One pan! SRIRACHA MAPLE PORK CHOPS, CRISPY SWEET POTATO ROUNDS, and BRUSSELS SPROUTS
– Lori’s Dinner Experiment #3627
I’m sorry it took me so long to get on the sriracha train. I was dumb. I will happily admit this as I shove another spicy-sweet bite into my mouth. This quick one-pan dinner experiment came together in about 30 minutes, and I couldn’t be happier!
Serves 2, as written here
Preheat oven to 425. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet.
Slice a sweet potato into rounds about half inch thick or so. Arrange on one half of sheet. Sprinkle with brown sugar, salt, pepper, fajita or chipotle seasoning, and a drop or two of sriracha sauce (each). Roast 15 min then flip before adding the pork:
Drizzle pork chops with olive oil, salt, pepper, sriracha (just a little), and maple syrup. (Chops should be lightly covered but not dripping.) Add to the sheet pan and return to oven to roast for about 25min.
Meanwhile, trim ends from Brussels sprouts and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add to baking sheet – if you’re out of room, roast in separate pan or skillet for 20 minutes. During final minutes of cooking, splash with plum vinegar or lemonjuice before returning to oven to finish. If you happen to have chopped, cooked bacon on hand, you could sprinkle the bacon and grated parmesan over the sprouts to take them to the next level.
Remove pork from oven after 25 min and let rest on plate, covered. Remove sprouts before they overbake. Leave sweet potatoes until they’re darkly browned on both sides.
Lessons I learned from this experiment:
A little sriracha goes a long way, but if you’re careful, it’s not going to light you on fire. This is good for my heat-averse husband.
Don’t over-roast the Brussels sprouts. They really don’t need more than 20 minutes.
It’s hard to over-roast a sweet potato. They need a lot of heat over a pretty long time to be done. I could have given them 30 minutes in the oven alone, plus 20 with the pork and brussels sprouts, and probably been happy.
My Backstory series offers stories about my upbringing and background. You can find the whole series under the category “Biography,” if you’re interested.
It was 1986 and late June, not long after my parents’ wedding anniversary – not that I ever saw my parents celebrate their anniversary, ever. My last surviving grandparent, my maternal grandfather, had died after years of declining health, endless hand-rolled cigarettes, severe alcoholism, and abusive behavior toward many in his life. (My #metoo story of sexual abuse stems from the few months my grandfather lived with us. I was 3; he was always drunk; his had went down my underwear when I was sitting on his lap one afternoon. I told my parents what he did; he moved out within a few days.)
Now Grandpap was dead, and we were left wondering what to do about it. It was a little more complex than I’d expected, this being the first family death I’d been party too. There were late-night calls and quiet discussions centering on whether my grandfather’s children were willing to take part in his death rites. All of this was news to me, and much of it I learned eavesdropping on my parents’ conversations after I’d “gone to bed.” What I overheard broke a lot of my childish illusions about my extended family. Ugliness lurked under the surface, very real despite the way no one talked about it in my presence.
My youngest aunt, who’d born the brunt of my grandfather’s abuse, wasn’t interested in anything related to the funeral. (I wish I could go back in time and send her a therapist. She desperately needed one.) My other aunt and her husband didn’t really want to be involved, though they probably had more money than anyone else in this story. Like many family deaths, the money issue was a sharp divider. Our family was struggling, barely surviving my father’s disability and ensuing unemployment. The price tag of a death was beyond what we could bear at that point.
My uncle and my mom conferenced to see if there was any money to address the obvious needs: bury him, pay for the coffin, settle his bar tab at the ancient watering hole in Scottdale where he’d drink with his buddies.
I had to ask someone to explain the term “pauper’s grave” after hearing it thrown about by a relative. Turns out that was still a thing in Scottdale in the ’80s. But I guess family pride kicked in, and Mum and my uncle weren’t going to let it come to that. No money to buy fancy clothes, and Pap didn’t own any, anyway. Dad went through his closet and found a nice navy suit that he couldn’t any longer fit into, given the massive breadth of his shoulders and chest after spending the past 4 years cutting firewood. The local VFW (I think) helped supply the flat brass plate that served as his grave-marker.
Granpap had a $5,000 insurance policy, probably from his Navy days. It was enough to buy a basic coffin, pay for the embalming, and set up a graveside funeral. But it wasn’t enough to afford an extra couple thousand for the concrete vault required by the large “nice” cemetery where my grandmother was buried. That’s not even to consider the shade thrown by mom’s other siblings at the idea that he would be buried next to her.
