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How I Got Here: MTV Australia’s editor on overcoming career commitment issues

WORDS BY MAGGIE ZHOU

“You shouldn’t ever place your happiness or sense of self worth solely on career achievements or having a ‘cool’ job.”

Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While the internet and social media might have us believe that our ideal job is a mere pipe dream, the individuals who have these jobs were, believe it or not, in the same position once, fantasising over someone else’s seemingly unattainable job.

But behind the awe-inspiring titles and the fancy work events lies a heck of a lot of hard work. So what lessons have been learnt and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?


Your weekly dose of careers inspiration and advice can be found in our Careers column.


Welcome to How I Got Here, where we talk to women who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.

For this week’s instalment, we sat down with Alice Griffin, the editor of MTV Australia online. After getting her foot in the door with an internship at Universal Magazines, she went on to write for Australian publications like Habitus, Junkee and Grand Designs Australia. She also got comfortable in front of the camera while hosting a digital travel series for a London-based travel company, which saw her traversing Europe, Australia, Asia and the US.

But, like many in the industry, she’s also intimately familiar with the trials and tribulations of freelancing. She prides herself on writing damn good emails and giving her calculator app a workout. Needless to say, she’s paved an envious career path for herself – but reminds us that job titles are just job titles.

What do you do and what’s your official job title?

I’m the editor of MTV Australia’s youth publication, MTV.com.au. Leading a team of writers and content creators, it’s my job to curate a digital home for MTV Australia that excites and inspires our readers, and draws in a new youth audience. 

Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an entry-level role and climb the ladder? 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not a ‘planner’. The idea of plotting out where I’ll be in five years’ time has always filled me with terror, and I never had a clue what I wanted to do, beyond vague thoughts of ‘liking’ magazines. I’m definitely one of those people who ‘fell into’ this. 

I studied a Bachelor of Arts (again, commitment issues) at Macquarie University in Sydney straight after I finished school and bummed around with that for a bit. The turning point for me was when I was coming out of quite a serious bout of depression at the age of 19 and decided to look for an internship and find something positive to dive into. I was really lucky, I sent one email, had a 20-minute interview and landed an internship at a niche media company, Universal Media Co. (then Universal Magazines). I was fortunate enough to be mentored by and report to one of the best editors out there, Kirsty McKenzie, who taught me everything there is to know about writing for and producing a bimonthly magazine.

What hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?

Going freelance in 2017 was really hard. I left a position quite abruptly after I found the toxic nature of the workplace too disheartening and, through lack of a better idea, decided to try my hand at the freelance game. I also decided then would be the perfect time to move from London to Liverpool in the UK to save money and live with my boyfriend of three months. I’m pleased to report it all worked out in the end.

In hindsight, I definitely wasn’t ready to be thrown into the chaotic, messy world of freelance journalism, never knowing when I was getting paid next and accepting work that was very much not the kind of work I wanted to do. And I doubted myself too much to actively pitch things. Like many people, I got caught up in that awful, never-ending loop of comparing myself to others. I kept feeling like I was falling behind my peers (I was 24), which definitely was destructive to my confidence. Looking back now, I wish I had just enjoyed the freedom and realised that we’re all on our own journeys and there’s no one pathway to a successful career, whatever that actually is. 

I eventually got offered one of the best gigs of my career so far writing and presenting a video series across Europe and Asia for a travel brand and it all worked out how it was supposed to.

What do you want people to know about your industry and your role?

I would never want anyone to read this and their takeaway to be, ‘Hey, she’s got this cool job and seems like she has this perfect career/life/whatever.’ I really don’t.

I very much fall victim to the arrival fallacy; I used to think that if I just got to this next important career milestone, everything else in my life would be miraculously solved: I’d no longer struggle without a coffee in the mornings, I’d nail it at life admin, I’d remember to text people back sooner, I’d be a real grown-up. I’ve definitely grown and developed throughout my career, but all those parts of me are still there, and I don’t feel like I’ve ‘made it’ just yet.

All this is my meandering way of saying that you shouldn’t ever place your happiness or sense of self-worth solely on career achievements or having a ‘cool’ job. With successful people, there’s often more to the story that we’re not seeing. While it’s great that I have this incredible job that I love, it’s not always easy and I still have things that I’m working on.

What’s the best part about your role?

Working with the most intelligent, funny, opinionated young writers and getting their ideas and experiences out there in the world. I really love the work we do spotlighting musicians, too. Being entrusted to oversee content for a brand that has the legacy and importance of MTV is always a privilege. 

What would surprise people about your role?

It’s not all about content; I have a budget to manage! It sounds obvious, but the administrative and managerial side of running a website was a rude awakening. My calculator app gets a workout. 

What skills have served you well in your industry?

Having an opinion and being able to articulate that opinion in the right way has always served me well. I’m not sure if that’s a ‘skill’ or just a byproduct of my personality (I’m sure friends would say the latter) but I’m always passionate about what I do, and have a deep respect and care for the brands that I have the privilege of growing. When you work at somewhere like MTV there’s so much for us to live up to, having skin in the game is important. 

I’m also really good at writing emails.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day?

Know your worth. As women, we’re more inclined to attribute our achievements to ‘luck’ and ‘timing’, rather than to our own abilities. I recently wrote about the myriad impacts of not giving myself the credit I deserve, and it’s been such a game-changer to own the stuff I’m proud of. 

Also, pitch editors, they want to hear from you (even if they take forever to reply). Don’t get caught up in office politics, that stuff takes up so much energy that’s better served elsewhere. And find people whose careers you’re inspired by and model your next steps based on their pathway to success. 

What about a practical tip?

If you can, go work for a print title. The level of detail that goes into publishing something physical and the rigidity of the editing process gives you such a crash course in good journalism. There’s nothing like living with the fear of possibly making a mistake that ends up printed forever in a national magazine for concentration.

@_alicegriffin

Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.

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