So yeah. So just working sustainably for me and for other people too.
LM:So we're going to do a little tweet patrol. So looking at the WerkIt I'm stuck hashtag someone was saying “oh my god I am always wondering if I'm any good. I feel like that's been my entire career basing everything off of fear anxiety and perfection.” And that was also my entire career.
LM: Until last year.
AE: Yeah and I definitely think like there's this point where you're trying to do so much. And for me it felt like it was really in the beginning and it felt like there was this really steep learning curve and that just became like my M.O. Oh there's this really steep learning curve. I'm not good enough yet. I'm not there, you know. And then I had to stop and be like Wait a second OK I've been saying this for the last year or two like this. This isn't right anymore. And so and it was really like through conversations with Liz that I started to realize OK I don't have to say this anymore. And we started to change and what the message was like to ourselves.
LM: Yeah. I think like especially you know when you're a freelancer or you're trying to like get in somewhere. It is a really scary situation. Like I doubted like my self-worth and my ability to do work for a very long time. And I think it's also because like the growth that you make as a radio producer anyway is very incremental. You know there's no like concrete like oh I just leveled up from green to red. You know it may just be that you're in a story edit and like you realize how to tackle with this like you know this turn of phrase. So it is very small. And I think that's a hard thing about it. But there is a certain point where it's like once you've reached the middle, or a little bit like maybe like upper middle, I think you don't need as much outside validation because you're starting to realize like I actually know how to do this and you reach fewer road blocks.
So we want to talk about building a professional network and how you brought in that as you kind of grow up. So. Both of us -- I made a great illustration for this. I’m really sad.
AE: There’s no more presentation.
LM: So both of us realized that when we first started an industry our network was kind of this horizontal line. Which is on the next slide. And the people that we really knew at the time were other freelancers or interns. You know they're the people that you turn to when you're like I don't know what. This is my illustration. I'm a line artist on the side. So you know the people who are on your horizontal network like are the people where you're like: I don't know how to do this. Or can you read my e-mail? And you know is it like assertive enough but also like not angry, you know? And like these are the people who you can connect yourself with. And as you kind of get in the middle you start to notice the shift where your network shifts from a horizontal line to a vertical line. Like people on the top are now taking interest in you and this is your opportunity to kind of level up to the next thing.
AE: And for me this felt like a major moment. You know it felt like someone was asking me like OK like do you want to step up and be a leader? And so and I was like yes I do. You know. And so ultimately like -- I did because it was like ,I didn't want to just be the beneficiary of someone's goodwill but I wanted to continue to like reach my hand back and pull other people who are you know in this horizontal line and who are trying who were like shifting to this vertical line. And so I think that's something that's also important to think about, kind of, as you're transitioning in your career. I would encourage people to like step up and be a leader or just don't forget about the people who are in the position that you once were in. Another tip, too, with building your networks is like find -- I feel like there are so many different silos within the audio worlds. There's comedy people, there's indies, there's there's the radio kind of like the public radio space, and there’s music people. And all of these people are interested and like very capable of making podcasts and these could be your next. Like this could be your next partner or something. And so my hope for people is like as were kind of in the wild wild west of like podcasting, that like you go out and also find people who are in other industries because that could be your next partner. And I think sometimes it can feel -- like I feel limited when I just think about the world of of radio being just these podcasts or like just a couple of public radio stations but I get a lot of strength from knowing that there are a ton of black women who are indie podcast people. There's a ton of people who are music engineers. There's so many people who have skills. So I also encourage you to reach out to these people. Cecause you never know where you could end up.
LM: And you don't want to limit what you're even dreaming of doing in the future. So we're going to get to the good stuff so the next part is just negotiating salaries and how we manage that.
AE: Oh man. No slide.
LM: The slide says negotiate salaries. Yeah.
AE: You know I think when we first started when we were negotiating something that we talked about like we didn't know. We didn't realize that like we could we were we didn't realize our value basically. And I think both of us were coming from this position and this place of asking, you know? Like oh can you give me more money? Like oh you know. Am I worthy of yours. Yeah versus being like I'm a boss. Like give me my money. You know like I have value.
