Letter From The Editor: ’Tween

In the land of not-firsts, and hopefully not-lasts

I turned thirty-four recently. The age itself is pretty unremarkable, but I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I’m heading to thirty-five. Thirty-five is one of those ages that I’ve always imbued with specific meaning. I remember my mom at thirty-five. That year my parents had two kids (one of them sick), huge emotional stressors, and not a ton of money. Perhaps because of that, thirty-five always seemed stayed and settled to me. Thirty-five felt heavy.

My mid-thirties aren’t feeling like that. Instead, it feels like freedom is in the air (even if it hasn’t quite arrived yet). I find myself dressing more daringly than I ever did in my twenties, partially because I finally have some disposable income, but mostly because I care less about what other people think. Because that is what my thirties brought—the freedom from wanting so badly to be liked. As women, we grow up with near-constant pressure to fit in, to make the other girls like us. I mean, what else are all the gossip and student counsel elections and prom queen crowns about? We outgrow it, and we don’t.

As I made the jump to working in a very public career in my late twenties and early thirties, that pressure mounted again, junior high style. If people didn’t like me, or didn’t like something I said, or how I ran my business, the Internet made sure to let me know. Now, in my mid-thirties, increasingly I find that I just don’t care. I value what people I love and respect think. But that pressure I’ve always felt to be loved by as many people as possible? Well, it’s not quite gone, but it seems to be leaving. And when you don’t care what every single person thinks of you, you’re free to create a life that actually means something to you.

The summer after I turned thirty, we went to Italy. It was something I’d always dreamed of doing, but never really thought I’d get a chance to do. The first morning we woke up in the mountain village of Nocelle on the Amalfi Coast, the view of the Mediterranean spread in front of us, as far as the eye could see. I remember trying to take it in, and then turning to David and whispering the words, “Once in a lifetime.” David looked back at me and said firmly, “Not once in a life time. We’ll do it again.” And we have, already, in various ways.

In that moment, emerging from a decade spent trying to figure out what on earth to do with my life, it felt like the world was our oyster. We were twenty-nine and thirty. We were celebrating our one-year wedding anniversary, and the rest of our lives together seemed laid out at our feet like that blanket of blue sea and sky.

I recently came across a blurb in a magazine about what it’s like to be fifty. “You practice saying yes,” the author said, “Because at fifty, you know you might not pass this way again.” Reading that, I flashed back to that moment on the mountaintop. In that moment I felt like I was at the beginning. That we had the rest of our lives together to pass this way again. Four years later, I’m thirty-four, I’ve been married five years and partnered for ten, and I have a one-and-a-half-year-old. These days, I feel like I’m starting to inhabit something like the middle. I’m not experiencing things for the first time, and I’m probably not experiencing them for the last time. I’m no longer young in a way that grabs all the attention walking down the street, but I still don’t look old enough for people to always take me seriously. I don’t know that I would call this middle age, but it is the start of the middle. It’s in between. While it seems nothing like the turbulent teenage years, I’m similarly suspended between one thing and another.

Teenage girls are my sprit animals. They are emotional, sometimes selfish, and often misunderstood creatures. But they’re in the process of figuring out who they are, of setting a value system, of trying to imagine their lives. At sixteen, the self I am now was emerging. I was discovering theatre, and I was in love for the first time. I was starting to realize that even though I’d spent my whole life at the top of the class, I was possibly going to use those smarts in a different, non-academic way. I had firmly held ideals about the importance of creativity and authenticity, about shaping a life you love with people you love in it. And I wasn’t wrong. I was in between two worlds, but I was on point.

I always assumed that I’d live out those teenage ideals in my young and carefree twenties. And I did, to the extent I could. I started theatre companies, threw galas, had terrible creative jobs, lived in a mice-filled apartment in Brooklyn, moved across the country, and later supported my boyfriend/husband through law school with a terrible job in an even worse economy. In short, I took risks, screwed up, and gave it my all. But I didn’t have a lot of freedom. I was broke, I had very little control over my career, I had quite a few terrible bosses, and I spent most of my energy trying to survive. As much as I wanted to build an authentic life, I mostly was struggling to pay my $500 rent and eat.

It turns out that it’s now, in the middle of two things, that I find myself a more stable version of my teenage self. In part because of those miserable, near-constant risks, I now find myself in a place where some of the questions are answered, at least for the moment. I know how I’m going to pay the bills, what my career is, who I’m partnered with, and what it’s like to have a kid. I also know that things could change at any moment, and that I have survived before, and could work to survive again.

I’m in the land of not-firsts, hopefully not-lasts. It’s good here. I know I have a purpose for existing, and it’s to raise my kid, love my partner, love my people, and try to do work that matters. Around here, we try to prioritize naps in hammocks when we can. Because we know cuddling a (big or small) person you love during a nap on a warm summer’s day is the whole point of this gig called life. We wear more absurd clothes. We care less about what people think.

And we’re hoping to get back to Nocelle one day soon, to look at the sea and the sky. We’re passing this way, (at least) one more time.

