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Letter From The Editor: Pride


The future still looks bright

by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

Letter From The Editor: Pride | A Practical Wedding

On a rainy morning in the spring, I sat at the breakfast table finishing up my bagel and reading Ben Brantley’s review of the revived Cabaret while the kiddo banged in his high chair. As Brantley discussed what it was like to see a groundbreaking production mounted, sixteen years later, I pondered what the intervening sixteen years had done for me. The first time around, I saw Cabaret the same weekend my college boyfriend unceremoniously dumped me for someone else. She turned out to be fantastic, he turned out to be not worth it, and the production turned out to be one of those all time classics.

All these years later, I ended up standing on the doorstep of our beloved rental house, seeing the baby off to childcare, while pondering Brantley’s analysis of the plot. He notes that we as the audience are like Cassandra, reveling in the debauchery, while knowing the horror into which Weimar Germany is about to descend. And now, I’m Cassandra to the twenty-year-old me in the audience, knowing her theatre career is not what will carry her through, but after all the reveling in New York City in her twenties, her future still looks bright.

Standing there in the drizzling rain, I realized how proud I was of the risks we took in our broke, theatre professional twenties. One could argue that those years are why we’re double-income professionals in our early thirties and still don’t own a house (though I would argue that analysis is flawed, as is this spiraling bubble of a housing market). But if that’s the case, I’m still proud of the choices we made, and how they got us through to here, possibly less financially established but emotionally intact.

By one interpretation, you could say that my decade in New York ended in failure. But after quitting the theatre industry forever, shredding the majority of my headshots, and packing our Penske truck to head west (jobless) for my boyfriend’s law school, I didn’t feel like I had failed. On that last morning, hopping out of the truck to run into the local bodega one more time, I felt exhilarated. We’d lived our lives to the max in New York City, and like a swarm of bees who feels it in the air, we somehow knew it was time to go.

These days, the memory of those years is important. In many ways they were harder beyond measure than our current day to day. The biting cold, the leaky boots, the stress over making rent, the crazy bosses and job insecurity—those outrank being up at night with a cranky baby. But in other ways, in our younger searching years, there was an ease in being true to ourselves. The jokes came easier, the late nights watching movies were unquestioned, and we were closer to our dreams, if farther from our realities. These days, we have responsibilities layered on top of that early foundation of self—raising a human, sick relatives, billable hours, the responsibility of providing for not just my own family but my staff’s families. It can be harder to remember to laugh, even as it’s easier to afford the reveling.

Without those years, I’d probably be an exceptionally proficient office worker instead of doing pretty damn well as a creative business owner. David would undoubtedly still be a lawyer, but one who was never quite sure what path his life could have taken and if he’d given it his all. But I also wouldn’t be the woman who always tries to leave a dollar for the barista, even if my coffee was only $2. Because I never would have been the girl watching the well-heeled customer leave the shop without so much as a glance at the tip jar, knowing that those quarters were what helped me buy groceries, and they meant nothing to that investment banker. I wouldn’t be the woman who shoves extra cash and gift cards at her childcare workers whenever possible. Because I never would have been the girl who wrote the checks for her bosses’ nanny knowing that the woman who’d raised her husband, and was now raising her son, could hardly make rent.

Standing on the doorstep now, a Cassandra to that girl fourteen years younger, I know some of what’s in store for her. None of it’s easy. But I’m so proud of each risk she took, each moment of rededicating herself to something she cared about in the face of all logic, each time she powered through with only $20 or $200 in the bank.

Because Sally Bowles is right, as she faces the abyss. From cradle to tomb isn’t that long a stay.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • BeccaC

    This piece really struck a chord with me Meg. I also have immense pride for my younger days, because it was my struggles then that made me into who I am today. I always remind myself of those days, because they were difficult in a way my life now is not.
    People where I work now (an engineering department at a gold mine in the Arctic) are often so surprised when they hear that I worked at a coffee shop full time for a year so I could afford to finish university. But that job was the tip of the iceberg – I also worked part-time while I was in school as a secretary, babysitter, and at the coffee shop. My summer jobs when I was in high school were as a nanny and camp counsellor. To start paying for my education I delivered flyers and store catalogs when I was in elementary school. It was all those jobs above that taught me to work my hardest at everything I do (even when people are jerks after you have made them a coffee) and got me to where I am today. It’s also those jobs that make me the best latte maker in the office, and an excellent minute taker at important meetings!

