A Medium.com user named Talia Jane decided she wanted her 15-minutes of fame and her essay, “An Open Letter to my CEO” has gone viral with 1.6K likes and 316 comments during the weekend. Talia Jane calls herself Lady Murderface (@itsa_talia) on Twitter and had 8,773 followers at the end of the weekend. That hasn’t translated into cold hard cash. It has translated into new Twitter followers to the tune of 11.1K as of Tuesday (Feb. 23, 2016) and a $3,000 GoFundMe campaign. Is Talia Jane just an entitled millenial?
Talia Jane went to college and majored in English literature and wanted to work in media. She didn’t want “to become a cliché or be drowned in student loans” so she didn’t want to go to law school or become a teacher. She left wherever she was living and went to San Francisco to be near her father. Her skills were limited to freelance writing and tutoring. She is 25. She also has her own website, TaliaJane.com, where she confesses she is an “aspiring comedy writer” and was born in Los Angeles, but spent her formative years in San Francisco.
The motto on both her website and her Twitter account is “Be a trash can, not a trash can’t.” Her credentials are limited beyond her brief stint at Yelp. She was hired for Yelp’s Eat24 customer support section where she will have to work for at least a year before being able to transfer to a different department.
Her rent is $1245 per month. She makes $8.15 per hour after taxes which according to . She writes that she gets paid $733.24 biweekly. She is using her grandfather’s car. She has Internet and she has a cellphone. Minimum wage in California is $10 per hour. According to Mashable, her actual pay is $12.25. If she had stayed at her job, she would have gotten $15 when the minimum wage in California went up.
Talia Jane put herself in debt to afford the move to San Francisco. She only had some freelancing and tutoring experience when she left college. Her rent is $1245 and does not include gas and electricity.
Talia Jane also writes, “Bread is a luxury to me, even though you’ve got a whole fridge full of it on the 8th floor. But we’re not allowed to take any of that home because it’s for at-work eating. Of which I do a lot. Because 80 percent of my income goes to paying my rent. Isn’t that ironic?”
What does she eat? Rice. She writes, “I haven’t bought groceries since I started this job. Not because I’m lazy, but because I got this ten pound bag of rice before I moved here and my meals at home (including the one I’m having as I write this) consist, by and large, of that. Because I can’t afford to buy groceries.”
What she doesn’t tell us is how she survived in college. Was she living at home? Did she have roommates? How do other people survive on minimum wage in San Francisco or in any city? She gives anecdotal information that is supposed to support her plea for a livable wage: “Every single one of my coworkers is struggling. They’re taking side jobs, they’re living at home. One of them started a GoFundMe because she couldn’t pay her rent. She ended up leaving the company and moving east, somewhere the minimum wage could double as a living wage. Another wrote on those neat whiteboards we’ve got on every floor begging for help because he was bound to be homeless in two weeks. Fortunately, someone helped him out. At least, I think they did. I actually haven’t seen him in the past few months. Do you think he’s okay? Another guy who got hired, and ultimately let go, was undoubtedly homeless. He brought a big bag with him and stocked up on all those snacks you make sure are on every floor.”
What we don’t know is what the other expenses of these people were and if there were there more and cheaper rental options available that the person turned down or was turned down for or if there were more and cheaper rental options before the advent of another San Francisco-based company: Airbnb?
Mostly what we don’t know is: Does Talia Jane really know what it means to be an adult?
When I left with my undergraduate degrees in studio art and Asian studies, I had acquired skills in working sales, cash register, and accounting and billing. I already had experience in tutoring in elementary school. I was able to get a job as a cashier and as a sales associate at a department store before I entered graduate school.
Housing options I used included having a roommate(s) or renting a room in a house. I’ve even considered living in a garage. Unlike Talia Jane, I could not borrow a car to use and maintain from my grandparents who were all dead. I could not afford a car so I did not own one. I could not afford a car until I was in my second graduate program and living in Los Angeles. If I lived in a place that had a reasonable public transportation like New York, Chicago, Tokyo or San Francisco, then I would not have bought a car. I would not own a pet. I have lived in a place where I had not kitchen or no kitchen privileges. I once only had a hotplate and a small refrigerator. Toaster ovens and rice cookers come in handy in those situations. I’ve shared a landline and in some situations one can always simply use the Internet at work or at the library.
Working telephones in a customer service department does not require a college degree, not really. It also doesn’t require make-up and wearing suits and nylons every day as some office jobs do. That is a considerable savings, especially when one has healthcare immediately. Usually, healthcare doesn’t kick in at traditional companies until after the probationary period.
Talia Jane put herself in debt before she moved to San Francisco because she had a dream of working in media. She added to that debt by choosing an apartment that has a very large kitchen and she seems to own a cat which might also have been a factor in limiting her housing choices. Talia Jane also does not seem to be telling the truth. Until recently, you could freely access her Instagram and see that although Talia Jane doesn’t need to wear makeup for her job, she spent money on a facial treatment. Even though Talia Jane reports that she is so hungry that her stomach hurts and she survives on the free snacks (not available at most traditional companies except for restaurants), she displays her large kitchen and her cooking experiments which include muffins, cupcakes and steaks. She can’t afford bread, but she can afford steak and cake. She also displays her forays into restaurants.
Talia Jane is not telling the truth, not the whole truth. Unfortunately, her own social media revealed that to people willing to look further. Stefanie Williams, who also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, noted that Talia Jane can afford expensive bourbon, did not seem to have roommates. Williams indicates that she worked up from the service industry, sometimes doing more than one job. Williams felt Talia Jane’s essay displayed a clear lack of work ethic because: “Work ethic is not something that develops from entitlement. Quite the opposite, in fact. It develops when you realize there are a million other people who could perform your job and you are lucky to have one. It comes from sucking up the bad aspects and focusing on the good and above all it comes from humility. It comes from modesty. And those are two things, based on your article, that you clearly do not possess.”
Business Insider also noted in another article that the HR department and the CEO responded. Another person felt that words weren’t necessary and just posted photos taken from Talia Jane’s social media accounts to show that she’s dining on more than rice.
I am not against writing letters to one’s CEO. I’ve done this before, most effectively when my own manager would not give me a raise and was paying another person more although I was lauded more than once in the company newsletter. I got a raise and the district manager made my life miserable after that. I left that company and eventually I went on to a better job. That letter, however, was not public. It was private and direct and based on actual facts. I showed my worth to the company and the company responded.
When one reports legal infractions to human resources, one can expect the worst in bad companies, even if the human resource person supports you. In my case, I reported the racial bias of another employee against a black woman, including racist remarks he made in her presence that she could not understand because she only spoke English. In another case, when I reported a manager, the manager was forced to leave, however, the company also put pressure on me. I clearly understood that the report was the end of my career at that Internet company even though I could clearly prove in writing that his actions constituted prejudicial and unfair treatment by that specific manager.
I have plenty of sympathy for people struggling under minimum wage, or a wage too low to live on, however, it is hard to sympathize with Talia Jane when it is clear she has not only made poor financial and professional decisions. We don’t know if the high turnover she reports isn’t because the employees were promoted or found better jobs. One has to wonder what kind of person would associate with Talia Jane and if we are only hearing the stories of people who share her outlook on life and her spending habits. It is not only that she has a sense of entitlement, but that she has lied. Talia Jane chose a hot topic and made it hotter by spicing things up with a few exaggerations. Will people want to hire this freelancer? For Medium, the venue she used to publish her open letter to the CEO, this is also unfortunate. Talia Jane’s essay tarnishes the reputation of that website and every one of its writers.