Family gets weird when someone dies. Grudges that didn’t provoke action from the living are waged around the dead.
Another conference around the kitchen table. Several calls to local cemeteries: can we bury someone in your ground without a vault? And what do you charge to dig the grave?
In the end, it was Mount Tabor Cemetery tucked up in the mountains where I lived, across the ridge and near Indian Creek, that offered terms we could collectively afford. And so it was on that wet, warm morning in late June that my dad, my half-brothers, my uncle, and his son stood on our porch with their collection of tools to tackle an age-old tradition: digging a grave.
It took them several hours. They were in for hard work, and they knew it. Under the lush black dirt of the mountains would be sticky yellow clay, the kind that could bounce a pick right up into your face if you weren’t careful. And worse, it had started to rain. Not a gully-washer, but a humid drizzle that threatened to produce bigger showers.
The men returned mid-afternoon hungry, tired, and dirty – but satisfied they’d dug a good grave, and seemingly appreciative that they were contributing to a good burial for a man they didn’t fully admire, but whom they were willing to claim because of blood. But they were also concerned – although they’d covered the hole, the impending thunderstorms threatened to fill the grave with water, a puddle that the clay soil would preserve, delaying the planned funeral.
In the morning, a couple of them headed over to see how things stood. My dad returned with heartfelt news that the hole was completely dry. It shouldn’t have been; the men all knew it’d rained enough overnight that they should have been dealing with a mess. But that’s not what they found, so dad offered his thanks for the Providential surprise, and went to put on the only dress clothes he owned which still fit him. My brothers changed into their finery recycled from the 70s (my own wedding photos a decade later would confirm that one of my brothers bought his only suit around 1975 and saw no need to put money into an updated one). The family and a few associated friends assembled for the service.
It dripped rain on us as we stood on an unusually cold June day on the steep slope of the Pennsylvania Appalachians in a cemetery which now seemed quaint. A minister who’d known my mom’s family found something kind to say over my grandfather’s bones. Pap had been a machinist at various points in his career interrupted by bouts of drunk-induced unemployment. But a few of the old men in the town remembered his skill with a tool, and with rolling a good cigarette, and serving in the Navy during World War II. The minister salvaged what he could of my grandfather’s life and drew our attention to the shortness of human existence. As my adult self, I can appreciate now that the minister wasn’t one of those guys who had to turn every moment into an altar call or threaten us with hell if we didn’t confess Jesus. It was a simple service, simply delivered, matching the simple way my grandfather’s hand-dug grave would accept his body.
And there he lies to this day. He was the only one of my grandparents that I remember.
His wife, my maternal grandmother, survived breast cancer long enough to hold me, then died a few months after I was born. I am named for her and for my mom’s youngest sibling, the one who suffered the most in the unhappy household my mom grew up in.
My dad’s parents were gone by the time I came along. His father, an evil man, died screaming in his bed and was laid out in their family parlor in 1964 for viewing – that’s a story my dad told with great consistency. His mom lived to see my dad get married to my mom, but passed shortly after. We had a photo of her in the family collection, sitting in their living room staring into the camera in that frank way old people look at the world, next to photos of my mom’s family.
Grandpap retained his place in the family photo collection. Whatever he’d done to his family or to her, it wasn’t enough for my mom to cut him out of her life.
I love making a particular type of pork roast that leaves me with a couple pounds of succulent pork for sandwiches, quesadillas, and eating straight. (Plus I make a batch of beef stew* in the pot once I remove the pork- it’s mind-blowingly good!)
Making skillet nachos takes this way beyond “next level” to “the best couch movie night supper you’ve ever put in your mouth.”
Please try the pork recipe too – you could use any non-smokey shredded meat here (including chicken) but I can’t tell you enough how much we love this pork roast.
Two adjustments to the pork recipe: I sear the roast in a bit of bacon drippings instead of oil, and I deglaze the pot with some cream sherry or bourbon before pouring in the braising mixture. I also think this recipe works best with a non-bitter, non-hoppy medium brown beer. A Belgian double or triple would be quite nice.
Ok, now for the nachos!
Perfect Skillet Nachos
12″ Cast iron skillet— if you don’t have one, use anything heavy that will really hold heat and is both oven and stovetop safe
1 small onion, chopped
1 T butter
1-2 cups pulled pork or other shredded meat
Tortilla chips – maybe half a bag?