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  • Anne Schwartz

    love. love. love. and considering I spend my life with teen girls I am very looking forward to this month.

  • This theme is perfectly timed for me, in a literal sense. This is a month of in-betweens. At the end of this month, I’m getting married, leaving my less-than-savory (to put it lightly) job/managers, and moving across the country with my new husband. In the meantime I’m glad that I will sort of have a space to grips with these major transitions here on APW.

    • You can do it! And yay! you’re so close!!!!

  • Margi

    Tears! I feel like at the ripe age of 33, I am entering a major transition just like I felt when I was 16. I’m trying to leave a job I’ve hated for 6 years and change careers, i’m moving cross country, and my six year relationship imploded 5 months ago. However, my 16 year old self would have been fearless and excited. I need to remind myself of that as I face this new era. APW is always in my head!

    • SM

      Wow, all of this! I’m also trying to change careers at the moment and am starting an internship on Monday *gulp* which I hope will help with this, and which also involves a big (albeit temporary) move. My relationship is going through a rocky period at the same time, in part due to us both trying to cope with my partner’s mental health issues. I’m sure we’ll be okay, but it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Plus I’m turning 30 next week, which feels pretty huge.
      My 16 year old self would have been fearless and excited about all of this too. In fact, I keep trying to remind myself that my 19 year old self went to a developing country 5 months to teach EFL. I think for some reason at this age it feels like the stakes are higher, and everything is imbued with a whole lot more meaning.

      Good luck Margi, I’m with you. Also, thanks for a fantastic post Meg!

  • TravelerK

    Awww this is excellent. I know what you mean- we just moved to our first “adult” house. We left the middle of the City and moved to the suburbs, and OMG I freaking love it. I love the quiet, and the families, and the park with my dogs in the morning. I am surprised that I love it – I have always been the quintessential City Girl. But it turns out it is OK go slowly start toward the Middle. I have built a career. I have taken insane risks to get here, but here comes with a good and stable salary and I like what I do. I have answered the question (finally!) about who I will marry, because we’ve been happily married a year and a half. I feel peaceful.

    Love you Meg. Thanks for guiding us as we all get better at figuring it out.

  • Allison

    This piece was unbelievably calming. My 20’s have been (and I am sure will continue to be) a lot of searching, surviving, learning to live without safety nets, and figuring out how to make fewer mistakes. I wouldn’t trade these years of firsts for anything, but it is nice see where they could eventually lead. A genuine life filled with purpose and experience sounds like livin’ the dream to me.

    Also, I absolutely can’t wait to care less about what others think. I try and try but I am hoping it will come with time, as well. Thank you for this glimpse into your ‘tween time.

    • Meg Keene

      In my early 20s, I used to say I wouldn’t go through this again with a gun to my head ;) It was this time pitched as being SO GREAT that was actually sort of awful.

      I mean, sometimes I regret that my boobs don’t look like they did, but it’s not like I could afford fancy clothes anyway ;)

      • Allison

        It does seem that fashion and your 20s create a whole other in
        between time of their own. Everyone tells you your body isn’t going to
        look like this forever, but you can’t afford much, and if you’re like me, the cheaper
        fashion stores are starting to make you feel out of place (Forever 21
        anyone?). So yeah, being daring probably helps. Plus, now that you mention it, my friends in their 30’s have the most creative outfits and unique style.

        • I totally relate to the bit about the cheaper fashion stores. I went into Plato’s Closet yesterday to check it out and left after 30 seconds. Everyone else seemed to be under the age of 18 and all the fashions just seemed too young for me. I’m in a weird spot where I can’t really afford to update my wardrobe but at 25 I think I definitely need to, and those cheaper stores aren’t cutting it anymore…

          • Allison

            I have read again and again that thrifting can be the way to go but I am strangely terrible at it and also live in a small town so even my options in that realm are limited. Something to keep working at I guess!

          • HannahESmith

            One of my most savvy and fashionable friends has had great luck with ebay.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            I’m having a lot of fun with eBay. Any kind of shopping that might involve multiple trips or hours is hard (one car, volunteer commitments on weekends). I find eBay a good medium-sized one-stop-shop, bigger than a single store’s web site, but smaller than Amazon, where I just get lost. Buying used allows me to buy much higher quality for the same price I’d buy low-quality new clothes.

          • Yeah, I’m pretty bad at thrifting too. I need to get better at it for sure.

          • Jessica Nelson

            Try thredUP! It’s like the best of thrift stores/ebay/etc but searchable by brand, price, size…and somehow they’ve managed to only sell really good quality clothing. I’ve bought stuff that comes with price tags still attached, and nothing that looks like it’s been worn “hard.”
            I think this link will get you $10 off your first purchase (and get me $10 for referring you), although I don’t know if it will work by just posting it rather than sending it via e-mail…

          • Allison

            Well this is pretty awesome. Thanks!

          • Fiona

            I go right to the clearance rack because I’m DEFINITELY in the same boat. If you stick to the clearance rack, you can find some pretty awesome stuff ($100 pants for $12???)

