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Essay: Start at the Bottom

Essays by Karen Anderson.png
Illustration by Kacie Brown
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Editor's note: We are airing this essay from Karen Anderson this week on the radio for the first time. We're publishing it online to match, even though this was originally posted to our website in late September. We'll be back to our normal publishing schedule next week. Thank you for understanding.


When I moved to Traverse City in 1970, I had a master’s degree and years of experience, but I couldn’t find a job. Desperate to pay the rent, I followed up on a “Gal Friday” position at the local newspaper.

Nobody would use that term today, but back then it described a kind of all-purpose assistant on the bottom rung of the organization. “Reading proofs, delivering proofs,” the advertising director told me. “You’re overqualified.” Yes, but I needed the work.

Turns out, I also loved the work, the newspaper business—making friends with the typesetters and the merchants. Soon, I was hassling the publisher to let me write book reviews. “Okay, write a couple and I’ll have a look,” he said. A few months later, he invited me to write a personal column.

Meanwhile, I got married and then left the newspaper to have a baby, but I kept writing my weekly column for 30 years. When my daughter was in school, I decided to re-enter the workforce and started at the bottom again, filling in for somebody at the college who was on maternity leave. By the time she came back, I had earned my own job.

So, my career advice is to start at the bottom. If you’re good, you’ll move up fast—and you’ll know everything.