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Overcoming adversity after college

In a new series of columns, alums of USC Annenberg share stories of their time at the school, discuss their career, and offer advice to students.

In less than two years after graduating from USC in 1992, I landed the job I always aspired to: a full-time reporter at the Los Angeles Times. At the age of 23. 

And less than two years after that, I was laid off as part of the newspaper's first round of job cuts, along with all the other reporters who worked in local bureaus for the newspaper's Valley edition.

To say I was devastated would be an understatement. Not only had it come as a complete surprise, but the job market was now flooded with out-of-work journalists. The confidence and full-on swagger that had gotten me a job in the first place were of no use when I was now competing with a lot of similarly qualified people. I went through two full boxes of Kleenex before the woman at the outplacement firm stopped me, and said she'd never seen anyone so upset in more than 20 years.

I finally took a reporting job at a small legal newspaper in Downtown Los Angeles, rebuilt my confidence and my career, and landed at Bloomberg News in San Francisco in 1999. 

Here's some advice I'd like to share to help anyone get through adversity after college:

  1. Stay calm. Adversity is a fact of life. There's no way to avoid it. How you handle difficult times will say more about your character than how you handle good times, and it is something that frankly a lot of people will remember about you.  
  2. Befriend management. You want to be aware of how the business is doing and you want to know how you're perceived more broadly within a company. Having a friend in management gives you a conduit of information that can help you with everything from negotiating a raise to warning you about the potential for a layoff or demotion. 
  3. Stay humble. Why? Because no one wants to work with an arrogant person, no matter how talented. Staying humble, while doing the best job you can every day, greatly increases the odds that you keep your current job and that you'll always find work in the unexpected event of a layoff.
  4. Live below your means. This ought to be really easy to do after college since you're just starting out, but you'll be surprised how many people won't do it. You must, must, must reach a point of eventually having at least six months worth of living expenses covered because there's nothing worse than wondering how you're going to pay the electric bill and basically survive when a sudden shock hits and it takes a long time to bounce back.
  5. Remember why you got into the business in the first place. This is perhaps the most important advice of all because it gets to the bottom of who you are and what makes you tick. For me, being a reporter is something I wanted to do as a child so I wasn't going to let a little adversity get in the way. As I watched friends drop out of the field one by one because of journalism's changing business prospects, I stuck it out. And I like to think that I came out on top: by doing what I love to do. It's something that I hope all of you get to do after graduating from USC.