Today is one of those days that feels like the beginning of the rest of my life. I decided to leave my steady freelance gig that wasn’t quite the right fit to take some time, breathe, and figure out what I’d like to do next. I’m giving myself a month of exploration time during which I hope to make some progress on deciding the direction I’d like to head in this new phase of my adult life. I’m nervous.
I didn’t expect to feel different as a married lady, but that feeling of having someone always behind you, always on your team, supporting your decisions and believing in you unconditionally… that is new. And for it I am so grateful.
I’ve been a wife for just over five weeks, and so far, so wonderful. I didn’t expect to feel any differently than I did as a fiancee, but as I settled back into my daily routine after our wedding and honeymoon, I felt a strong urge to push to new levels both personally and professionally. Happily, it feels like the same drive and determination that I once felt as a bright-eyed 22-year-old just starting out in New York — the same drive and excitement I recently worried was lost. I’m not sure if it’s because the wedding’s over, or if it’s a symptom of wanting to be a fantastic wife and co-provider within my brand new little family. Probably both.
But over the last year of “official” commitment to my now-husband, my subconscious focus has shifted from intense Fear of Missing Out to contentment within my own little place in this city and this world. Little things — becoming a regular at Ritual and talking to the baristas daily, visiting the new community market at the end of my street, agonizing over which shade of gray to paint half of our living room — drive my daily decisions and actions. Even CSA produce deliveries are a delight. [I just reread this last paragraph and thought, “Kristen, who are you?”]
Thing is, I don’t see settling down as losing a wild streak, staying in more than going out, or suddenly enjoying turning on my oven (fat chance). Instead, settling down is refocusing my energy, directing it toward projects and thoughts I care about. Concentrating on improving my universe and my relationship with my husband while maintaining and nurturing the friendships that took me through my 20s and landed me here.
I hope I still get twinges of FoMO. But I adore these feelings of warmth and success as I embark on my marriage adventure content to focus on and improve my family’s small place in this world.
Through my continued state of self-reflection, I made a potentially alarming discovery today: I think I’m a pessimist. Not to be confused with the personality type I so-lovingly describe as an “Eeyore,” my flavor of pessimism is starting to take the form of, “It’s not going to work, so there’s no reason to do it.”
Are you kidding me? This, coming from the girl who managed to get herself to New York City for college, land a few competitive internships, and launch a career in magazines before packing up and happily moving to San Francisco. I wouldn’t ever describe myself as “happy-go-lucky,” but at least upbeat, supportive, fun, social, and all the rest of the positive traits that go along with the above.
Then, my late-20s. Maybe I’m disillusioned by my former industry (print journalism) and skeptical of my new one (online content). Maybe I’m just tired. Maybe I need a change. Or maybe this is just a natural state of being having put myself in a self-induced career holding pattern while I planned a wedding and, allegedly, figured out what I want to do as a married 30-year-old woman.
Clearly, a bit of healthy skepticism is an asset of experience and time spent as a young professional. But now, living and working in the technology capital of the universe, reading about startup success after startup success, lists of 30-under-30 and 20-under-20 — and I bet there’s a 10-under-10 somewhere, at which I just pessimistically(!) rolled my eyes — I’m suddenly concerned I’ve lost the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed optimism that launched my career.
I wish I could say that heading to a conference across the country, or spending a retreat-like weekend in the woods with a group of friends and industry peers, or heart-ing others’ Tumblr/Instagram/Facebook posts could move me forward. But I just don’t think it’s going to work.
When I was 12 years old, I declared I would be a magazine editor when I grew up. The dream followed me through high school and then to New York City for college, a happy but certain coincidence that lead to my first magazine job: a summer internship at Family Circle magazine, editing feature content for publication on the magazine’s slow and still unpopular website. It was there, and then during a second summer internship the year following, that I learned about magazine hierarchy — the underpaid, overworked Editorial Assistants hungrily collecting page assignments to level up to underpaid, overworked Assistant Editors, and then eventually Associate Editors, given the real responsibility of assigning and editing pages and short articles. Editor and Senior Editor came next, before climbing into the rafters of top magazine brass, which seemed so glamorous… and so far away. I wanted to be an Editor.
But almost immediately in my young career, everything changed. The very first magazine I worked at — an ahead-of-its-time Rodale title called Organic Style — folded, landing me at Square One with just over a year of real work experience. The tide kept changing as content moved online, and I found myself working alongside people with titles I didn’t understand, like Community Manager and later, Site Developer. But through the ups, downs, tiny paychecks and fun perks, I was living the dream as a budding Editor at a Real Publication — one that even my parents had heard of. When I was laid off for the second time in as many years due to budget cuts, I decided to make a change. I packed three suitcases and got on a plane to San Francisco, intending to continue my career as an editor, now writing about an industry I knew little about but one that makes this city tick — technology. But still, now five years post-college, changes be damned, I was still the Editor.
