In the eleventh grade, I officially decided what I wanted to do with my life: read. More specifically, I wanted to become a book editor. From the time I learned to read at age four, I always kept a book in my hand. Or in my book bag. Or in my mom’s purse. It only seemed natural that I would continue my lifelong love of reading into my professional career.
Everything in my life pointed towards studying the English language.
My parents owned our local newspaper. I lived less than an hour from the University of Iowa, with its world-renowned Writer’s Workshop located in America’s first UNESCO City of Literature, Iowa City. When all of my classmates would sit and gossip during our class downtime, my nose hid in a book.
I dreamed of moving to Chicago, or New York City. Helping publish bestsellers, making thousands upon thousands of dollars by age 25 and never worry about rent (can you say dream big?) I’d fly back to Iowa to visit my family. I’d travel the world and bring back fascinating presents and establish myself as the cool aunt at Christmas.
Fast forward. I’m obviously still the cool aunt at Christmas, but Macey, age 24 is laughing hysterically at Macey, age 17, who couldn’t imagine her plan not working out exactly as she’d hope.
Age 24 doesn’t look like I thought it would.
I pictured I’d be married by now, one kid bouncing happily on my knee while another rested quietly in my womb. In my dreams, I already climbed up the ranks in the publishing world. Including taking my movie star husband (or he could be a famous writer; I’m happy with either) to book releases and everyone would compliment my gorgeous dress.
Instead, I find myself in Iowa.
I’m in my library—a room in my single-story house consisting of a $20 bookshelf from Amazon and a pink, plush vintage chair I kept after my boyfriend’s grandma moved into assisted living. My boyfriend (with his good looks that beat out any movie star in existence) just emptied the litter box for me. Instead of laughing with New York City socialites at a fancy soirée, I can hear him watching Bob’s Burgers in the living room as I work on writing this piece in my pajamas. I quit my full-time job in a doctor’s office today.
I wouldn’t want my life to look any different.
College threw a lot in my path that I didn’t expect. I suffered from severe anxiety and needed to put in maximum effort to get to class each day without losing my mind, let alone take on the unpaid experience I needed to pursue a career in publishing. I didn’t get the internship I badly wanted at my school’s publishing imprint. I questioned myself constantly.
Is English the right major for me?
Am I being impractical?
Am I good enough for this?
I experienced heartbreak. I made friends with great people, and I made friends with people who didn’t bring anything positive to my life. I juggled working a serving job at nights and taking care of my chronic illness. Jet-setting in New York City didn’t seem like it would serve me in the way I once imagined it would. At the end of my four years at the University of Iowa, I found myself with the personal life I always hoped for. I enjoyed my restaurant job. My wonderful boyfriend and friends who valued and supported me. Plus, two nieces and two nephews that I love to spoil.
But I felt lost in my professional life.
I took an entry-level advertising job creating recruitment content for a large trucking company. While I learned a lot from this job and gained a good foundation in working in media, I didn’t feel passion for my work. Plus, with no desire to move up in the company. Out of all the things I thought I’d feel as a newly graduated college student, “stagnant” didn’t qualify as one of them.
Covid-19 came along, and my life changed just like everyone else’s. The advertising company lost revenue and then I lost my job. My plan to move to my boyfriend’s city came a little sooner. And I questioned myself again.
Should I go back to school for something else?
Would I ever find a stable media job in Iowa?
Am I still being impractical?
I took a receptionist job in a doctor’s office as a way to test out how I felt in the medical field.
After a year, I knew for a fact that my path would lead me back to writing. I just needed to decide what that looked like. It took a conversation with a dear friend about how stuck I felt at the doctor’s office to get me moving again. Thinking that my options were limited, and the idea of doing something I loved felt out of reach, I stressed. I applied around and everything seemed a dead end.
“Have you ever thought about getting a grant-writing certificate?” my friend asked. “They’re in really high demand right now, and you could do it for many different people.”
Cue the light bulbs going off above my head.
So much about freelance journalism scared me. I have Type 1 Diabetes and cannot live without health insurance. The instability sounded like it wouldn’t mesh with my near-constant anxiety.
But in my tunnel vision, I didn’t think about the less obvious options, the career paths that don’t get shown in television shows or lifestyle magazines. Freelance grant-writing pays better than freelance journalism. Thousands of businesses and nonprofits need grant writers and finding work wouldn’t be quite as hard. Living in Iowa meant a more affordable cost-of-living.
So here I sit.
Twenty-four years old and still figuring out what I want to do with my life. I made a promise to myself to lean into the instability, to hold it together and trust myself to get to the other side of uncertainty. I learned that every twenty-four-year-old that I thought was a grownup as a kid were actually just working hard to figure out which path they wanted to take, too. And now I trust that even as I search for what my path looks like, I know one goal I have already crossed off the list.