        • Meg Keene

          Though weirdly, I’ve come back to Forever 21 in full force in my 30s, after giving it up in my 20s. The difference is now I can afford a base nice wardrobe, so I’m looking to it for glittery dresses that will shred on the first wear, or cute tops to go with nicer jeans. Shopping it that way is MUCH more pleasant. Shopping Forever 21 out of necessity is… yeah. I had a lot of ill fitting clothes that I couldn’t afford to replace, back in the day.

        • Jess

          I can’t figure out how I’m supposed to dress at all right now.

          I look like I’m 16, so when I dress in “young people” clothes (like everyone else in their mid/late-20’s) I am essentially a high schooler to all outside observers. So I can’t dress in anything fashionable… but I also am sick of v-neck t-shirts.

    • Jules

      My dad always says, “You change so much in your twenties”. And I’m curious what other readers think about that, especially those who have arrived into their thirties (thirty, flirty, and thriving?). Then he cites it as a reason that he married too early…at…27. I think indirectly he blames this for the divorce after nearly 30 years of marriage. (I don’t think that was the reason, but who am I.)

      While I can see what he means, is it just that your perspective changes as a result of all your experiences? That your values might appear to change, but that really you’ve just discovered your true self and true values? And overall you’re more confident in who you are, but fundamentally the “same”? Because this pretty much sums up how I feel about myself in my early 20’s versus teens. I feel like the same person…just different.

      • lady brett

        i think that one thing that people mean when they say that is that *things* change so much in your twenties. it can be really hard to parse out the difference between changing circumstance and changing self.

        • Meg Keene

          This is also SO true.

      • Meg Keene

        YES YES YES. Change so much. SO much. Who I thought I was, and what I thought I wanted out of the world and what I thought my values were at 22… had TOTALLY changed by 27.

        This isn’t true for everyone (hey, Maddie) but if I’d gotten married in my early 20s, I’d be divorced already. Because I would have built a partnership for what I perceived myself to be, but that wasn’t who I actually was, or who I became. The change was SO rapid in those years. I’m still continuing to change, obviously, but I’ve got a lot of the fundamental sorting out of the way now, and change is much slower.

        Let me put it this way: my core self is exactly the same as the core self I had when I was born. But it took me a long time to find that person, and to clear away my perceptions about who I was and wanted to be, that just were not accurate.

        • If I had gotten married at 22, I would be divorced by now. I probably never would have gone back to school. Who knows what else. For a lot of reasons, I’m so glad I stayed a lot of decisions, even if I didn’t take as many risks as maybe I should have, or that may have moved me forward more career-wise. My pile of regrets all have “but”s attached so at least there is that.

      • I’m about to turn 29, and I can’t believe how much has changed around me in the last nine years. Literally everything, which, of course. But the biggest change, the most profound one, and the one that I’m proudest of? I have learned how to listen to myself. I wasn’t doing that for a really long time and life felt.. messy. Now that I listen better (and trust myself more, and honor all of that with some thoughtful risk-taking), things feel way less messy and way more exciting.

      • Kat

        I don’t feel like I changed that much in my twenties (I’m 29). I mean my circumstances have changed heaps, sure. I have more money, I have a job, I have a baby. I no longer want to go out and dance until 4am (well not as often as I used to anyway). “Going out for drinks” starts and finishes earlier, and I want to go somewhere where you can talk to your friends rather than being deafened by the music. But my values and general outlook are the same. I think I’m better and being me, and probably a nicer, more thoughtful person (not that I wasn’t before). But I think “overall you’re more confident in who you are, but fundamentally the “same”?” sums it up for me. And my now-husband and I started dating when we were 18, engaged at 22, married at 24. Granted I can’t swear we won’t divorce in the next 20 years, but I’m pretty sure that if we did it wouldn’t be due to our twenties.

        (My Dad also says you change so much in your twenties, but he and Mum got married when she was 21 and he was 25. I think you can “change” together.)

  • scw

    I’ve been excited for ‘tween’ month since it was announced and I’m even more excited after this, one of my favorite letters from the editor yet. I’m going to make a cup of coffee and read it again!

  • Laura C

    Amazing how often in my life I end up feeling between. The past two years, we’ve been officially living together for the first time (in fact we’d lived together for nearly six months several years ago, but it didn’t count) and planning a wedding. Between, as far as our marital status and the transition from living apart to choosing together where to live. Now, we’re moving to an apartment we’re choosing instead of being assigned by his law school, and we’re getting married, but we still don’t know where we’ll end up longer-term. I always come back to the couch. We’re definitely getting rid of the Ikea couch I’ve had since 2001, but we’re not quite ready for the big, solid, hard-to-move couch of my dreams. We’ll be in a bigger apartment, so we’ll be more able to keep organized and not-messy, but we won’t be in the same place for long enough to, like, paint. Seems like every time I take a step forward to a new stage, I’m still so aware that I’m not done.

  • I love this theme and I’m excited to see what is posted this month!
    Meg, have you ever written anything about your experience as a law school spouse? (I’ve only been reading for a few months now.) My boyfriend is a 1L and so I’m always interested in hearing about how other people deal with the crazy experience that is law school.