    • Meg Keene

      This is why I want my kid to have a job like… how soon am I allowed to have him get a job? Because all of those shitty jobs are what taught me to work.

      Also: ARCTIC.

      • BeccaC

        The funniest part is that as part of my degree I took 5 four month internships in my field and I found my shitty jobs had taught me more then the internships and were much harder work (even though I was getting paid way more at my internships). Nothing like cleaning a couch covered in toodler shit to teach you that your mom is a saint and that sometimes life just sucks (thanks nanny job!).
        I credit my neat job in the Arctic to all my jobs – they made me a hard worker in ways nothing else could! In the winter when it reaches -80 degrees Celsius with the windchill (-112 degrees F) you need a lot of determination to keep going (and Vitamin D since it is dark all day).
        A great job to start kids on is paper routes, that is how I started (once I was old enough to go out on my own around the neighborhood). Babysitting is another good one :) If I have kids I definitely want them to have jobs early.

        • Meg Keene

          Paper routes don’t go to kids anymore, and people don’t take babysitters unless they are getting degreed in child development and are CPR certified. I kid you not. (Not like I wasn’t sitting and relaxing and letting a nine year old watch my kid this weekend. She’s solid gold, and by the time she’s 13 I will obviously pay her.) BUT. Somehow kids are just not supposed to have jobs anymore. I was watching the teens at In N Out this weekend and thinking about how much they were learning from that job, and how much they would take with them, and how glad I was that their parents were letting them/ making them work.

          • BeccaC

            That is terrible about paper routes and babysitting – it makes me wonder about how these changes will (or are) affecting kids. Sure I knew lots of kids growing up who didn’t have jobs, but at least there was an option for them to have one. If I have kids I will totally hire neighborhood kids to watch my kids – or put the oldest sibling in charge once they are ready.

          • Katherine

            I work at a wealthy suburban high school, and many of my students have jobs…whether it’s babysitting or working retails, whether it’s a summer job or a job during the school year. These are not kids who NEED to work for the money, so it’s nice to see that they aren’t being given the easy way out. Of course, given that the jobs aren’t necessary, I’m less happy when a student doesn’t complete his math homework because he was working at a job, but that’s rare. It’s most often the kids without any extra-curricular or job commitments who fail to do their school work…

          • Ann

            Yep. When I was doing my student teaching, my best student worked 30 hrs/week outside of school (10 under the table, and she must have been lying about her age since she was 14). One day, she had been absent, and this unfamiliar boy walked into the classroom after school. “Are you Ms. X?” he asked. “Yes…” “I am So-and-so’s boyfriend. She had to have surgery suddenly this morning. She’s doing fine, and expects to be back in school next Tuesday. She wanted me to give you this.” He handed me the next *week* of homework (EARLY). “Uh, thanks, but could you tell her I’d rather she spent time getting well? She really didn’t need to do this…” She had to work to help support her family and my god that girl at her shit together. In that community, about 50% of kids worked regular jobs–most often to pay for cell phones/cars/other “perks” but not necessities. And it was almost always the ones with no jobs who didn’t do their homework…

          • Lauren from NH

            I had such a hard time finding a job, never having had one before, that I ended up working my butt off around my mom’s old house a couple of summers during highschool and college. After my dad passed unexpectedly it was way too much for her on her own and bless him, he was a bit of a pack rat. I learned so many useful DIY skills cleaning out closets/attics and doing handywoman tasks. It really taught me how many problems I can solve on the cheap by being willing to try and puzzle it out on my own. I am a good self starter and it was nice doing work that was truely appreciated but you can’t put “Worked for Mom” on your resume.

          • Meg Keene

            I know, I know. But I guarantee you it will pay off in the end. When my parents were selling their house I spent a summer working for them painting ALL of it. It was my last college summer, and it gave me nice flexibility, because I spent the other half of that summer on the road, managing a traveling turkish coffee house (can’t put that on your resume either). But you do get to take the skills with you.

