The Back Story

Theories and constructs and analysis get you only so far in life. Other people’s mistakes are much better learning opportunities. Here’s how I did exactly what I just said not to do.

When I got out of college I said to myself, “I know! I like theater, and I like to be in charge of things. I will go into theater management.” Nice try. Except the part of theater I liked was being on stage in front of many people. And the part of being in charge I liked was having everyone listen to me. And in theater management, real, marbles on the floor, theater management, you don’t get to act and nobody really listens to you. They listen to the talent. Which is as it should be. I made the mistake of taking the two blue velvet bags of “Theater” and “Management” and trying to put them together. Which landed me answering telephones, word processing (that’s what we called it in those days), and helping people who were to become movie stars learn their lines for Hamlet. Not quite what I had in mind.

Before I went to graduate school, I told myself, “I know! I like to write, and I am interested in business. I will go get a joint degree in journalism and business!” I applied to Northwestern and to Columbia, both of which had joint degrees, and flew off to India where I wandered around for 3 months writing my first newspaper article ever. When I returned, I had been accepted to Northwestern for both programs and to Columbia for an MBA. Rejected from Columbia’s journalism school. Unsurprisingly. It was the best program in the country at the time and I had never done a lick of journalistic anything in my life. I didn’t want to leave New York. So I went to business school. I was 25. I figured it would be a fun adventure. Little did I know.

At 52 I now understand that business journalism would have been the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I like to write, sure, but the part of business that interests me is the strategy, the structure of industries, or else the juicy gossip about who is a real jerk. Not what many business journalists get to write about. Business journalists mostly get to write about numbers. Numbers scare me. When business journalists write about people they have to be nice or public relations agents come and kill them.

Again, I took two bags of marbles, cats-eye, steel, speckled, and tried to make one big bag. When really what I wanted was just the speckled ones. I failed to disaggregate. I should either have gone back to business school for a Ph.D. so I could give endless lectures on strategy and industry structure, or I should have become a gossip writer. As I said, little did I know.

And no, I’m not done yet.

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  • Where were you two years ago when I graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy and decided to shake two bags of marbles into an utter mess and combine my love of children with Philosophy? Let me tell you, the market for Masters in "Philosophy for Children" is even worse than the market for B.S.s in Philosophy. And that whole children thing? I think I confused liking children with wanting to have kids someday. Totally different beasts! woah. (Learned that lesson quickly!)
    I am now trying to reorganize my marbles. Somedays I think I'd rather just lose them and start over.
    I am beyond excited there is more! You are speaking my language! And have given me so much to think about!

  • Oof.

    I wonder if anyone in her 20s could look at this and *really* get it. I know I could not have, b/c I was the dumbass for whom this tidy bit of info was invented, and I would have been all "Who in the what, now?"

    Great way to sum up how we gum it up. Really.

  • What I plan to say is that in your 20's it is to be expected that you won't get this. In our 20's most of us will gum it up. As long as we learn while doing it, learn what we are and aren't suited to, no problem. Life is short, but it's long too. I don't mind getting to the punchline early.

  • I find this all very interesting. I knew at 8 I was a writer, period. But went to college for nursing so I could "earn a living," as I was instructed. I've spent the better part of my life making up for this. No regrets, really, but lots of frustration. Can't wait to hear mo;re.

  • Hey,
    I'm in my 20's (late) and I get this. I haven't figured out how to fix it yet, and I'm waiting for the next installment, but I absolutely get this.

    Stop underestimating the young. Really, when one does that, you're just looking back and not giving yourself enough credit when you do that. Hindsight is 20/20, and you were very smart in your 20's doing the best you could, not able to see very far ahead.

  • Interesting story.

    I'm still at a loss for what precisely I want to major in…

  • This whole series is really interesting. I’m in my early 30s and have had several jobs in different industries. I recently did the “What color is your parachute?” book and it helped me figure out my favorite activities and goals.

    The thing is, those favorite things don’t need to be combined into one job.

    At this point I think it would be best to do something that’s useful and I like, rather than try to combine ALL my interests into one PERFECT job.