Young Professional Advice from Friends – Rebecca Fraser-Thull

This is a  Young Professional Advice from Friends post written by Rebecca Fraser-Thull at Working SelfYPAF is a is a collection of voices from different ages, places and industries to share advice on starting a career and conquering your twenties.


Our Happiest Moments Appear In the Bull’s Eye of Our Worst Times

            My life between 22 and 25 was downright miserable. I was in a doctoral program I’d entered solely to avoid getting a job; my new husband couldn’t land the teaching job for which he’d long trained and instead spent eternal days scrubbing rental cars in a suit and tie; and our financially-deprived notion of “eating out” was the local SUBWAY followed by a stop at the gas station for ice pops.

After three years of agony, I finally decided to ditch the PhD program that had been the wrong move from the start and move to my dream state of Maine. Once we left Ithaca, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the great times we had. And I still can’t:  We were newlyweds, reveling in the splendor of our wedding photos and taking weekend trips (albeit to friends’ couches) at the drop of a hat. We were the proud parents of our first dog/pseudo-baby, snapping pics of him at every opportunity and taking him on long walks through a new park every weekend. And I was a graduate student who, despite hating every pressure-filled minute of seminars and homework, met people whose views of the world changed my own and who helped me discover confidence in my own voice in a way I couldn’t have otherwise.

Part of this “weren’t the hard times actually good” thing is a trick of the mind – psychologists tell us we rosy up the past to maintain our sanity – but part of it is just life, which comes in a hodgepodge of excellent and atrocious, hilarious and gut-wrenching, mundane and sublime. The first time we feel the full force of this wicked brew is in our 20s, and it’s so disorienting that we don’t know which pieces to cling onto, which to worry about in our minds, which to plaster across the Internet.

My advice? Keep making music, even if your instrument is bent, rusted and out of tune.  When the days are slogging by and the nights are filled with trills of panic, snatch a moment to sit in a park and look at the lush beauty of nature or to read a snippet of a novel that contains words that whisk you away. When work is unbearable and the tunnel ahead looks darker still, steal a day to run to the beach or into the mountains, or to volunteer to care for homeless pets or homeless vets or whatever your passion might be. When life feels like a lot of crud without much cream, make the fancy dish you’ve been eyeing on Pinterest or schedule the weekend road trip you’ve long been plotting.

Believe me, you’ll be glad that you kept making beautiful music with your dilapidated twentysomething instrument. Because before long, the high notes are the only things you’ll carry with you.


Rebecca with her first dog – and “baby” – Rundle, now passed, back when they were making happy moments amongst the misery of a poorly-chosen graduate program.

Rebecca Fraser-Thill runs the website and blog Working Self, which explores the intersection of work and identity with a focus on twentysomethings. She has been teaching psychology at Bates College since 2003 and is also a life and career coach, freelance writer, and keynote speaker. Connect with her on Twitter @WorkingSelf.


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