I’m guessing those of you reading My Thirty Spot are smart women. This site is substantive, it gets you to think about entering a new decade in your life, and it does not use the word “situation” as a proper noun. Well, I was an overachiever myself since before I can remember. Talking and walking at ten months, gifted program, math team, A.P. courses, academic awards, scholarships–that’s almost 18 years of positive reinforcement. I’ll admit it. I got a little addicted.
So addicted, that, by the time I was 29, I had three master’s degrees. Wait! Let me explain. I did take a year off between college and graduate school, just to see how things were in the real world. After working at a law firm, dog-washing (for one day, I swear), giving rich ladies advice on what to wear, and teaching refugees English, though, I missed school.
I returned for a master’s degree in women’s studies. I was 23 at the time, and excited about a potential career as an academic. I could really see myself teaching about sexism while researching important women’s issues. But by the time I graduated from the program at 26, I was tired of French feminism writing and its boycott of that all-important punctuation mark, the period.
At that point, I probably should’ve taken some time off school to understand what I wanted to do with my life. Unfortunately, though, that academic addiction was hard to shake.
I matriculated at another school—luckily, with a full ride—to study creative writing. I had been writing poetry and fiction all my life and thought I’d explore that side of myself. If I didn’t want to be a women’s studies professor, maybe I could be a creative writing professor?
So I spent three more years of my 20s completing a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. A professor suggested to me I fit five more classes into my schedule, which would allow me to graduate with dual master’s degrees in creative writing and English. I bit. After all, three must be better than two, right?
And that’s how I ended up with three master’s degrees at the age of 29. I liked creative writing more than women’s studies, but I just couldn’t see myself teaching full-time. So I moved back home to Chicago—and panicked. Who wanted to hire an almost-30-year-old with multiple advanced degrees, one year of experience outside the classroom, and an unclear career path?
That was something I got asked on a regular basis as I applied for jobs. But I persevered. I worked with my university career center, emphasized my transferable skills in my resume, networked with my alumni networks, and practiced for interviews. A temp agency took a chance on me and I started working for United Way, doing soft accounting for their giving season. (Those years on the math team had come in handy.) I settled in and started crunching numbers.
I realized at 29 ½ years old that I knew what I wanted to do—to work at a non-profit. I was in love with the idea of making a difference; all those years in academic feminism, in teaching, hadn’t been a coincidence. It was exciting being at United Way, watching donations roll in to help nonprofits of all kinds. I knew, though, that I wanted to use my writing degree, so I told my boss that I wanted to keep looking. She was very supportive, and I kept applying for jobs.
Less than a month after my thirtieth birthday, I got my wish. I was hired at a major university’s fundraising department. I wrote and edited to my heart’s content: letters, proposals, brochures, reports, and e-blasts. My writing degree came in handy, especially as I ghost-wrote for various university leaders.
As I settle into my thirties, I have realized that nonprofit writing is the career for me. I can be creative, I can use my women’s studies degree to understand college diversity issues, and I can use my years of being a student to understand their needs and issues. Sometimes I wish that it hadn’t taken twenty-nine years, but I wouldn’t trade my experiences along the way.