2-3 cups shredded cheese (we used a blend of yellow cheddar and a block of cheddar/gruyere from Trader Joe’s)
Jar of corn salsa, preferably Trader Joe’s (it has a nice sweetness)
1 can of Rotel tomatoes
Salt, pepper, and fajita seasoning (to taste)
1 avocado sliced OR guacamole
Optional: salsa, hot sauce, etc
Heat butter in cast iron skillet on stovetop over medium and sauté onion (with a little salt and pepper) till lightly browned. Set onion aside and remove skillet from heat.
Preheat oven to 425
Create two layers in the skillet, each in this order: 1/3 of the chips, 1 Cup cheese, 1 Cup pork (break it up and scatter), ½ cup or so corn salsa, and half of the onions. Sprinkle with a little fajita seasoning or a bit of pepper, if desired.
Make 2 layers like that, then pour the can of Rotel over the top of the second layer.
Top with remaining chips and cheese and sprinkle with fajita seasoning. Make sure there’s a layer of cheese on top to get melty.
Place skillet in oven for 15-20 min. You want it to heat and melt all the way through without burning.
Broil on high for 1-2 min at end to brown the cheese, if needed.
Top each quadrant with avocado (or guacamole) and a dollop of sour cream. Dig in!!
Making the pork recipe? Prep ahead to make beef stew in the same pot as soon as you remove the pork. You can set it aside when done to eat the next day.The pork drippings add a depth and richness to the stew that’s unbeatable.
I do mine this way:
Remove the pork, leave all pan drippings. Return pot to stovetop over medium heat and leave oven on 350.
Toss beef cubes with 1-2T flour, salt, pepper, and favorite steak seasoning (or thyme). When pot is hot, brown beef cubes but don’t cook through. Deglaze pan with a liquid you like- I usually use either wine or sherry, about a quarter cup.
Chop onion, celery, carrots (and optional potato) and add to pot. Stir well to pull up bits on bottom of pan.
Add 4 cups beef stock and stir.
Stir in 1+ cup of pearl barley (optional) or add egg noodles about halfway through cooking (see below).
Season well with thyme, salt, pepper, etc.
Bring pot to simmer on stovetop then cover and return to oven to finish cooking. I usually check after 45 minutes to see if the beef is tender and the vegetables are cooked. If you’re doing egg noodles, wait about 20 minutes before adding them.
Cooking the stew in the oven keeps the beef really tender, and makes use of the oven heat you just spent making the pork. 😉
Of all the things I didn’t expect about turning 40, my increasing intolerance for mediocre food wasn’t on the list.
Let’s be honest: When I was 20-something, I ate a lot of food that was honestly meh. I shopped at Sam’s and bought Hamburger Helper by the case. I had my share of processed, canned, and crock pot meals that somehow tasted good to me at the time. We ate where we could afford (though even in my 20s I knew White Castle burgers are gross and Skins hotdogs are vastly overrated).
It’s no surprise that one’s taste’s mature as we age, but I didn’t anticipate the side order of snobbery that seems to have come along with it. 😉
Case in point: A couple weeks ago, the hubs and I stopped by one of Green Vegas’s up and coming hipster paradise locavore farm-to-table restaurants. The place has a carefully curated interior (I’d die to have those raw brick walls and rough-hewn tabletops in my own house).
But the food? Underwhelming. Tastes like…. well, not much of anything. Despite having “delicious” in the title of the restaurant, the food….wasn’t. It was weak. Good quality, but lacking any nuance in flavor.
I looked around at a crowd of Millennials with their knobby knit scarves and fall boots and flannel shirts and trimmed beards, munching down on food that I could have made myself far better. I longed to throw an arm over their shoulders and bring them into my kitchen to taste tonight’s beef stew, rich with the flavors formed in the pan by a little pork and a spike of both sherry and balsamic vinegar over the local farm beef chunks, slow-basted in the oven, married to carrots/onions/celery and creamy with pearl barley. There are flavors under the flavors, flavors that unpack themselves inside your mouth like a spy who’d stowed away in a shipping container, springing out to surprise you with truly golden-brown and delicious tastes.
Or consider one of our really popular hangout joints here in A-town. Formerly a noisy street tavern full of loud music and shouting drunks, the reimagined Earle Street Kitchen throbs with activity every night. Can’t even find a place to park on Fridays and Saturdays. How’s the food? Well, the goat cheese potato fritters ARE really tasty, and I can usually find something worth drinking on tap. The rest of it? Salt. It tastes like salt. No nuance here either. People from age 18 to 65 are packing out the place. What gives? (I was genuinely offended when someone I know raved about their mahi-mahi & grits. Yeah there was goat cheese in the grits and that’s a good idea and I plan to steal it but…. the rest of it still tastes predominantly of salt with a side of garlic.)