    • Laura C

      Obviously I’ve no clue what Meg would say, but for me, with a fiance graduating from law school this month, it’s…like weddings, people are who they are, just maybe more so? My fiance LOVES law school, which you don’t necessarily expect, especially since he hadn’t been as academically engaged as an undergrad. But he’s fundamentally himself — prone to overcommit (like last semester, when he got permission from the dean’s office to take more credits than are usually allowed, but couldn’t get permission to take as many credits as he wanted, so he took pay for the RA work he was doing), wanting very much to please everyone, with professors taking a high rank on the list of people he wants to please.

      Partly I’ve worked hard to puncture the law school mythos, saying again and again, you guys aren’t any smarter than anyone else, you’re just in a system that values specific types of achievement and privilege. As much as you’re being trained in the law, you’re being trained to be elites (I mean, seriously, summer job interviews where they discussed sous vide machines and expensive restaurants, gag me) and to feel that you earned your elite status (by organizing work in really stupid ways that are both bad for the learning process and make it more stressful, while telling everyone that only the best and brightest can get through it). Yes, it’s hard, I say, but you have to understand the ways it’s constructed to be unnecessarily hard to create a sense of entitlement going forward. I feel like if you can remove some of that constant discussion of how smart everyone is and how hard they all work and get at what’s under it, the reality of the work and stress becomes a little easier to live with.

      • Grace

        Yes, this, 100%. I’m finishing medical school in the next month. I’m not a genius, ok 6 years of university is hard but I have not worked the hardest ever and I haven’t had the worst shit to deal with, just some like everyone else. My success has been largely down to family supporting me and them not being broke. I’ve been extremely lucky, but that doesn’t make me extremely special. Seeing my peers acting like they’re now somehow better or, more deserving of money (bleurgh), than everyone else is pretty sickening to be honest.

      • Meg Keene

        “Yes, it’s hard, I say, but you have to understand the ways it’s constructed to be unnecessarily hard to create a sense of entitlement going forward.” HA.

        Don’t worry. Uh. Cough. Most lawyers graduate and realize they hate being lawyers, so that tends to blunt the sense of entitlement right quick. I’m lucky that I married someone who went to law school for the right reasons (he loved the law) and is happy doing it, but whooooo boy. That is not universally true, and there are a lot of hard and sad comeuppances that happen (particularly since there are now way more lawyers than their are law jobs).

        Also, we were kind of blessed that David started at a law school that wasn’t a top 10 school in the slightest. By the time he switched to a top 5 school, there was a lot of eye rolling on my part about how smart everyone at that school liked to think they were. Hint: if you like discussing how smart you are endlessly, there is possibly a deeper seated issue. Like, no one likes to be around you ever, for starters ;)

        • Laura C

          Ha, yes, A is not looking forward to big law. Luckily he’s only got about 11 months of that before a clerkship with a judge reputed to be really good to work for, and hopefully with those two years under his belt he’ll be able to figure out a direction that works for him.

          • Meg Keene

            We’re not even in big law, more like medium law. But any system with billable hours kind of… sucks.

    • Meg Keene

      I had a really un-intense experience, tbh. David…. bless… never broke a sweat. He was in fact FAR less stressed than he’d been under a string of bad bosses. It was weird for us, since we were proper grownups by the time we arrived (I was 27), and we’d had jobs and lives for years. Most people around us were more or less fresh out of undergrad, and the approach was just really different. David worked 9-5 everyday, with some studying at night if he was really slammed, and did really well, and that was just kinda that.

      I, on the other hand, was working at an investment bank, and getting up at 5am, and not getting home till 6 or 7pm. So I was in a thousand times worse shape than he ever was.

      I did write about our terrible period of unemployment after law school in the worst economy ever, which was pure hell. But if the economy keeps up like this, you’re not going to have that problem.

    • Jessica LK

      I can’t comment on Law School, but I can on medical school (and there seems to be a lot of overlap in terms of lifestyle). For us, it’s been mixed. Mostly, it’s been a lot of uncertainty and difficulty imagining the future beyond a few years. There was a fair amount of long distance, there was moving for grad school (him) then medical school and grad school for me (we luckily were accepted in the same city), then residency, etc. So, we never lived in one place that long and while I didn’t HAVE to move with him, it was a choice we made together. And the first year of med school was…brutal. He questioned everything, was exhausted and depressed, and it was just a really hard year for us. I had grad school, which was tough, but nothing like what he went through. But, I think it made us stronger as a couple. It helps that we’re both very independent people, especially since he chose surgery as his route and we don’t get to see all that much of each other. And that I’m less career oriented (or, I suppose, career flexible?) and love change (I’d up and move around the world tomorrow if he suggested it). For us, it’s been a crash course in compromise. There are weeks where he couldn’t do anything around the house and I did everything (cook, clean, run errands, and be a grad student) and it could feel unbalanced in that sense, but he was supporting our lives in a different way, helping invest in our future. And he always expressed his gratitude. I still worry about having kids, and how people warn you that by marrying a doctor (or a lawyer, or anyone really, with a highly time demanding job) that I’ll essentially be a single parent. But, we’re happy, and we’ve adjusted. And while, yes, that first year of med school (and really, all years in the med-track) have been tough, we got through it, and will continue to get through anything else life decides to throw at us. At least, those crazy years prepped us well for the continued absurdity life is likely to bring us.