  • scw

    yes to all of this, especially the stuff about tipping. we’re still very much in our broke twenties and the dollar I’m leaving in the tip jar is often my last dollar for the day – and that’s why I do it. hell, if I’m down to my last two dollars I often leave both. I know what it means to someone else to have that extra dollar because we often don’t have it. we have many friends who are much better off than we are, friends that buy new electronics or expensive clothes without a second thought, and I’ve seen those friends leave 24.35 for a 20.35 check after getting change for a $5. just leave $25, man. (don’t get me started on the time someone I was eating with TOOK the cash I left for a tip and then tipped less on her card for the three of us eating than I had left in cash for myself…)

    the funny thing is, I know those friends don’t think they’re doing anything wrong – that .65 has never made the difference as to whether or not they have enough money to catch the bus or buy cat food on their way home, so they don’t understand how much a dollar or less can be worth to someone. I do understand and so, for that, I’m grateful for this broke decade and proud of the person I am because of it.

    • KC

      This is why I “hide” cash tips from the other people at the table at social functions where that sort of collective-bad-tipping thing happens. The cash is intended to get to the people it’s meant for! (and intended to make up for the bad tips, not lower them even further…)

    • Shotgun Shirley

      Absolutely second the part about tipping. I always err on the side of over-tipping. The marginal utility of those dollars is so much less to me than the person I’m leaving them for.

      • jashshea

        Chronic over tipper here as well! I’ve never really thought about it from the perspective of marginal utility (who needs the money more), rather as a way to show appreciation for hard work. Different means to the same end, but as someone who struggled financially in my 20s, I like your way of looking at it.

        I’ve never worked in food service (or salon or coffee shop), but I’ve always thought that if you couldn’t afford the tip, you couldn’t afford the service.

        • Shotgun Shirley

          “if you couldn’t afford the tip, you couldn’t afford the service.” Damn straight!

          To be honest, I never think about marginal utility when I’m actually tipping. Maybe subconsciously.

    • Ann

      I am also an over-tipper, a habit picked up from my well to do parents.

      One time, my dad and I were in a very nice restaurant in a semi-rural area. It’s near a national park, so the restaurant (the attached hotel is nice and has hotel pets, so not super fancy) tend to do good business with tourists. The waitress was pretty young, and it was the beginning of the season–she definitely seemed very new to the world of fine dining. She messed up the timing of another table’s order, bringing out the wine after the food. The guy at that table YELLED at her. As in actually screamed about how to properly pair wines with food. It was clearly all she could do to not cry. I was pissed that the manager didn’t stand up for her. My dad’s response was to leave her a $200 tip (on our $150 bill). He makes enough that $200 isn’t much money to him, and he wanted to do something to make that night less bad for her. He also did talk to the manager the next morning (mentioning that yes, the waitress needs more training, but someone should pay enough attention to the outside seating area to know when a server is being harassed).

      He actually has a standing 50%+ tipping policy. His explanation is that people like him should be taxed more and people in low paid jobs should be paid more. It’s his microeconomic version of income redistribution. I doubt I’ll ever make enough to be as generous as him, but I do actively support measures to eliminate “tipped” minimum wages.

      • scw

        “His explanation is that people like him should be taxed more and people in low paid jobs should be paid more.” isn’t it nice when people get it?

        also, if your dad’s ever in philadelphia, I’ve got a restaurant recommendation for him! (haha, the one where FH works)

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        I’m angry just reading this. Even if someone doesn’t do well on their job, they are still owed basic human respect. IE, no yelling. I have people that work under me and I make it clear to the people we service that respect goes both ways. If someone messes up, they mess up but you’re not going to come in here and harangue and embarrass them publicly for it.

    • Class of 1980

      Another overtipper here. And I really hate it when my bill is low because I didn’t order anything expensive, yet I got stellar service. Overtipping is the only way to show how much I valued the service.

      Bonus: I get great service locally because they know I’m going to treat them right. ;)

      • scw

        yes! there was a part of my comment that said FH and I get fabulous service (and drinks comped/extra food sent out for us) all over our city, but I thought it sounded kind of braggy.

        • Class of 1980

          It’s just really nice when a server remembers that you took care of them, and is super friendly when they see you again. At least you know your efforts were appreciated!

