How To Be A Writer When You Grow Up

2015 September 7

At my old job, newly-hired employees would have to participate in a game that involved asking colleagues weird questions in exchange for company-branded swag. The last two times I was cornered, it was with the same question, “When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

I wanted to be a writer back then and I am a writer today. I suppose my kindergarten self probably lacked a nuanced understanding of the labor market and forgot to specify that she wanted to be a paid writer, but, nonetheless, that’s what I am. Writing has always been a skill set I’ve leveraged to land jobs, but since the beginning of 2013, I’ve made my living exclusively via the written word, whether that’s through my own business or working in-house. Living the five year-old’s dream currently involves me taking a break from penning a piece about post-season baseball in order to rummage in my closet for socks because I can’t write another paragraph with cold feet.


Sometimes, when I can’t sleep at night, I Google former colleagues and classmates from middle through to grad school. I don’t care who got married or had kids, but I do like to check out their LinkedIn profiles to see if they ended up where they (and I) thought they would way back when. Why LinkedIn and not Facebook? While I don’t belong to either platform, LinkedIn is harder to game. You can curate a seemingly picture-perfect life on Facebook or Instagram, but inventing a fanciful career from whole cloth is a much more dangerous proposition. Google tells me I came up with some successful people – lawyers, consultants, a mid-sized city mayor, lots and lots of bureaucrats, a couple of writers. I wonder if they’re happy with where they ended up, if they made strategic moves to shape their careers or just let them evolve organically? These are the kind of questions that stoke my curiosity and that LinkedIn isn’t powerful enough to answer.

Lately, I’ve been a bit down on myself because I’m not doing more of the writing that I want to be doing, that I would do even without a paycheck. I need to revisit my book proposal, I need to refine those pieces on startup culture from an outsider’s perspective, what about that essay on feminism and 90s New Country? When that fretful feeling strikes, I try to remind myself that I’m actually in a remarkably privileged place. I’m exactly — cold feet notwithstanding where I wanted to be when I was five, 15, 25. The little girl who was annoyed with herself for starting two consecutive paragraphs with the word “suddenly” in a Halloween-themed short story she wrote in first grade grew up to be a woman who gets paid handsomely not to make that same mistake today. That’s something worth hanging onto. As to whether it’s a surprising outcome, I’ll leave it to anyone from my bygone days who looks me up late at night to draw their own conclusions.

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The Gift And Curse Of Hindsight

2015 June 11

This morning, I texted my baby sister to congratulate her on her new job.

“So excited!! About time I finally got a career. lol,” she replied.

Like a lot of young people her age, my sister has cycled through a few educational choices and service industry jobs. Last fall, she hit on something that stuck, powered through the program and was offered full-time roles by both organizations she interned with.  And while she might wonder why she couldn’t have clicked into what works for her sooner, I know she’s happy to be there now.

I heard a similar story from a Forbes reader who reached out to tell me how a piece I wrote about (not) following your passion resonated with him. After a decade trying to make it in the entertainment world and having his quality of life suffer for it, he was making a change to go back into IT and to enjoy his acting efforts without having to rely on them to pay the bills. He was happy with his decision, if a bit rueful about how long it took him to arrive at it.

The time you spend figuring out where you need to be isn’t wasted time. It might feel that way because the older, wiser you of today is judging your more youthful self, a self who had less information, fewer life experiences and different priorities.  He or she wasn’t slowing you down, but trying to find a path to today without much of a map. The further you get from that person, the more difficult it becomes to understand his or her motivations, but that younger you was doing the best he or she could under the circumstances. Believe that. In another few years, today’s you will seem equally quaint by your future self’s more evolved standards.

You weren’t ready to be who you are today five years ago. Those years were an investment, not a write-off. Enjoy the ROI. Skip the guilt.


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The Day After Blue Monday

2015 January 21

“Today is the worst day of the year. Blue Monday, the third Monday in January,” a man announced on the bus yesterday morning. He was wearing a safety vest. He went on to tell us that Blue Monday was a marketing angle cooked up by the British travel industry to sell more vacation packages to the Caribbean.

“Today is blue for me because the liquor store I like doesn’t open for another two hours,” he chuckled. “I never really get drunk. I just like a little something to make the day go faster,” he explained, maybe anticipating the silent judgment around him.

There was no reason for me to be having a Blue Monday, but I was. Someone told me recently that I always seem dissatisfied and I can’t really argue. It’s not a dissatisfaction born of having my sky-high expectations dashed by subpar restaurant meals or rude customer service people. It’s not even a dissatisfaction with myself. I’m not fretting about dry skin or vanity pounds. It’s an elemental sort of uneasiness with how I’m traveling through the world.


If you don’t know what you truly want, nothing will satisfy you.

Right now, I’m getting paid a lot of money to do what it is I do best (aside from making pizza). I’m living in a great city. I have a stable personal life and I can walk out my door and, in seven minutes, be eating gluten-free waffles. It’s not that I take these good things for granted, it’s that my mind seems hellbent on not giving itself a break and instead drifts to the non-good or less-good thing (my biological clock, my-soon-to-expire passport) and stalls out there. And I don’t know how to stop it from doing that or stop the guilt that comes from scanning for danger instead of basking in appreciation.