I carried around a bag full of rolled-up New Yorkers, read as fast and as much as I could, harped on grammar to anyone who’d listen. But in tech-obsessed San Francisco, Editor wasn’t enough. It certainly wouldn’t buy me my own apartment, or any of the fun “extras” everyone else seemed to enjoy. So I decided it was time for a Real Job instead, and I moved for a short time into tech PR.
Now, suddenly, I was the PR Girl. A job I “understood” through the countless email pitches and press events I’d attended. A job that seemed, at times, more frivolous than my previous job, writing about “tech for girls.” And nevermind that I was working for what I still consider one of the best companies in the world, it was quickly apparent that I was not the PR girl. So it was back to what felt like Square One once again, except this time I was no longer the Editor, and I was certainly not the PR Girl. I was hopelessly lost.
Since then, I’ve been working with a digital agency with fantastic clients, thinking up and executing fun projects and learning how to strategize around the ever-changing internet. When I talk about my professional self, I share my history as the Editor and then the PR girl, but don’t feel the need to qualify my current position. Instead, I speak about the creative work that I enjoy and do on a daily basis. I share stories of our successes and my excitement to be living and working in a beautiful, inspiring city. This was not a conscious shift in thinking — but, oh, the resulting feelings of happiness and contentment!
I finally found Kristen: a San Franciscan by way of New York, a fiancee and soon-to-be wife, a sister and an aunt and a daughter and a friend. I’m still the Editor, and the PR Girl, and even still the Student. I’m not sure what I’ll be next, but I do know that all of these experiences are coming along on my next adventure.
I turn 30 this month, and despite my happiness with where I am (literally and figuratively), I’ve been feeling strangely introspective, hence a return — or at least an attempted return — to content creation. After almost 30 years of life experience and 12 years of life-in-a-major-city experience, here’s progress I’m proud of:
There aren’t “things I wish I’d known when I was 20” or “25.” I did a lot of stupid, risky things when I was young: four a.m. solo subway rides home, dancing on too many bars, dating idiots for attention, taking out a $100,000 loan for a bachelor’s degree. These weren’t mistakes, they were young experiences that helped me decide what’s appropriate, what’s not, and how I want to act and live as an adult. What’s life without the cringe-worthy memory of idiotically chugging a beer while dancing on a bar to country-western at an unnamed Manhattan bar? I shake my head every time I think about asking dates to order me my go-to cocktail at age 22: Malibu and Diet Coke with a cherry. But I wouldn’t be the same Kristen without my wild-streaked past.
Risks are worth it. My spontaneity has served me well. Being spontaneous is scary, especially with a paltry bank account. I spent much of my 20s with checking account balances in the double-digits, yet somehow wasn’t afraid of taking massive risks. Had I not held my breath with two months of living expenses saved, packed three suitcases, and gotten on a one-way flight to San Francisco, I would never have met my fiance nor found out that I am in serious love with northern California.
People are weird, but you shouldn’t change them, and you shouldn’t change yourself to fit them. Friends and acquaintances do dumb things you wish they wouldn’t. You do things they wish you wouldn’t. I dated someone off-and-on for years who I so desperately wanted to be with seriously. He didn’t feel the same, and it turns out he was right. At the time, I would have changed myself completely if it meant a future together. I’m positive we would have broken up and never spoken again. Now, we’re wonderfully close friends.
Sincerity always works. Ironically, I learned how to be sincere in New York, a city known for cutthroat career types and outspoken residents. I surrounded myself with sincere, honest people when I was young in the city and have the strong friendships to show for it. When making new friends after a cross-country move, the people I most connected with are the ones that met true-honest-Kristen, including my fiance — with whom I was most honest of all. My first (and only) roommate in San Francisco was one of the most genuine souls I’ve ever known and our relationship thrived on this openness and trust.
Speak up. San Francisco taught me this one, with its social networks, confidence, and outspoken characters. Five years ago I would never have written something so personal, let alone post and promote it. I like my voice, and I like sharing my thoughts. It makes me feel accountable on a different level. Self-promotion is ok, and it’s necessary. I need to be my own biggest fan and cheerleader, because if I’m not, no one will be.
It’s taken me a long time to really learn these things, and I’m proud of what I know. And of course, I surely have a long way to go.
What’s the 30-year-old equivalent of agreeing to dance on a worn-out bar for the promise of free kamakazie shots?
Finally, a return to creativity + Tumbling.