      • It’s really good to hear from someone else whose partner is on the med-track. We’re almost to the end of my partner’s first year in med school, and it has been tough. On the one hand, he’s much more satisfied pursuing his passion than he was in the job he was working before med school, but it is really unbalanced at times. It’s challenging at times to come home after a full day of work and to realize that I still have to take care of everything in the house.

        • Jessica LK

          Yeah, I feel you. It was hard at first, for me taking on 90% of all household related things. Not because I don’t like doing them (I actually love it), but because it just felt unbalanced. But what helped me was realizing it was the set up that worked best for us. If I could do all of the things at home, when I did see him it could be time we spent together doing whatever we wanted. And it really helps that he acknowledges the imbalance and wishes he could contribute more in that part of our lives (but contributes in many other ways). But yeah, however stressful it can be, its so worth it, seeing how much he loves what he’s doing now.

    • Fiona

      I met my fiance when he was nearly done with law school (only one year left) and it was in another country, so that makes it a little different. However, it did mean a lot of flexibility and patience on both of our parts and learning to value each other and express that in the rather short time periods we had available for each other.

    • Gina

      As the half of the couple who was in law school, I can only say that my husband thinks I’m way more stressed now as a lawyer than I ever was in school. There just isn’t as much responsibility in school. If you study hard, you don’t have to study nights and weekends (except for finals), and I had my fiance and non-law-school group of friends to remind me that all those 1Ls freaking out were not necessarily going to get better grades because they were studying ’til midnight and complaining constantly. It really is how you handle it.

      Also– it gets progressively better. You know what you’re doing 2L, so you’re calmer, even if you have more busy work. By 3L, you’re coasting and just focusing on externships/preparing for the bar/getting a job.

      • Meg Keene

        Yeah. This was our experience too.

        David’s job isn’t one of the awful ones, but even still, his billable hour requirement is worse than anything we saw in law school. Good thing he loves it, because I kind of hate the system itself.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        For me, law school was just more school. I was always good at school. Also, a B+ curve meant I wasn’t going to fail out, and I was too naive to worry about the consequences of being at the bottom of my class. Well, that’s half the story, I was both naive and depressed about my situation. Depression was my individual choices, though, not law school itself.

        But work is nothing like school. It’s both slower and faster. The assignments stretch over a couple weeks, rather than preparing for a class that meets 3x a week. But you can drop the ball once or twice with a class and still come out alright. I constantly feel the pressure not to drop any balls now that I’m practicing.

        And, yeah, school was just me. Now, I’m handling other people’s money – my clients’, but also my bosses’ and other co-workers’. I’m also supporting a family, not just myself.

    • april

      Speaking from the other side of the relationship (my lovely partner putting up with me while I was in law school), one thing that really helped us was making a pretty clear distinction between ‘school work time’ and ‘together time.’ Sunday, for example, was pretty much reserved for doing something fun together (he worked Saturdays, so I would get my weekend reading done then). Friday evenings were reserved for going out – to a movie, a bar, or even just to get an ice cream.

      At our law school orientation, the dean actually said to us: “We accepted each of you not just because you are smart, but because you are interesting, well-rounded individuals. Remember over the next 3 years to keep doing those things that make you interesting, well-rounded individuals!” It’s easy, as a law student, to let school work and all the other things you feel like you’re supposed to do (journal! moot court! internships!) take over your life/identity. The time I spent with my partner helped me to step back from the law school craziness and keep doing the things I’d always loved.

      • Mezza

        I also experienced law school from this direction. Having a partner who was not a law student was quite unusual at my school, or at least among my friends. She got a huge kick out of introducing herself as a “real person” at all the ridiculous parties/events. It’s true that we didn’t see each other a lot during the week, but she came to all the law school social things with me and my friends also became her friends. I don’t know if that’s an option for the OP, but it worked for us!

        I really sucked at studying/being a law student, though, so I don’t think it was really bad for her until I was studying for the bar. I have yet to know anyone who isn’t transformed into an awful person during the bar exam process. Beware.

        • ann

          “She got a huge kick out of introducing herself as a “real person” at all the ridiculous parties/events.”
          There are fewer ridiculous events in my world (a STEM field), but my advisor’s wife always introduces herself as the “real person,” too. The rest of us who are married all have spouses who are also in academia.

  • Kt

    beautifully written. you seem really content from this and it is wonderful to read. all the best.