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        I’m an overtipper as well though I tend not to tip at places that split tips (like Starbucks for example) because tipping is how I show my appreciation for the service. I want to tip an individual, not the entire staff. In that respect, I find tip jars frustrating. I also hated tip jars when I worked behind the counter bc there was always some lazy ass on my shift who benefited from everyone else’s hard work. Probably why I hate group projects in school too.

        • scw

          FH serves at a restaurant where all of the tips are pooled. I love everyone he works with, but some nights he is definitely working twice as hard as others. you’d think it would drive him nuts (it would. drive. me. nuts.) but he really doesn’t mind/even likes it. (for the record, I know you’re not talking about tip jars, not restaurants.)

          he also doesn’t think restaurants should put servers on salary. that’s an entirely different issue, but it always interests me that he feels that way.

    • Anon for this one

      Oh tipping. This post is hitting home on a few levels today…

      I
      grabbed happy hour/dinner on Friday with a good friend in a trendy
      restaurant in SF. I supported myself with service jobs through college,
      post college, and well into my first job. My friend grew up in a family
      that didn’t have a lot of money, married at 17, divorced a few years
      later, lost both her dad and her brother in tragic accidents, put herself through undergrad before getting into Stanford. She is a badass. But she’s never waited tables.

      We had very rude service. Our waiter was patronizing, in that way that is more than just rude, it makes you feel bad about yourself. But the food came out on time, water glasses were refilled, etc. (our drinks were late, that was it). It wasn’t one thing we could name and report to management.

      I still left a decent tip, because I in good conscience cannot leave a bad tip. My friend, however, was so steamed, she left less than 10% and wrote on the bill, “be nicer!!!”. She didn’t tell me until we left. Most of me was mortified, but a small part of me was jealous that she had the cajones to do it.

      I’m not sure where I’m going with this, I guess I just shared because I’m still thinking about it three days later. I’d love to hear peoples’ thoughts (although, please don’t slam my friend if you also are mortified. Trust me, I get it.).

      • Sarah E

        Tipped workers do not get paid minimum wage. They get paid $2 or $3 an hour, thanks to a loophole in labor laws, with the expectation that their tips make up the rest. HA.

        I tell everyone, if you have a problem with the service, talk to the manager. Tip money is not “extra beer money for the weekend.” It is rent, groceries, gas to get to work. Sometimes servers are crappy at their job. Sometimes they just have a bad day. Sometimes it’s the kitchen’s fault, but a diner would never know that. (I’ve waited tables, and as much as I tried, some days I sucked.) Regardless, poor performance is not a reason that the person shouldn’t get paid for the day. If the server has a history of poor performance, the manager will know that and be able to fire the person. If the server has a bad day, the manager should know that and give a talking-to or find ways to accommodate.

        I totally agree with you: I would be mortified and pissed off if a friend of mine did something like that. Real cajones is taking the issue to management, rather than a passive-aggressive note, though :-)

        • Anon for this one

          Actually, in California, servers do get minimum wage (and in SF, often health care). But, I appreciate the backup, thanks. When I was waiting tables, I always found a flat 15% tip made me cringe and go, yeahhh, I could have done better with that one. It was a respectable way of saying my service wasn’t worth going to the manager over, but it wasn’t the greatest. (I did leave more than 15% in this case, but not as much as I usually do.)

          • Sarah E

            That changes things. I had a suspicion CA had different min wage laws in that regard. I still think if it’s enough to affect your tip, it’s enough to alert the manager (unless you know or have heard that management handles those things poorly).

  • http://www.wrightremedy.blogspot.com/ Addie

    Wait? Cabaret was 16 years ago? Like played in the old Studio 54 starring one John Secada Cabaret? I saw that show three times! Holy shit I’m getting old. But those old letters reminded me of anything, Iat least had the wherewithall to be wiser.

  • Sarah

    It’s kind of funny, my fiance is you just before you left for the west coast. I want to go to law school, we are GREATLY feeling the end of our NYC chapter (we want a better standard of living and find ourselves going to fewer and fewer happy hours and just staying home…), and his theater career (directing) just is not taking off here. It might be better somewhere else. That somewhere else is where I’m going to law school (don’t know where yet!). But it doesn’t feel like failure. It feels like we’re planning for a great adventure. Arguably, we’re quitting NYC with none of the things accomplished that we thought/planned to accomplish when we came here, three years ago for me, five years ago for him. But we came out of it with each other(!), and all of our various struggles that make me believe we can make it absolutely anywhere. Thank you for writing this piece, it definitely struck a cord with me.

