Career Envy

Jealousy -- much like Spandex -- is not a good look.  But ...  when I recently read The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum as much as I liked it, my enjoyment was marred by deep-seated envy. Her writing in this essay collection belied that easy, conversational style which seems so imitable in theory but proves nearly impossible to replicate in practice.

Initially I was simply jealous that she'd put together this offering that read like thoughts stolen right out of my head but articulated in a much more compelling fashion, of course. But what really got me was when a quick Google search revealed what I'd suspected: Ms. Daum and I are practically twins. 

We are not even a year apart in age and we were raised in similar towns just 30 minutes away from one another. No wonder we're so alike! Except that she's everything I'm not. She's a published author who probably wouldn't force every member of her family to ooh and ahh at the first gif she ever created --which involved cats, no less. (She's a dog person, fyi.) And she's lived in Manhattan while I've always subsisted in one of its suburbs, yet despite that and her Ivy League education, willingness to cut her hair short and live boldly, we're almost the same person!

So I guess my issue is this: How did she end up a columnist for the L.A. Times who released this critically-acclaimed new book while I've spent the last year resisting the urge to cut coupons off the cardboard pizza boxes my neighbors are recycling? (Exchange 15 Coupons for a Large Cheese Pie! Oh, I'll take that dare.)

Each page reads like yet another kick in the pants. We like the same bands; we've read the same books. Of course, she can quote from them while I struggle to remember who authored them even when the Final Jeopardy music is building to a crescendo and my mother says sadly, "C'mon, honey, you were an English major, you know this!"

My point is: I could've been this woman. Maybe if I'd turned off 90210 during high school like my dad suggested, (sorry, Dad) I'd be a novelist and not someone thinking about designing a line of fake armpit hair for children as a viable Plan B. (Are you picturing it? It's pretty novel, right? Stay tuned for order details.)

Now, I know I should be thankful to have a job, any job, after the grueling process I went through to land one, but sadly as time passes my gratitude seems to have ended up tucked away in the back of a drawer, somewhere between our Elf on the Shelf™ and the underpants that consistently give me a wedgie.

I think I'm having that thing my husband went through a few months ago when every single person he found on Facebook or LinkedIn appeared to be a budding Nobel Prize candidate meanwhile we're just psyched if we remember to put the recycling can at the curb on the correct days.

Oh, and did I tell you she (Meghan Daum) interviewed Joni Mitchell? In person! No, we don't have that in common but I do have the cd version of Blue somewhere in my basement and I did interview Marie Osmond once over the phone. (So close, yet so so far.) 

But I think I've discovered what's really separating us. In one of the essays she explains that she views the key to contentment as living life to the fullest "within the confines of your comfort zone." Therein lies my problem -- my comfort zone is the size of Texas. 

And it's not just Meghan Daum who's gotten me all upset. Another woman, Jessica Livingston, who wrote a piece for The Muse where I occasionally contribute, and I also once shared a similar trajectory.  

After graduating from college in 1993 with a degree in English (me too!) she accepted a job as a customer service rep with Fidelity Investments. I took the same position at Merrill Lynch in New Jersey. She sums up our mutual experience brilliantly when she writes: 

"I also didn’t like working odd-hour shifts, having my bathroom breaks monitored, or having to explain to crackpots why their mutual fund account went down that day."

Amen, sister! But instead of drinking domestic beer in a basement apartment and watching Ally McBeal, she went off and co-founded Y Combinator, a new model for funding early stage startups.

As the American worker I've most come to resemble -- Homer Simpson -- would say, "Doh!" 

Do you ever experience career envy? Tell me more. 


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