  • Fiona

    I went to this wedding in Ireland a couple years ago where the father of the groom had this beautiful new wife who was around your age, Meg. My sister and her girlfriend were also at the wedding, as was another friend of ours with her female friend. As women in our early twenties, we were all enamored with this woman. She was beautiful, mature, sure of herself, had these lovely, subtle laugh lines around her eyes, and was confident as hell. There is something about women in their thirties…beautiful piece. I read it twice. Thank you!

  • Sarah E

    It only struck me a few weeks ago how in-between I really am, and how that doesn’t really matter. We are just past half-way on my partner’s five-year grad school stint, and throughout that time, I’ve been bouncing from job to job. I’ve near constantly been in a state of mind of “what’s next?,” trying to find the job and lifestyle that’s absolutely best for me. Then the realization struck that my dream really can’t come true here. Since I want a brick-and-mortar studio, I need to wait until we’re in a more permanent location.

    So it’s finally hit home that I need to just put my head down and do the jobs in front of me. I’m finally working for bosses I love, doing work I like, so I need to just DO it. Yes, be open to opportunity, but don’t while away my time fretting over what my next job should be. This in-between-ness of our current location (5 years is a long time, and also not that long of a time) has affected how I view our household, how I’ve built- or not- friendships, and how I view our future. It’s a weird space, since I’m not the one going to school every day.

  • Grace

    I’m excited about this month, since this year is the year my partner and I (hopefully) begin the successful transition from student world into adult world at 24 years old. In some ways we know what that will look like but in many we honestly have no idea and the next few months are a strange combination of terrifying and super exciting, while a little voice in my head wonders how our relationship will look when we come out the other side.

  • Gina

    I love this for a lot of reasons. I’m a few years behind you, turning 28 this month, and just in the last 1-2 years have I become both financially stable and confident in who I am as a person. I love where I’m at– still in-between so many big things, but so much more happy than during those tumultuous early 20s. I’m confident it will only get better!

  • Jennie

    I hope, so big, to be in that ‘tween place when I reach 34. It feels like I’ve got a long way to go from where I’m sitting (turning 29 in June), but with some really exciting firsts coming my way. My husband and I are expecting our first baby in November/December and I’m applying to grad school in December. The next few years are going to be really challenging and hopefully really fun, AND I’m looking forward to being settled in a career that I can see myself in long-term.

  • SarahG

    Aaaah this is somehow so relaxing to read. Last night some of my students invited me to a “professors’ dinner” at their sorority, and what really struck me about the conversation is how anxious they are about the future. Anxious that they won’t meet “the one”, anxious that they will get stuck in jobs they won’t like. All I could think (and I gently tried to say) was — just plan on it. You will have terrible jobs you do to survive, or because you really wanted to live somewhere and that was the job you could get, or because your partner had to go to school or move for a job. For romance, just plan on a lot of near-misses, almost-life-partners, and those invaluable life lessons that come in the form of messy relationships. And try, as much as possible, to enjoy the bits that are enjoyable; to get time with your friends; to have picnics in parks on nice days; and to realize that bad jobs point out what you *don’t* want, which is as important as knowing what you *do*. However, I would not have believed myself if I heard me saying this at 19, so I doubt they believed me. I am so grateful for my twenties, and so glad not to be in them anymore.

    • Jules

      Bad jobs DO point out what you don’t want. Kinda like how not-the-one’s lead you to figure out what the-one’s (yes, plural) might look like.

      I’m in my early 20’s (out of college) and believe every word you say. I’m STILL haven’t a hard time letting go of all the pieces falling into the places they should be and instead letting them fall where they may. But the progress I’ve made in giving less of a damn about what everyone thinks has been pretty remarkable. Yay. I mean, I can’t think of a single person or entity that is universally loved in the history of ever.

      • SarahG

        So true! And also so hard, to give less of a damn, and also to just let the pieces fall rather than try and make them fall in a certain pattern. If you figure that one out, let me know; I’m 38 and still trying :)

        • Fist bump to trying to figure it out.

      • Meg Keene

        Most successful people (however you define that) are actually just people who failed a WHOLE lot, and kept going (after a lot of crying, obviously). So… hold on to that :)

        • Failing a whole lot and allowing for the crying. I spent so much of my 20s trying not to fail that I didn’t make much progress and now, while I’m happily married and have a lot of what I hoped that I’d have, I am still missing the “knowing what I want to do” part, the “feeling confident in my choices part.”
          If the string of bad jobs are very similar, what your skills say is that you only know how to do is thing thing you know you don’t want to do.
          I currently wear an ill fitting uniform to work and I would do anything to be able to don a glittery tank and cute skirt and feel confident when I go off to do the job that I just don’t hate. I guess, failing, flailing and ground shaking can come at any age, (I’m 37) but we just have to keep going on the path that we know to be true, keep trying to move forward no matter how much it feels like staying in the same place or even sliding backwards.

          • Meg Keene

            Yes to this.

            Also, this is why I’m often gently nudging the people I love (at all ages) to take risks. Worst that happens is you fail spectacularly. But isn’t being permanently stuck in something you hate with no forward motion worse? I say yes. (Having done both, I’d rather fail spectacularly, as awful as it is.)