  • Genevieve

    I needed this one today: “We’d lived our lives to the max in New York City, and like a swarm of
    bees who feels it in the air, we somehow knew it was time to go.”

    Thanks!

    • SarahG

      I loooove that line! All the best and biggest decisions of my life have been from my gut. That moment when you realize something has to change and you’re just staring at a blank page/wide open map/big horizon — it’s terrifying and, in hindsight, fantastic.

  • joanna b.n.

    Uhhhhhhh, your writing is so divinely good, Meg. I missed it and am so glad to see it here today. Thanks for choking me up (in a good way) with the preciousness of what we learn as we risk, as we humble ourselves, and as we walk the path. And the fleetingness of it all, which strikes me on the regular. :)

  • Laura C

    I so hate this mentality that if you don’t dive straight into making money, you’re wasting time. As this piece shows, you can find direction and be better at life because of the time you “waste.” And in so many ways! My fiance also moved to New York right out of college to do theater. (Only he lived in Astoria.) And he ended up going to law school after doing a few other things, and you know what? He was a better law student because of the time he took off. In addition to a more interesting person, I’m quite sure.

    • Jules

      And the converse as well, I think: if you spend time in the work force before going back to school, it was a waste of those years you spent in the work force when you could have gone straight into your professional school and profession. I like to think that if I go the PA route, I’ll be a better provider having worked in the medical device field and knowing the other side of things. (I also like to think that admissions committees will agree with this!)

      • Shotgun Shirley

        I’m pretty sure admissions committees will agree with this!

    • Cleo

      I went to law school straight from undergrad. I joke that it was my time to “find myself” as I decided halfway through that while I would finish school, I didn’t want to be a lawyer and instead wanted to work in my passion industry (the industry I left in order to go to law school).

      The frustrating part of this is that my industry requires you to start from the bottom no matter your level of education and I constantly find that my peers in age are at least 3 years more advanced in their careers than I am — meaning that they have made it past the secretary stage that I’m still working in. Knowing I’ll be 30 in a few months and still answering someone’s phones for them feels extremely demeaning, but I have to remind myself that I’m where a 26 year old would be (or really, because I’ve just found a company where I can grow 2 years ago, I’m 24). It’s hard, but worth it. That’s my mantra.

      • Meg Keene

        What I find interesting is how many variations of this we saw. I would say David is one of the FEW people we know from law school (and he went to two) that actually likes being a lawyer (and didn’t have to spend a lot of time forcing himself to learn to like it). One of the other people we also know who loves being a lawyer was also in his late 20s when he started.

        At this point I’m a pretty huge advocate for people not going straight through grad school. I know it works for some people, but the number of people we’ve seen it not work for now (and not just in law) is so HUGE. What we think we want to do at 22 is so often not what we end up realizing is right for us. And the more we can make all those mistakes without racking up $150K in debt, the better, right?

        I say this only because I’m SO frustrated at the pressure on people to go to grad school, like that’s going to solve everyone’s problems. I still get judged for not having gone to grad school (I’m the only one in BOTH our families that didn’t). Not going served me well (I thought I was just waiting to find the right program and figure out what I wanted to go back for, but then realized I didn’t need to go back). But there is still this idea that going to grad school is this great backup plan, or great thing to have in your back pocket. Ignoring the fact that it’s a HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLAR BACKUP PLAN, in many cases. I mean, ZOMG.

        • Stacey H.

          I completely agree with this. I would stay in school forever if I could, but I can’t justify the debt for what feels like a piece of paper when I’m out here getting the “equivalent experience” that a Master’s would justify in the academic sense. My counterpart on the other hand? He’s former military- so he has GI benefits which will pay for it. When else will you have the chance to go to school rent-free, tuition free and without children? For us and him, probably never. So we jumped and he took the opportunity and I stayed at work for the time being.

          It’s interesting how suddenly these really scary decisions become less scary when you realize that you’re working together towards one goal.

        • Cleo

          “I would say David is one of the FEW people we know from law school (and he went to two) that actually likes being a lawyer (and didn’t have to spend a lot of time forcing himself to learn to like it). One of the other people we also know who loves being a lawyer was also in his late 20s when he started. A lot of other friends have stopped lawyering already, or are working on paying down their debt so they can.”

