My Misspent Youth, an Essay by Meghan Daum

You can read Meghan Daum’s My Misspent Youth here.


“My misspent youth”.

The words resonated with me immediately. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m still in my twenties and hardly at a vantage point from which I can holistically evaluate my circumstances and the decisions that have brought me here. I’m finding, though, that the self-assuredness so plentiful at eighteen tends, for most people at least, to dwindle right around now.

I am no exception, and apparently, neither was Meghan Daum.

Daum wrote My Misspent Youth in 1999, when she was twenty-nine,disenchanted, and on her way out of New York. In it, she writes frankly of the price tag dangling from her youthful dream, and nineteen years later, her sentiments could not be more relevant. This is a tale that most Americans have lived or are currently living.

After graduating from Vassar College, Daum began the merry chase for her dream in Manhattan. It was a place that represented everything she aspired to as a young woman. A global center steeped in culture and intellectualism, where creatives like herself could – no, must – be in order to actualize their professional goals.

What she didn’t realize at the time (and what young person does?) was that every dream we have dreamed has been dreamed before – and someone’s already put a price on it. When we’re young, we see dreams as mere concepts, but then we grow older. We see more. We struggle. And many of us come to realize we never truly understood what we grew up envisioning, that once the logistics come into play, a dream looks very different in the real world than it had in our heads.

And so it is with my own life, as I’m sure it is in most everyone’s. As soon as I grew old enough to imagine the future, I began deciding for myself the ideals and people and things that would be in it. And of course, I never realized that these these fantasies weren’t just given to me for free. They were being sold to me.

I think most people come to experience what Daum describes in her essay. This absurd moment when you’re halfway toward reaching your goal and instead of congratulations, you’re given a bill.

I like how Daum puts it here:

These days, being a creative person in New York is, in many cases, contingent upon inheriting the means to do it.

Except it seems to me that New York is no longer unique in this.

In a way, it’s hilarious, as this revelation would be particularly soul crushing to anyone who thrives on creative work.

It isn’t all doom and gloom though. As bleak as her financial situation must have been, Daum ends her piece on a rather positive sentiment, one that I’m inclined to agree with. Yes, people will always find ways to profit on the dreams of others. Yes, dreams are never as simple as they are when first conceptualized. But as we grow and learn, we sometimes find ways to get around these realities.

And who better to find them then creatives?

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