I do know that I suffer from a nagging feeling that there is always something left undone. I can write a piece I’m proud of that gets lauded and then go to the gym and then eat a lemon tart, but as I fall asleep, I’ll remind myself that I forgot to do laundry or pluck my eyebrows. There is always the anxious hostess part of my brain who won’t sit down at the table with everyone else and just keeps flitting around checking on how people are doing and asking them if they need a refill or another napkin. That part never relaxes or puts her feet up.

“When I find out what I want, I’m gonna let you know.”

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

This is a tiring way to be. This is a feeling that dogs you when you wake up and when you fall asleep, as you’re working, or eating an aforementioned lemon tart. It makes a lot of days feel like Blue Mondays. Even when you know the concept has no substance behind it, you still let it bring you down and you get frustrated at yourself for falling into that marketing trap.





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The Paradoxes Of Time Travel

2014 October 29

My freshman year dorm room was papered in inspirational quotes. I trawled databases of them, cut and pasted relevant ones into a Word doc, changed the font to something scripty, printed out pages and pages and then cut out each saying. I taped most of them to my closet doors. By October, at least a handful would regularly get unstuck and flutter to the floor and I’d have to smooth out the scraps of paper and reaffix them with another loop of tape. No matter how hard I try, I can only recall one of the quotes and none of the specific motivation that led me to decorating my room with them.

Recently, I did an interview for someone’s coaching program. This happens sometimes. What made this one stand out was that the interviewer read me a couple of snippets of old GenMeh blog posts. I found myself surprised to hear words I’d written five years ago, because I don’t remember writing them five years ago and I doubt I’d write them in quite the same way today. I’m sure in the moment they felt genuine and urgent and right, just like it felt genuine, urgent and right to fill my walls with famous quotes meant to enlighten my college years. I was struck by the surety of my point of view. Age and experience, it seems, have brought equivocation or at least a little temperance.

To think about my younger selves is to be filled with a swell of protectiveness and wonder at their vulnerability. Look at this blind newborn kitten, this foal trying to walk for the first time! In some cases, there is still a sense of shame, irrational though it may be. I feel embarrassed for these earnest iterations of myself, for her sense of style, for her black and white thinking, for naiveté that she wore like a cardboard “Kick me” sign.  Whether she was 12 or 22, she knew exactly what she wanted because she had no idea how much choice there really is in the world. They’re all me, but also not.  They’re stuck in their times and circumstances and I can’t rescue them from their bad hair and misdirected idealism and I can’t figure out how I shucked one self off to become the next. Somehow, the me who got hit by a car in seventh grade became the me who saw the inside of the Sistine Chapel who became the me who moved back in with her parents while unemployed who became the me who gets invited to a White House event. Maybe you need to be ignorant of the process for it to work.

And while I can only remember one quote from the walls of my old dorm room, it sprang to mind this week when I was trying to sound insightful about sentences I’d written half a decade ago:

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

Seems as good an explanation as any as to the relationship of the mes of yesteryear to the one of today who wishes she could take them under her wing.


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On Shipping And Simplicity

2014 August 8

I’ve been packing. Rather, I’ve been thinking about packing. I bought boxes. I put one of them together. I put my printer in it and then promptly forgot about it for a week. I’m in the process of moving (gonna give the west coast a try) and while I don’t have much stuff, I have too much to fit in a suitcase and a carry on. I’ve pared back as much as I can, but I still have enough (extra towels and sheets, my air mattress, a sock monkey) to fill approximately three of the aforementioned boxes. These three boxes have been driving me crazy. I’m leaving my current address two weeks before moving to my new one, so where is my stuff going to live in the interim? Should I send them to my SO’s parents’ house and he’d fetch them over Thanksgiving break? Should I mail the stuff back to my own parents and live without a printer for the interim? Should I find a way to pack a yoga mat and my drying rack in a suitcase? Should I leave money with a friend to ship them to me once I’ve landed? I’ve cycled through multiple complicated options and devoted more thought than any sane person should to what to do with some discount linens from Marshalls.

The only option I hadn’t considered was the simplest. I could ask the person I was renting from if I could send the boxes now and have her put them in a corner of the living room for me. Instead, I was losing sleep and acting like I was trying to import $2M worth of cocaine from Bogota with the DEA watching my every move.

In layman’s terms, Occam’s Razor states that, in the absence of certainty, the simplest explanation should rule.  It’s a pretty good approach to solving life problems, too. What’s the easiest solution to your current woes that meets your needs? Start with that option before working your way up to more elaborate fixes.  Get headaches when you drink red wine? Instead of testing every varietal on the shelf to see how headache-y each makes you, opt for white instead. Problem solved. Want to lose a few lbs? Instead of joining a $100/month gym or going raw vegan right off the bat, spend a week logging your calories to gauge where you might be able to cut back. In my case, in lieu of stewing over what to do with my stuff, I should simply have sent a four-sentence email to try to solve my problem the easiest way possible.  When I finally sacked up and did it, the tenant replied ten minutes later to tell me to go ahead and mail as many boxes as I wanted.


Save time and energy. Start with simple first.


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