          YES. This is so true for my law school friends too. I’m lucky in that I had a scholarship, so debt wasn’t that much of a concern for me (I still have it, but it’s nowhere near what it could have been). I know a lot of miserable attorneys who have talents and passions outside the law (an amazing photographer, interior designer, writer), but who gave them up for financial reasons and have stayed in law because now it’s “what they do.”

          And back up plan? Yeah, I laugh at my younger self for thinking that was a good idea (though it worked out because it solidified my passion to do something else).

          J.D.’s, I’ve found, even the ones happy being attorneys, are the strongest advocates against going to grad school, especially law school.

          • Meg Keene

            THAT is why I’m so glad David was a theatre director first. He didn’t go to law school for financial reasons (he would be working as a public defender if the state hadn’t been in crisis and had been hiring, for goodness sake). He just decided he hated working in theatre, in the end (even though he still loves theatre). So instead, he’s a lawyer because he loves the law, and a litigator because he loves performance. And instead of it being this thing he has to do because he went to law school, it’s this thing he CHOSE to do, after trying other things. And that makes a WORLD of difference, even if it’s just a different way to mentally frame the same job.

            Because of it, I don’t ever feel bad that he’s still close to entry level (for a lawyer) at his firm at 33. Because you know what? He still wants to be there at 63. And plenty of people who have moved farther up by 33 Just. Want. Out. So I figure it all works out in the end.

        • Class of 1980

          Yes, David is very lucky to enjoy practicing law. I worked in a couple of law offices as support staff when I was young, and not everyone likes it.

          Amen to the grad school assumptions. My sister recently told me about a boss she once had on a temporary job who went to grad school so she could make a LITTLE BIT more money. Yet, her debt kept getting higher, so the extra money went straight to debt. She lived like someone in poverty!

        • Class of 1980

          Penelope Trunk (who is very controversial) had some stuff to say against grad school.

          http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2011/08/29/voices-of-the-defenders-of-grad-school-and-me-crushing-them/

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          Can you talk to my mom please? Both of my sisters graduated and she’s pushing pretty hard for grad school though NEITHER of them know if they want to go or even what they would study. I’m like, PLEASE don’t rack up $150K just because.

        • Dawn

          I agree that grad school pressure is a thing and is ridiculous. But a lot of what is conversation is about is highly specific to professional degrees, where debt and the potential income are high. In some fields — any humanities grad degree — grad school is more equivalent to giving theater your best shot. I went straight out of undergrad myself, without taking on debt, and grad school was really the only possible way to explore my field of interest.

          . Often, these degrees have little financial potential buy also provide assistantships/stipends/fellowships what pay far less than enough to really live on. I spent my 20s broke and working super hard to get a humanities PhD, and trying that, whether you finish the degree or not (and many don’t), was my chance to figure out if the field was for me/in what ways the field could be for me. I did not take out loans and slowed down degree completion to take a solid job in my field that I was passionate about, finished my degree part time, and am now advancing in low-prestige open access education–my niche I am still passionate about and which I needed a PhD for.

          That said, I am always honest with people about grad school. It is hard work and it is not a good thing to

          • Dawn

            (The end of my comment got cut off!)

            Grad school is not a good thing to do because of social pressure, because other people are doing it, because you think it will lead you to money (usually a professional degree but some STEM fields also), or without seriously considering the financial impact even a no-loan low profit potential degree will have.

      • Meg Keene

        And blah blah blah, other than my big picture thoughts about grad school, I was a secretary at thirty, because that’s what it took (to support my husband in law school ;) So fist bumps. You’ll get there. Age is just a number in situations like this.

      • Mezza

        Are you me? I did the exact same thing. I knew I was going to grad school for something, so I picked law school (on the assumption that a law degree was more widely useful than a masters in comparative literature, and on the basis that I rocked the LSAT). Realized halfway through that I didn’t want to be a lawyer, and then spent my 3L year working in my passion industry (theatre) and doing as little school as possible to graduate. Then I ended up interning with undergrads for a while, because that’s the only way to get in the door, and now I’m 29 and finally in a real, stable job with growth potential in the industry.

