In my early twenties, I worked for a large, progressive Presbyterian church on Chicago’s Gold Coast. I’d graduated in 2008 with dreams of working for a magazine or newspaper, but this was the year of the financial crisis and although unpaid internships beckoned, I could not afford to take them. I needed a paying job. That’s how I ended up at the church.
Unsurprisingly, working for the Lord wasn’t lucrative (still isn’t) but what my church communications job lacked in $$$ it made up for in other benefits—a chic location, colleagues and congregants with plenty of character and a relaxed workplace in which I could cut my teeth. Somewhere around my third week on the job, I stared out the antique window of the old parsonage-turned-office, at the bustling city street below and wondered: Is this it? Is this my life now?
I was privileged to have a secure, stable job but I couldn’t shake the feeling as though I’d abandoned a dream. Should I have moved to New York and maxed out my credit card on a fancy, insanely expensive publishing boot camp for recent grads? Should I have gone after that unpaid cub reporter internship in Louisiana? Or that unpaid magazine internship in Indianapolis?
Instead I was in a church, copyediting bulletins. And while I was grateful for the work, honestly, the thought of it didn’t exhilarate me. On the other hand, I had a two-bedroom apartment with my college girlfriend, health insurance and funds in my bank account. I was lucky. Though I pined for the freedom and flexibility of college life, I slowly assimilated to my 9 to 5 — meeting deadlines, taking lunch breaks to explore the city or chat with new friends, and navigating workplace politics and conflicts.
My first real job out of college exposed my inner demons, in particular, my penchant for perfectionism and people-pleasing. I struggled with confidence in my body, my work, my voice. I struggled with contentment in my relationship (long distance with no end in sight, everyone else seemed to be engaged) and my career path (describing my job often resulted in the response: So, you’re a church secretary?). In a way, I lived small. I read others’ blogs with delight and envy. I didn’t think I had the talent to write my own. I half-heartedly applied to grad school because it seemed like a good idea at the time (???). (It was not a good idea; I am grateful I did not get in.)
For five years I worked for this church, watching colleagues and friends come and go on to more exciting adventures. I replaced my old dream with a new one—advancing my career. I took on new projects, eventually landing a promotion. With new responsibilities and pressure, I agonized over my work, sometimes overextending myself. I secretly agonized over my slowing metabolism and weight gain, overanalyzing everything I ate and feeling irrationally guilty when I missed workouts. My third boss there, an amazing mentor and wise sage, once told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to see a therapist. (She was right.) She also gave me some advice about aging I’ll never forget.
“Your twenties are hard,” she told me. “But your thirties? That’s when it starts getting better. You’ll feel so much more confident in your own skin. And wait until you get to your forties–you’ll love yourself in your forties.”
Today I turn 33.
So much has changed for me since I was naive, young lass in the city. I’m married to my college sweetheart, we have a car, a dog, a mortgage and toddler (#adulting). I managed to land a job at a magazine I love and still pinch myself everyday because jobs like this are rare. And while I’m proud of my beautiful family and the trajectory of my career, what brings me the most happiness can’t be layered in a resume or posted on Instagram.
Here it is: I’m much more comfortable in my own skin now than I was at 23.
Aging well isn’t about looks–it’s about what’s on going on inside us. The inner work I finally did with a therapist acquainted me with my flaws, bad habits, negative self-talk and uncomfortable emotions. Because of her, I’ve recovered from crippling perfectionism and people-pleasing. I make mistakes all the time. I disappoint people regularly. I still feel bad about both. But it doesn’t derail me the way it once did.
After leaving my first job, I discovered yoga. Nearly two years ago, after my son was born, I ditched dieting for good and began practicing yoga regularly, which transformed my mind and body.
Today I’m so much more self-aware, confident, wise, grateful and compassionate because I’m older. I’m living bigger than before. When I get it wrong, I’m grounded by grace.
My boss was right. Like a fine wine, we get better with age.