          • Thanks Meg. And by the way, this essay is very inspiring even if I’m still feeling very wrong in my place right now.

          • mackenzie

            I think giving the nudges are good. Ask questions, tell stories, and give nudges. That’s my game plan.

          • Erin E

            You know, I was just out with my smart, successful awesome girlfriends last night (another bonus to being in one’s late 30’s: better restaurants and better wine with better friends) and we talked about how you never really have all your balls in the air at once… juggling style. Like your relationship ball and your housing ball may be up, but that means your career ball is down lower. And then they change. Not to say that all balls can never be going well at once, but I find it comforting to think about the fact that all the areas of our lives are cyclical and in motion. What’s down will come up again.

          • SarahG

            Yes yes yes! I feel like just getting your feet on the path is huge. If they are there, just keep going. Eventually it will come together. I torpedoed my whole career at age 34 to move to the Bay Area and worked a miserable temp admin job while desperately fishing around to find something I would like, not even sure what that was. Now, things are good, love the job, but never would have even gotten it if I hadn’t prioritized living in a beautiful location that made me happy over a career trajectory. You will get there! The uniform is a badge of pride (one I am sure you will be delighted to take off for good — but you will!). Fist bumps to you :)

          • thanks. this is why I love the APW community. moral support. hugs.

    • Meg Keene

      Man. This is the best advice. It’s kind of nice to be old enough to see how it played out. I tried to follow this advice in my early 20s, but as hard as I tried, I struggled to see the forest for the trees… which is just sort of the name of the game, or it was for me.

      Plus, hi. Nicer to look back and know what you learned from that bad job or relationship than to still be in it ;)

      The advice that kept me afloat in those years was my grandmothers. She said, looking back, the things that seemed worst in the moment were almost always the same things that allowed good things to happen. I clung to that, and it held pretty true to me.

      • SarahG

        Love those grandmas’ advice — brilliant! I also think that having gone through enough failure (I failed at several careers before ending up in a job I love (not even sure it’s a “career” but I’ve stopped minding). The great thing about having failed is you know it might happen again (life is long) but somehow you’re less afraid of it.

        • Meg Keene


          One of my role models, who’s scrappy as shit, and ended up doing really well for herself always shrugs and says, “Whatever. I’ve cleaned houses for a living before. If it all falls apart, I’ll clean them again.” There is something about having survived that makes you super strong. I’m so glad I had to work shitty jobs for years instead of being held afloat like the trust fund kids ;) because now I’m qualified for tons of things. If it all falls apart, I’m a fucking fantastic exec assistant, for starters. There is gold in them hills…

          That’s part of the confidence (and the skills) I just didn’t have staring down my 20s. I wasn’t good at anything that made money yet.

          • NicoleT

            It depends which trust fund kids you’re talking about! Some are pretty lazy, but I’m one of the lucky ones who have had parents to back me up but still teach me good lessons. My mom is an immigrant who went from rich with servants to living in a tiny apartment in a borough in New York. She’s worked hard to make sure that we don’t have to go through what she did and I am doing my best to honor that and her. So, my sister and I have some money set aside for us by our parents, but we respect what they had to go through and we’re doing our best to contribute something to the world. And if everything falls apart, I still have skills I can put to good monetary use even though I’ve been lucky enough to have the support of my parents.

          • Meg Keene

            I actually don’t think most trust fund kids are lazy (Ok fine. Some are! But that’s not even what I’m talking about.) I married someone with money in the bank in his 20s, from immigrant grandparents (same same), and he’s great people. (He also had WAY less money in the bank than a proper trust fund kid, of which I knew many… by orders of magnitude. I mean he was more a “some money set aside kid.”) I love him. He’s not lazy in the slightest.

            But. The fact remains. He has a ton of high level skills, but at the end of the day, we both know I’m our fallback plan. If lawyering dries up, he’s in trouble. If the internet dries up, I’ve done every job under the sun, and had to learn to be damn good at most of them. Turns out, that’s something money can’t buy :)

            Also, trust fund kids can totally have those skills, obviously, it’s just a little different.

            In short: I think trust fund kids are lovely. I went to NYU for goodness sake, many many many of them were and are good friends.

          • NicoleT

            Awesome :) Job experience is definitely something excellent to have. I have experience tutoring and teaching, and there aren’t always openings for that unless you go around bugging people. I’m willing to work at anything given a chance, but it’s definitely better to have had to find your own way and have some notches on your belt.

      • I think I will hang on to your grandmother’s advice now… Thanks!

    • Heh

      I love that this comment is first. I’m in my twenties, and I hope I feel as grateful for them when I’m on the other side. I’ve spent the past two years in the biggest “tween” of my life so far, so I’ve been looking forward to this month. I moved out to the middle of nowhere for my fiance’s graduate work, and did a lot of “self-everything” to pass the time (be it self-improvement, attempted self-discovery, self-comparison, self-loathing). I think the unhealthiest expectations I have ever held have been those surrounding milestones. No one hits the same milestones at the same time, and to hold yourself to a timeline that isn’t within your control is just cruel.
      Oh, and friends are important. Find them, wherever you are, or you’ll do what I did and spend an entire year in your head. Which just isn’t good for your sanity. When I was getting ready to move, someone told me to “FIND THE PEOPLE” and oh how I wish I’d listened.

