By now you’ve probably seen the much-debated open letter from former Yelp employee Talia Jane to the company’s CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman. In case you haven’t, here’s a 20-second summary: Talia’s humorous letter details the miseries of living on Yelp’s $8.15/hour wages while giving suggestions for improving employees’ standard of living, such as allowing Yelp employees to receive food from local soup kitchens or granting customers the option of donating money to employees in need.
The letter has since gone viral, prompting Talia’s dismissal from Yelp and a scathing rebuttal from another millennial in New York. Both letters are entertaining and well-worth the read. Feel free to check them out here and here.
The following is my response:
Hey Talia –
I read your open letter and I gotta tell ya – I feel your pain. Now, would I advise calling your CEO out in public? No, but – now that we’re already here – the letter sparked some important conversations on the concept of living wages and the skyrocketing cost of housing in urban cities. These are conversations I hope we continue for a very long time.
That being said, I couldn’t help but notice that the source of your desperation seemed (to me) to be a discrepancy in expectations. So, if you don’t mind, I have a few pieces of advice that might help your situation:
First things first, sis – that American Dream? You know, the one that says you can graduate from college debt-free, get a high-paying job with benefits, and find an affordable place to live in the city while still in your 20s? Yeah, girl – that dream is a lie. Sure, it may have been possible for many of our parents, but – forgive me as I quote Papa Pope and every black parent in America when I tell you – we have to work twice as hard to get half of what they had. This means that $1,245/month single apartment of yours is a luxury and needs to get rid of by any means necessary. Hell, even San Francisco itself is a luxury.
We have to work twice as hard to get half of what they had.
Now, I understand you chose the fog city to be close to your father, but unless Pops is letting you crash at his place rent-free, consider moving to an area where the cost vs. standard of living ratio is much better (Austin, Indianapolis, and Grand Rapids are just a few on the list), or at least find a couple girls off Craigslist who are willing to triple-up and split the cost of rent. Is it unfair? Yes. Does it suck? Hell yes. But, unfortunately, these are the cards we were dealt with and we do what we have to do in order to get by. (In the meantime, my vote is for Bernie.)
Second, do you know why CEOs like Jeremy Stoppelman make millions while exploiting highly-educated workers? Because they can. Employers will only pay what they need to in order to keep you, and not a dime more or less. For every employee who refuses to struggle on meager wages, Mr. Stoppelman knows he can find 100 naïve and bright-eyed college grads who are willing to take her place. Don’t take it personal, girl – it is what it is.
Employers will only pay what they need to in order to keep you, and not a dime more or less.
But, here’s some good news: you don’t have to sacrifice your physical, mental and financial well-being in order to get ahead in your career. Believe it or not, there are jobs out there (yes, even in the Bay Area!) that pay employees a living wage. Sure, you might have to rock an “Office Adminstrator” title for a while instead of “Media Mogul,” but you can use this opportunity to hone your craft and build a portfolio on the side instead of scraping up pennies to buy your next meal.
[By the way, I see your Twitter account has over 12,000 followers now – that’s awesome! Use this platform to continue new conversations, establish your voice, and build a profitable brand.]
Finally, here’s my last piece of advice: never get into the habit of blaming others for your circumstances. Look, sis – I get it. I won’t get into my laundry list of bad situations because this isn’t the Struggle Awards (I’m looking at you, Stefanie), but I know what it’s like to live in an awful situation without a clue as to where your next meal is coming from. I get it. That being said, when you blame others for your circumstances, you rob yourself of the power to create a solution.
When you blame others for your circumstances, you rob yourself of the power to create a solution.
For instance, instead of worrying about how much money your CEO spent on a food app, how about using that same energy to find an apartment in the East Bay, where the cost of living is more affordable? Yeah, you’ll have to share your place with roommates, plus BART & Bus to work, but the amount of money you’ll save will be well-worth your effort.
Look, Talia – I understand you’re hurting and – in comparison to your tech bro neighbors – it may very well feel like you’re teetering along the brink of extreme poverty. But, I invite you to take some time to step outside your situation and look around. With a little bit of perspective, you might realize that the average American lives pretty darn well. (Also: motivational speakers may not be your thing, but Jim Rohn has often helped me see through the fog of misery.)
All being said, I really hope you begin to make better financial decisions, take advantage of the momentum you’ve created, and build something special (but more importantly, profitable) for yourself. In a couple of years, check back in and let us all know how you’re doing.
Wishing you all the best,
A Sympathetic Millennial
(and Oakland native)
P.S. Moving forward, please be more careful when airing your grievances on the Internet. It always finds out and it never forgets.