Soon after I graduated from college in Massachusetts, I shipped off to Lebanon to start my singular adult journey. First I needed shelter. When I got that, I applied for a job as a copywriter at GoNabit, the Middle East-based daily deals website much like Groupon.
Every week I expected an answer from them, and every week they never answered me. Finally, they reached out to tell me they loved my copy test. But liaison after liaison kept blowing off follow-up meetings. All the while I was quickly running out of money.
The CEO himself emailed to confirm a date for a phone interview. “This is it,” I told myself, the Big Kahuna’s gonna call. But he never did! I thought I would not hear from them again. Yet one morning as I slept soundly in someone else’s bed, I received a call from GoNabit. It was the interview, albeit very unofficial, as I hadn’t been warned about the time or date beforehand. Even sleepily, I nailed it.
The editor interviewing me rounded out the conversation by asking me what I thought my salary should be. I wracked my brain and tried to figure out what a decent salary meant taking into consideration the international standard, what I personally thought a grownup should make, and then some negotiating hubris. I had no idea what I was actually calculating, so I shot out a cool $4000 a month.
The head of HR, a terse British woman sputtered back at me, “Do you mean dollars?” It occurred to me I had missed the mark. An American friend confirmed my folly later that day by telling me senior architects in Beirut don’t even make that kind of cash, much less an entry-level copywriter.
The next day GoNabit offered me the position, expressing concern over my salary demand. The going rate was much lower than what I’d thrown out , yet still more than the average Lebanese salary. I said I’d take it!
Two weeks after I joined GoNabit was acquired by LivingSocial — and that is how I landed a job at LivingSocial in the Middle East.
Five months into my first real job, which by comparison was the coolest job of all my American friends, I was promoted to Senior Copywriter. My responsibilities expanded to editing all the deals published throughout the Middle East: Lebanon, Egypt, and the UAE — which totaled to about 15 markets including the longer form Escape deals.
LivingSocial carried the startup feel across the Atlantic by sending in graffiti artists to decorate our walls, giving us money to party and bond together, making music videos with us, and hiring the coolest, smartest, sassiest employees in Beirut. In total I worked there for 11 awesome months, until pretty unexpectedly (from a lower employee’s perspective) LivingSocial pulled out of the Middle East laying off 90 employees throughout Lebanon, the UAE, and Egypt.
We were all shocked when it happened, but it was time for a change anyway. Our superiors eased the pain with more than decent parting severance packages. Coupled with my personal savings savings I stretched my time off working for over a year. I continued to live laugh and love in Lebanon Lebanon, traveled to Nepal, and pursued new fascinating projects.
My first stint in the business world, the rugged 9-5 (actually 6) taught me a few lessons from which anyone can learn. Here are some I wrote down:
1. If you want something you better be damned persistent about it.
Regardless of how cool a company is or how sweet and lovely and supportive your boss is, a company is a company and they’re not going to make sure you’ve got the best deal for you. So if you want a raise, make a statement that you deserve that raise. And if you want that interview, email them every damned day that they don’t call you. I even experienced it on the flipside. When I needed to do ten tasks for ten different people, it was the person who kept bothering me about it who got theirs first. Business is business.
2. Take breaks and keep your health in check.
I was supposed to be at the office for 9 hours a day. Although I did my best to cut that time down as much as possible (while still completing all my tasks, I mean honestly productivity is the key not clocking hours), I would still stay in the office for a good 7 hours.
At the office, I’d try to stay active by doing jumping jacks, playing around, walking outside and whatever I could think of. I had coworkers who would sit glued to their chairs staring at the computer for the entire time though, which I’m sure is not healthy. It’s certainly never necessary.
3. Do not eat the cake and cookies people shove in your face.
Seriously, the skinniest hottest girl in the office will walk around to everyone’s desk and demand you eat the cupcakes she brought in for everyone, at the same time she herself doesn’t eat a morsel. Working with people in an office makes you fat. Stay strong and eat some cookies, but not all the cookies. I actually lost 20 pounds after leaving the office and I’m sure it’s because I stopped eating cookies all day long.
4. Befriend your coworkers because they are the ones who are willing and able to have fun with you when you all get laid off.
As soon as I lost my job I was a ball of boundless energy. I was free! I had absolutely no schedule and tons of repressed freedom to exploit. Everyone else was either working or freelancing or not in the mood. So meeting up and day roadtripping or getting wasted on a weekday is possible with in your position. An added bonus is you can talk shit about your old job and all of your job-related greivances that absolutely NO ONE outside of your workplace really wants to hear anyway.
So yea, I’ve learned a few things. But one of the most powerful things I learned this year is that it is really important to follow your dreams, regardless of how batshit crazy they are (you know, moving to the Middle East without any security or job or even money).
They say you’re supposed to take risks and follow your heart. To keep moving in a forward motion and avoid the comfort zone. I did it and while being 23, laid off, and in a foreign country might seem sucky to you, it’s only the door to an even awesomer journey for me.
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