Can You Still Sell Out in This Economy?

Illustration: Celine Ka Wing Lau

Let’s say you work in an industry in which, for the past year (or decade, if we’re being honest), it seems as though everyone keeps getting laid off. For fun, we can use my beloved digital media as an example. Before landing at the Cut, I spent nine months unemployed after the website I worked for was unceremoniously shut down by a guy who spent $1.4 million on one of Napoleon’s hats. I spent most of that stretch going to movies in the middle of the day and wondering if it was time to sell out. Wanting a big change, as all the pop girlies have been singing about recently, isn’t uncommon when you’re in your late 20s and experiencing a Saturn return. All at once, I was suddenly unemployed and looking for one of about four jobs in an industry that could politely be called unstable. To compound things, my boyfriend was in the midst of figuring out where he wanted to go to law school. Obviously, I started to imagine what a pivot might look like.

In my sellout fantasies, I worked at one of the major tech companies doing something like spell-checking the terms and conditions on a piece of software that is definitely collecting data in a way that is not entirely ethical. I’d make $300,000 and close my laptop at the end of the day without a second thought. However, a brief survey of the landscape proved it might not be as easy as I’d thought it would be to sell my soul for six figures and a subsidized Equinox membership. Those “Day in My Life as a [insert big-name tech company here] Employee” videos have disappeared from my “For You” page, likely tied to the waves of layoffs across the tech industry in the past year. I refuse to suffer the indignities of an M.B.A. program, but I am also keenly aware that I work in an industry that could go south at any minute. With that in mind, I decided to see what my options are for selling out in today’s landscape. Thankfully, there are some people whose whole job is getting you a job. I talked to a few of them to learn about my choices.

Can I just get a cushy tech job?

“The cushy tech job is dead,” Farah Sharghi told me recently. Hmm, not off to a great start. Sharghi is a career coach in San Francisco and has previously worked as an in-house recruiter for companies like Google and TikTok. She noted that the idea of there ever being such a thing as a cushy tech job is a bit off base.

“You show up super-early to work to get your breakfast at 7 a.m. because that’s when you have time to breathe. But you’re having working coffees, working lunches, like you’re not just sitting there chilling out and getting massages all day long. That doesn’t exist,” Sharghi said. “I think what people forget about is like, yeah, there are these perks, but those perks are designed to keep you on campus. They are designed to keep you healthy so you can stay up and stay working.”

Bleh. That sounds kind of hellish. If that’s what you want from your sellout job, more power to you. But there are other options for those of us who just want a job that isn’t going to disappear at any minute.

Okay, can I maybe have a job where I’m still a writer? Is there a way to make good money with that?

Eliana Goldstein, a New York–based career coach, thinks that may be possible. “I would say for someone like you, in that situation, I would think about roles related to content development, like senior copywriter,” she said. “Roles where you can add a little more seniority to your title, which will probably help you get paid a bit more.”

Goldstein then informed me that she’s a big believer in side hustles, an idea I do think I’m slightly allergic to (maybe the real reason I can’t sell out is that I’d always rather be chilling). I heard her out.

“You’re a writer. That is, again, a very in-demand skill. Let’s talk about building a side hustle and getting you one or two freelance gigs a month that bring in, you know, an extra $5k to $8k per month,” she told me. “I’m just such an avid believer, given the past few years of how much volatility we’ve seen, that multiple streams of income are always going to be really, really important.”

If you’re my boss, please stop reading this — did you guys know I could be making an extra five grand a month? That sounds incredible, but it also sounds like having two jobs. Maybe what I’m actually craving is stability.

What about those “lazy-girl jobs” I heard about on TikTok?

Last May, Gabrielle Judge coined the term lazy-girl job. In her original TikTok, Judge describes a lazy-girl job as one that offers you a “pretty comfortable” salary and the ability to work remotely and doesn’t require that much actual work from you. You could close your laptop at 5 p.m. and not think about your job. Judge, who is now a full-time content creator and self-described “anti-work girlboss,” told me she originally got a lazy-girl job because there were other things she wanted to do.

“Prior to my lazy-girl job, I had a really intense tech job,” she said. That job was “crushing” her, and she realized there were other things she wanted to do. So she got a lazy-girl job as a customer-success manager, which paid the bills so she could focus on building her own business. Judge also sees lazy-girl jobs as great ways to take some time to figure out exactly what you want to do with your career. “There’s nothing wrong with spending six months with your gas pedal off a little bit and figuring out what else you want to do,” she said. “And sometimes slowing down helps you speed up quicker in your career.”

When I asked Sharghi about lazy-girl jobs, she recommended looking at government agencies, universities, and hospitals. She did warn that when she had a lazy-girl job working in financial services, it got “super-boring.”

Am I actually thinking about this all wrong? Do I even really want to sell out, or am I just hoping for fulfillment and money at the same time?

“I wish I could just listen to someone and be like, ‘Here’s what you should do,’” Megan Hellerer told me. “The truth is that doesn’t exist. And the good news is that nobody can tell you what the answer is except you. The bad news is that it’s all on you.”

Hellerer is a career coach who rose to prominence after one of her clients hit the big leagues. Have you heard of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? She was a bartender when she started working with Hellerer. When I told Hellerer, who has a book coming out this fall called Directional Living: A Transformational Guide to Fulfillment in Work and Life, about my concerns with my chosen career, she stopped me mid-sentence.

“You have to live through the question,” she said. To her, my wondering about whether there was a perfect time to abandon ship and start doing something totally different was a waste of my energy. Here’s her impression of me: “I can preemptively see that this is a sinking ship, and I need to jump at this time. And if I do it at exactly the right time, then I’m going to be safe and then I’m going to outsmart the whole system.” Admittedly, it’s a pretty good impression.

“It just doesn’t work that way,” she informed me. “My hope with that logic is that this can be a huge relief to you. It’s like, I don’t have to figure it out. And I can’t figure it out using my like logical, strategic brain. Instead, I’m going to continue to invest in following — you know, forget your purpose and follow your curiosity and see how that unfolds. And that is the thing you can sort of always trust. In the same way food cravings are meant to show you where the nourishment is, curiosity cravings are meant to show you where the purpose is.”

So I guess, at the end of this exercise, I don’t really want to sell out. At least not in the way I imagined originally. I don’t want to be Ben Stiller in Reality Bites; I want to be someone who finds purpose … but also money. After talking with Hellerer, I feel like that’s actually possible. I do have one lingering question, though.

Do I actually have to use LinkedIn?

“There’s no one right way to do this,” Hellerer said when I asked about the internet’s least-sexy social-media platform. “I guarantee you there’s no, like, LinkedIn will always lead to meaning or LinkedIn will never lead to meaning. If that’s the tool that lands for you and feels exciting? Awesome.” I’m going to twist that to mean I don’t have to.

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Can You Still Sell Out in This Economy?