      • I’m still not sure how to “find the people.” I guess that’s why I depend so much on this blog.

        • Heh

          APW is still a major stand in for me too. I’ll be honest, it took me this long to find A people, let alone THE people. And that person was one of those rare birds who pestered me incessantly to do things, despite not knowing me too well (which my introverted self desperately needed). It’s damn near impossible though, especially if you work from home like I do, but I guess what the advice-giver were trying to impart on me is to not let too much time pass before actively looking for them. The people are elusive…it takes a long time to find them. The worst part is, I’m moving again in like a month, and the hunt for the people starts all over.

        • Hannah

          Where are you located? If it is anywhere near Boston, I know a group of people who met through APW and would love you be your people.

          • I’m on the wrong coast, but thanks. I’m in Seattle, known for the Seattle Freeze. But it’s less about that and more about needing to find a creative class, and of course, finding time to do that class. Instead I worry about money and now I work too much and have a weird schedule. My husband and I spend a lot of time working on our house and in the garden, which is great, but lonely sometimes. Again, it’s more about my need to find some creative people, a creative outlet, hopefully with some people as well.

          • Ashley Meredith

            I’m totally butting in on your conversation, but in 6 weeks I’m moving to a part of Maine that’s 3 hours from Boston, and I would love to know how to find some APW types.

        • Anon

          Ugh, me too. I feel like my circle has grown smaller and smaller over the past few years. I know that this was partly due to a realisation on my part that I no longer had anything in common with a number of friends from college, and at the end of the day they weren’t really ‘the people’ anyway. Additionally, my SO and I have recently had to cut contact with his family because the relationship was so unheathly… which we know is for the best, but comes with a lot of sadness. We have recently realised we need to ‘find the people’ but not sure where to start.

  • Rachelle

    Thank you for these words from up ahead on the road. Inspiring, calming, and encouraging. :-D Sometimes I feel like I should “be more of an adult” at nearly 28, but also feeling so in the middle (of this pregnancy, of this doctoral program, of finding a place to live, etc.) and somehow ashamed to not be “settled” like others I know. But it’s all that comparison to others – good for nothing! Thanks and thanks again for the wisdom. Also, I’ll get myself to the Amalfi coast ASAP lol

  • Behind the scenes note: I was listening to Metric while prepping this. So here’s my unofficial soundtrack for reading. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jq3-wZs64n4&feature=kp

  • Mezza

    I feel like I’m solidly in the middle of a tween stage. I’m 29, and my twenties were also consumed by things like grad school, moving around, and unemployment, but now I have a stable job that I love, as does my partner, and we’re married and happy in the apartment we’ve had for two years. So it’s like “whew, got through that.”

    But then there’s this looming idea of kids, and saving for a bigger place, and trying to progress in our careers. So nothing feels “done,” it just feels like a plateau before we start climbing again. I’m not sure how to know when to start those things! And all my local friends are younger than me, so they’re still going through all the drama of their twenties, while my long-distance friends are older and more settled. It’s a weird place to be, and I’m interested to see all the posts this month!

  • “And when you don’t care what every single person thinks of you, you’re free to create a life that actually means something to you.”

    As someone who cares an awful lot about what -everyone- thinks of me (and someone who is working hard on letting this go), thank you for stating this out loud, Meg.

    You’ve created a great piece that implies the vastness of possibility that ‘tween can be, instead of the enclosing and limiting fear that many adults can feel in a state of ‘tween. What an incredibly refreshing reminder and perspective that we should all live by!

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    Thirties feel like freedom to me as well, but maybe for different reasons. I actually never gave a shit about what most people of me thought growing up and didn’t have a desire to be liked by everyone or most everyone. I didn’t want to be liked but I did want to belong which is a very different thing. I probably got some of the first and very little to none of the second. I got a lot of shit for not caring because when you’re 16, that’s what you’re supposed to care about. So much of my teens was spent not giving a damn but people insisting to me that I really did care and that I was just pretending or putting on for people. I wasn’t. Back then I knew myself, but didn’t have the self confidence to own it. Now, I’m still that same person, but I have the vocabulary to tell folks where to go when they want to impose their worldview (and their view of ME) in my direction. As someone who spent a lot of my life feeling silenced in a number of ways and by various people, having the language to fully express myself in my grown womanhood feels very much like freedom and like it is only going to get better from here.

  • mackenzie

    Meg, you rule.

  • Ellie Hamilton

    I effing love you. I want to be besties with you. Your life is beautiful, and APW was the cement that put my wedding together. Thank you for being wonderful and living fully!

  • Meg, I particularly loved these sentences:
    “We were celebrating our one-year wedding anniversary, and the rest of our lives together seemed laid out at our feet like that blanket of blue sea and sky.”
    “I also know that things could change at any moment, and that I have survived before, and could work to survive again.”

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