        I was super annoyed about the “wasted years” of law school until I got to my current job and two things happened: I actually started using my degree within my passion field, and I figured out that I’m the youngest person at my company. It’s really opened my eyes to the fact that I’m not actually old! You and I both still have so much time to grow in our careers.

        • Cleo

          We MUST be the same person, because I spent my 3L year working in my passion industry (as an intern) — film — while writing a thesis in order to graduate and took no other classes.

          People call me young at my job too, though there is a hotshot executive who is 24 years old which gives me rage every once in a while, but then I remember that I am growing at my job, and I love what I do (reading and watching movies for work, whaaaaat?!)

          It’s so nice to meet a fellow pre-JD lawyer dropout (who didn’t actually drop out). Cheers to us!

          • Mezza

            Cheers indeed! Clearly we are awesome.

            It cracks me up forever that instead of pursuing theatre with something practical as a backup plan, I pursued something practical and ended up with theatre as my backup plan. Hooray for doing things backwards!

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          A JD is the most useless “versatile” degree there is. As in, it’s not that darn versatile.

          • Mezza

            Hm, I sort of disagree. It’s definitely not a magical ticket into any job you want, but I know it’s been a HUGE advantage for me in a very non-legal field. In my experience, a lot of employers love to have someone with a legal education on staff.

  • Grace

    I love this so much. Because we are who you were, we’re that 24 year old couple who have significantly less than no money. We don’t even have a car! But we’re on the verge now and your story tells me that we have so much to look forward to. Things we can’t even imagine yet! I really hope that’s true.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh, lady. We didn’t have a car. I could barely afford my SUBWAY pass.

      • Grace

        I have a bus pass because I get a big discount as a student. My boyfriend walks everywhere because he can’t afford one. He’s so skinny! Good god I need to pass this medical degree (this month guys, this is finals week, holyshit),

  • Stacey H.

    My fiancé and I are going through that transition period currently. We met at work and both felt like fish out of water in our field. I encouraged him to quit to pursue his Master’s and try to start his own business while I stay employed here until after we get married. I want to be a Pilates instructor and we both want to move away to start our lives together. The hardest part is knowing that it’s time to leave and being patient enough to wait.

  • jashshea

    I was just having a conversation with a college friend recently about whether it would be worth it to us to get a re-do on our 20s. We both struggled quite a bit to find a foothold in our professions, navigate friend- and relationships, and sort out who we were in the grander scheme. We both agreed that while we’d love our 20 year old boobs back, we’d never want to do it all again.

    If you’ll pardon the pun: My 20s weren’t a failure, but they were for the most part a flailure. I wasn’t someone who entered or exited college with a plan for the future beyond “get money,” so to some extent I had too many options. I took the first couple jobs that would have me and eventually found one where I could succeed. I dated around half-heartedly, never really clicking with anyone. I traveled consistently for work, never really sure where home was or should be. I eventually moved away from my little corner of the earth and that’s when things really turned into gear. I started to excel at my job. I met my future husband. I felt like I had, I don’t know, *established* myself and I was a big kid now.

    TL; DR: I’m also really proud of the way I lived my 20s, even if it wasn’t exceptional or well-executed. If you’re in your 20s, take all the chances you can handle. Live it up. The rest of us wish we still had good boobs.

    • Meg Keene

      Boobs.

      But seriously. Take those risks, even if they end up totally half baked and seem to not work out at all. Just the TAKING of the risks ends up being the thing that’s worth it. It’s important to have practice, because it’s so much harder taking those risks once you have all kinds of additional responsibility. So having practice and knowing what it feels like can help so much, when I’m about to take a risk, now with a baby to support.

  • meghan

    Thanks for these words, Meg. I think anyone involved in a creative industry has felt that outside pressure when they shift fields–as if they failed because they didn’t “make it” by being a movie star, or NYT bestselling author, or released an album. It can be difficult to shut out people who impose those expectations on you, and I’m glad you did (and continue to do)!

    • Meg Keene

      And the funny thing is, YOU NEVER KNOW. I’m not running a theatre company, but now I have a bestselling book (bestselling in it’s niche, not NYT bestselling, but let’s just count our blessings ;)

      But the funny thing is, I never had ANY intention to write books. It’s not when I quit theatre I was like, “Oh, maybe now I’ll try to write books.” It just worked out that way. Because sometimes our idea of how to express our creativity isn’t the right idea, and when we stop trying, something else comes along.