LM: That's not how you ask for it by the way
AE: But basically I and I had this quote that my sister sent to me which I then sent to Liz when we were getting ready to negotiate our salaries and it said your salary isn't something that will deplete the company. You're being hired to generate value for them. And. And it was, there was just something about that quote that made things click for me. You know I have people in my life who are who are business women, who are like experts in negotiating salaries. But there was something about this very simple quote that just made it all makes sense that -- and I felt like OK you were definitely asking and you don't need to do that. Look you have value and you can go into that room and assert you know share your value with your boss.
LM: So you know just some concrete tips and you know these are tips that worked out for us. You know we had a very lucky situation that we were both together. So we realized this may not apply to everybody but I think there are some things you can take away. So one of the biggest things that we learn about salary negotiate negotiations at this point was that transparency was huge. And I think that transparency just started between between two of us. Yeah we started talking to each other.
AE: We realized we were paid the same.
LM: Yeah, we just figured out like oh we're paid the same. And that was our impetus. And then that transparency went up to the next level where we started talking to other people. And that meant our co-workers are people who previously worked in our positions. And we started asking them questions like: What did you start at? When did you get raises? How often did you get a raise? How much? And you know I think when you're doing solid salary negotiations there's that first practicality of like: How much do I ask for? And what can I even ask for? And I think when you have solid numbers and facts it really makes you braver to ask for that that much more because you've done your research.
AE: And then another thing too that you can do. I think there's a lot of people who are once again in new companies, new spaces, small teams and so you can be like: What can I even ask for? And so something that you can do is reach out to people in other industries to see what kind of benefits that they have, what kind of policies that they have, what kind of structures that they have that you, like, that you could also work into your negotiation for yourself.
LM: Another thing is just banding together. So our experience was that we started on this very same day. We checked in with the other person throughout the whole process to just be like, hey, what is it that you want? Let me just keep you on track for remembering what it is that you're working for and we practiced how we would talk to her bosses. And when it came time to actually negotiate, we went into that room together at the same time. And we were lucky to be able to do that.
AE: It’s what we like to call the tend and befriend effect. But ultimately like what we learned from each other. It felt like I had a coach and so I had things that I wanted to say that, if I was just working by myself, I probably would have been like. Don't say that. So you don't even think I wasn't going to think about how to rework it I'm just not going to say that but then Liz would be like OK how about if you say this instead. Or like try this. And so it helped me feel more confident about the things that I wanted to say and didn't know how to say. And then it was also nice to have someone else there that almost was giving me permission to to say some of the things that I did want to say and it was like this is important you should definitely share it.
LM: And this is a two way street, right? Like Adizah did so much for me and I think also our different sensibilities really helped here. You know like growing up like my cultural background, it could just be my family. You know I was never taught to ask for things from my superiors and I didn't even know that I could. And so there were things that Adizah would come up with that I would be like I would have never thought of that.
AE: Yeah. We were basically like hyping each other up so we could walk into the meeting and ask for like what a white dude would ask for.
LM: So I just wanted like also just give you this line that is Adizah’s power line that has always stuck with me. I'm going into the negotiation room and saying here's the amount that will keep us motivated to continue to produce the high quality of work we are already producing. That was really helpful. That's an Adizah original.
AE: And last but not least, our last tip for this is that: you can always come back. And this is once again I think like you can find other places but sometimes it's nice to just kind of like spit ball with people. And so with this kind of came to us in a spitball session with someone and she was just like you don't have to say anything after the meeting like you can come back.
LM: You can leave the room and then come back when you're ready.
AE: Yeah. But yeah look you can always come back. So. That's that.
LM: So you just wrapping up like in some ways this talk is about the awkward middle phase of your career and figuring out how to move on from there. But I think one of our biggest takeaways is that we could have never gotten unstuck without the other person.
AE: And these are the people who right now like they're the ones helping you through writing the e-mails and negotiating your salary and whatnot. But then this can also be the person who will help me find my next job or help me get into that next position. And so you know this is just the beginning and the relationship construction to so many different areas.
LM: Yeah and I think today these are the people who help you think through stories or support you when the day to day stuff, but tomorrow they're the people who are going to be looking out for you and recommending you for jobs as you make your way out of the middle. So thank you.