Cover Story: Opportunity Costs

It all comes back to believing in yourself

Jun 14, 2001 at 2:06 pm

It's all downhill from here. Being the self-proclaimed realist, that's what my father has been telling me since at least the day I graduated from high school, probably earlier. You see, in my father's dark view, life is little more than an endless to-do list. And in his mind, the sooner his children realize that and get on with the burden of the responsibilities of life, the better.

Don't take this the wrong way. My father and I have always been pretty close. But as in most family relationships, there are a few sticking points. And this is one of ours. My dad was tough on my brother and sister and me. And sometime before any of us came along, he decided that dreaming and free time to be kids had no place in our lives.

Fortunately, I managed to make it to my twenties with a very different attitude.

Maybe it was a reaction to my father.

But rather than see the responsibilities mounting before me, I went barreling into my twenties with boundless energy, driven by the potential of all the possibilities in my life. I truly believed I could achieve anything I wanted, if I set my mind to it and worked hard enough. I just had to figure out what it was that I wanted.

If I'm honest with myself, I always knew what I wanted. It just took me a while to admit it and take steps towards achieving it. In my early twenties, my dream was to move to New York City, where I would become a magazine writer. Of course, at the time I was living in Cincinnati, working as a director of information systems and had never had a piece of my writing published. But, hey, why couldn't I figure out how to make my dream happen?

I feel old when I say it, but I get tired just thinking about what I did to change careers and make the move to New York. With the guidance of a friend who was already working at a magazine in New York, I started developing my writing. I still had my full-time job, so I wrote in the evenings, on weekends and during my lunch hours.

On top of that, I knew that making a living as a writer — which I certainly wasn't doing then — is tough. So I decided to develop my skills in public relations and special events, other areas that interested me and that related to my goal of getting to New York. Of course, the easiest way to get experience when you are starting out is to work for free. So I worked for non-profits that could use my services.

Fast forward three or four years and, despite a few bad experiences with an independent newspaper that's since folded, I was sitting on a nice file of writing samples and plenty of public relations and special events experience. Of course, now I had to figure out how to take that to New York and get a job.

Like they say, a well-executed job search is a full-time job in and of itself. Now I was 28, exceedingly restless in Cincinnati and starting to realize that I had to get to New York before I turned 30. Needless to say, I spread myself even thinner once I started my job search between my job, my writing, my non-profit work and my frequent trips to New York for job interviews.

But happily, and much to the surprise of even my New York friends, I made it to the city and the magazine world before my 30th birthday.

But it cost me. Now, at 32, keeping all those balls in the air at once is hard for me to think about. Somehow along my road to New York and my new life I lost some of that blind belief in the limitless promise of life. For the first time I'm thinking about my goals and dreams and realizing that I might not achieve them all without more serious sacrifices that I'm not sure I'm willing to make.

I might have made it to New York to work at a national magazine, but I don't write full-time. And I'm starting to realize that I might never write full-time. By the same token, though I don't like to admit it, money has always been important to me. And I always assumed I would be making quite a bit more of it by this point in my life.

Now these realizations might sound clichés to some of you, but when CityBeat asked me to write about what I believe in, I had to say, "Right now, I'm not sure."

At 22, I still wore the blinders of optimism and entitlement that my upbringing provided for me. Now at 32, those blinders have been replaced with a more pragmatic view. And I'm not too happy about it.

Is it a cop-out because I don't want to believe that we have to work hard for what we want at 22, 32 or 102? It could be. But now that I have spent considerable time pondering the question, I think that what all this really means is that I have temporarily lost sight of one of my most important beliefs — the belief in myself. And without that, what do a list of accomplishments or piles of money mean?

Not much if you ask me. ©