Sarah Hagi; Toronto;
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe what you do?
I would say, I’m a journalist and essayist. It’s pretty straightforward, thankfully.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I studied general arts at Carleton University for a hot second.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
I worked at a call centre for a couple of years before I began writing. My first paying gig was for a small, now defunct, publication that was hosted on Medium, and since then I’ve been steadily freelancing and working in media.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
The first piece that made waves was an essay I wrote for The Toast (RIP). It was an angry personal essay in response to something Islamophobic. I got it by pitching and was thrilled the editors were into it.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out.
Once I realized that I was actually a good writer (which impostor syndrome had me not believing) and I noticed people enjoyed my work, I finally let myself believe I could make a career out of doing what I loved.
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
Being laid off from my first real media job. All the more experienced people I spoke with told me I had to separate my worth as a writer from an experience that’s more or less a rite of passage for anyone who works in media. It took a couple of weeks, but I bounced back and now have better opportunities waiting for me.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
I try to tell anyone who asks me for advice to see themselves as a business alongside seeing themselves as an artist/writer/freelancer. A more experienced friend told me this when I started out and it changed how I view working. It’s amazing to do what you love, but unless you demand getting paid well, and getting paid on time, finding success will be really difficult.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
That working for free is normal or a stepping stone to getting paid. It’s not and never will be.
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
Definitely yes. And not only because I’m a woman, but also because I’m Black and Muslim. I know for a fact that I’ve been offered less money than my white male and female peers for the same type of work. I also had to work really hard to make sure I wasn’t pigeonholed into writing only about race in a very pedestrian way.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
When I was employed as a staff writer, I definitely got a fair income because my workplace was unionized. As a freelancer, I’m definitely paid what I deserve but only because I’ve had to demand it. I don’t have a side hustle because I literally have no idea how to do anything.
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
I really hate how people think millennials expect to be rewarded for everything. If anything, millennials work too hard for barely anything.