      And I still do want to work with High School kids doing theatre. Just as soon as I have spare time.

  • Heather

    Thank you for this! I love this blog. I make myself a cup of tea at work each day and settle in to read the email I receive. I share the site with as many people who will listen! I really relate to your experience because I came from very humble beginnings-my dad only had a six grade education and didn’t have his first pair of shoes till 14. My parents sacrificed every day to make sure I got a good education. I worked since I was 13 to help pay bills and when I graduated from undergrad my dad wept.
    I knew that I could not go straight into grad school and so I worked until I could figure out what I wanted to REALLY do with my life. I left a really good paying government job to go to grad school. I am now 30- working full time while pursuing my PhD part-time and planning my wedding. I don’t get nearly enough sleep but I am so happy. I wake up smiling because I am living my life the way I want to live it and my fiance supports me wholeheartedly…. And I pride myself in looking people who work in the service industry right in the eye and I thank them every time both with my words and tips. I give my grocery store clerk a Christmas card every year. My dad helped raise a family cleaning tables. I have so much respect for the people that do it everyday. Thanks again for this post!

  • stella

    I have 28 more days of being ‘in my twenties’. When I was younger, I never thought I’d be bothered about a number, but it’s a hard decade to leave behind, and the attachment to my ‘youth’ is a stronger pull than I could have imagined.
    It was the decade we graduated college, three times for him, twice for me. Got our first ‘real jobs’. The decade we bought our first home. Then our second, once we’d moved across the atlantic. And then our third, when we moved across the continent. The decade we got married. Welcomed our dog, our ‘third musketeer’ into our lives. In the last ten years we’ve grown and learned so much. I don’t think any of the places (physical and mental) that we have been could ever be called a failure. Whatever you’re doing, if you’re learning and growing, you are living life.
    I always love a good Meg essay. And the reminder that we look back with rose tinted glasses, but when we were living those early days, broke and stressed, things weren’t quite as perfect as we remember them now.

  • Liz

    I love this line: “We were closer to our dreams, if farther from our realities.” I turn 36 this week, and am thinking a lot about how the 30s are different from the 20s – and that line really sums it up. (Also, makes me feel less bad about the lack of dreaminess.)

  • Shaz

    Thank you Thank you Thank you Meg! I’m in the middle of the pursuing the dream/sucky job time and this is the most encouraging, real thing I have read or heard about it… ever? It is so hard to remember sometimes that it is worth it to be poor and trying and not just take the bill paying career.

  • Molly Kopuru

    My husband and I just left family and friends to move a couple thousand miles away for my husband’s job. I’m still quite young at 25 and glad that I have this opportunity to start over professionally. My husband has a great job and fantastic opportunities and I am fortunate in that it gives me room to figure out what I want to do with my life (within reason; we have to support another family member on one income right now). Still, it feels a bit liberating to be in a new state, with new opportunities even if the pressure to find a job asap is there.

    Things can be hard now, but I know I won’t look back regretting a single thing. I gave up on my “dreams” a while ago (because my dream was a PhD in French Literature and more student loan debt) but doing so made room for a whole new set of dreams and hopes for the future to grow in their place.

  • Rachelle

    This is so. so. perfectly said. Thank you so much for putting into words how I feel about the present and future. LOVED reading this today <3

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  • Eliza

    This is a lovely essay, and I really enjoy reading Meg’s writing. But I honestly have no idea what this has to do with Pride at all. Is it supposed to connect with the concept of pride in general as in being proud of yourself? Because I was pretty sure that the concept of Pride month was supposed to have some connection with LGBTQ identity… It saddens me to see that the introduction to Pride month – the letter from the editor introducing Pride month, in fact – does not mention anything at all about LGBTQ people, identities, experience, anything. Especially given that APW has such a great track record on this front – I was surprised, and then I was really disappointed.

  • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

    Meg, I love this. I wish I had read it at 20, or 15 even, because it’s very hard to go back in time to make the crazy decisions of following your dreams when that time has past. It’s much harder to feel courageous when your family and house are on the line, and therefore, it’s much harder to succeed making small “safe” risks. In fact it’s easier to to stay down when you could be so much more. When I could be.