It's Okay to Start Small
Written by Kayla Lokeinsky
Life has a funny way of teaching you lessons you never knew you needed.
Two-and-a-half years ago I graduated college with a degree in journalism. I had a part-time clerk job with the Orlando Sentinel and a website full of clips, and I thought I was a shoe-in for a full-time position at the city’s largest newspaper.
But, there were no jobs available. It was as simple as that. For new grads, jobs are far and few between, and that goes double for high-paying jobs. Sometimes you can do everything the professors teach you to do, and the opportunities just aren’t there.
There was something I eventually learned after a few months of fruitless job searching: You should never think you’re too good for your first job. So what if you’re working for a business that no one’s ever heard of? Don’t think of it as settling; think of it as building your foundation.
So, readjusted my expectations. I took my idea of working for a big company and threw it out the window, and instead started applying anywhere and everywhere. If the job description included anything about writing, social media or public relations, you can bet my resume was in that contact person’s inbox.
I landed my first full-time job a few weeks later, with the Lake City Reporter. Lake City is a rural (but rapidly-developing) town in North-Central Florida. It’s a small town, to say the least. It has a population of 12,000 (for perspective, Jacksonville has 880,000; Seattle has 704,000; and New York City— the publishing mecca of America and home to the gold-standard New York Times— has 8.5 million). The most shocking statistic? Much to my horror, it had exactly zero Target locations.
When I told my dad I got the job, he asked, “Why can’t you just work for USA Today or something?” I laughed. It wasn’t impossible, but I explained that, like with any first job, you can’t expect to start at the top. So, I moved to Lake City and started my first job at the “five-day weekly”—and over the next two years, I learned more than I would have learned in 10 years at any other paper.
I started out as a news reporter/photographer, and within a year I was promoted to special projects editor, a position that didn’t even exist when I first started. The job was created for me, to allow me to take over the paper’s 15 special publications, including magazines and community guides. I learned layout, launched a social media campaign, dabbled in graphic design, took pictures, edited, wrote articles and took the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the industry by doing anything else I could get my hands on.
At that point in my career, I never would have gotten those opportunities working for any other publication. That’s the beauty of working for a small company—as a regularly sized fish in a small pond, you can really make your mark.
When I was in journalism school, did I dream of writing stories about senior citizens painting birdhouses at the local hardware store or covering the opening day of Little League season? No, of course not. But did those experiences teach me how to be a better journalist? Without a doubt.
I learned the importance of making your skills known, and of not being afraid to learn new ones. I began to understand more about what I wanted out of a job, and what I didn’t. I discovered who I was as a working professional.
A few months ago, I started a new job—with The New York Times. I work in their Gainesville editing center designing newspaper pages for clients all over the world from Japan to Canada.
If I've learned anything from this experience, it just goes to show: You never know where your first job will lead you.
Kayla works full-time as a designer at the New York Times Editing Center in Gainesville. She also runs her own Florida lifestyle blog, The Happy Floridian. When she’s not working on her blog, you can find her cuddling with her cat, exploring state parks or binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix for the tenth time. Check her out on Instagram.