**UPDATE, Dec 2017**
I have to be honest: I was at this restaurant again a few days ago, and my meal was genuinely good. The crab cakes in particular were tasty and well-seasoned. Perhaps the kids are learning to cook. 😉
I’ve got more money in my pocket than I did at 25 (more bills too, so I think we’re even, younger self), but I’m loathe to spend it on food that, while may be the freshest and most environmentally conscious, fails to thrill. If the cooks haven’t learned to layer flavor in ways that provide a satisfying experience for my taste buds, why am I giving them money?
And can someone explain to me how Mellow Mushroom stays in business? The pizza is tasty, don’t get me wrong, but the prices are like “holy mother of beelzebub, why does this pizza cost more than what I pay for groceries monthly?” And since it seems to take 45 minutes for your pizza to arrive at the table, they must start the second rise of the dough when you place your order. I don’t get it. Am I just impatient now? #getoffmylawn #takeyourbadservicewithyou
We’ve also been mourning the demise of some of our old haunts. Maybe it IS me and my finicky tastebuds getting cranky with middle age, but the fries at McGee’s are soggy now, and everything seems to have dropped a notch in quality (except the wine list). I wish they’d team up with the brewery in their backyard to beef up their beer offerings and reopen the back deck to liven up the place. Maybe I don’t like the food as much now that the pub is funeral-quiet every time I walk in, as if it were a retiree rocking on the front porch waiting to die. The food at Fiesta doesn’t stand out like it used to compared to L Taco (but I have a soft spot in my heart for Fiesta’s burro de la roqueta). The faithful Empire Chinese on the corner is under new management, after we basically watched the former owners’ kid grow up from nugget to teenager. It’s still good, but I can taste the difference. I hope the owners have moved into a business where they can get a day off.
Even Starbucks has lost its luster for me. I like my caramel macchiato because it’s not usually overly sweet (try swapping in the PSL syrup for the usual vanilla syrup – it’s less “candy-sweet” than a PSL but you get some nice spice). But most of the Starbucks syrups just taste like chemicals to me nowadays. Blech.
But I have digressed.
To my lovely Millennials: I adore how earnestly you want your food to be sustainable and genuine. I love that you’ve said “bump this!” to boring grocery stores and are happy to let Amazon drop groceries on your doorstep. I’m glad you’ve forced Baby Boomers to learn what avocado toast is, even if they mock you for it (without good reason). I think good experiences trump having a big bank account. Your generation gives me a lot of hope that 2017 may not be the only dark apocalyptic vision available for our future. Thank you for reviving Saturday farmer’s markets and telling O’Charley’s to go die.
But please come over sometime and let me cook for you. You don’t need to spend all those hard-earned dollars on mediocre food. Learn to roast vegetables and chicken in your oven. Learn to braise a pork shoulder and serve it with good crusty bread from a local bakery. Buy a large cast iron skillet, keep it oiled, and use it for everything including those grass-fed, free-range steaks you bought at the Saturday market. Make your own damn coffee – it takes five minutes, a $30 grinder from BBB, and a $20 Bodum.
Hipster places we DO love:
– Tandem Creperie
– Methodical Coffee
– Nose Dive
– White Duck Taco (be still, my heart!!)
Non-hipster places everyone should try:
– Inky’s (Philly cheesesteaks in Easley!) – thanks, Mel! ❤
– L Taco in Anderson (owned by my neighbor!!!)
– The Pita House, a Greenville classic
– the Tropical Grille out on Pelham & 14 (and only that one) for the slow-roasted Cuban “chop” (pork & beans & rice bowl)
I grew up in Fundamentalism with the phenomenon of men and women living under radically different holiness codes. One of the most notable, even to my young eyes, centered on the way men – especially married men – could not be in the room with a woman alone. For example, if the male church janitor was in the sanctuary cleaning up, it would not be considered appropriate for the church secretary (a woman, of course) to be the only other person left in the building.
When I was a teenager, my Christian school almost canceled a planned field trip because some parent of one gender canceled and that left only the opposite gender parent and I’m not really sure because even then it seemed weird to me that people were so worried about parents-without-their-spouses hitting the sack on the backside of a 711 or something. I think somebody’s wife agreed to take a day off work to go on the field trip and protect the testimonies of all the parents involved.
(Man, if I’d been any more worldly-wise growing up, I would have raised several eyebrows at how often “testimonies” needed to be “protected.”)
When I was in college, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and started a long march through chemotherapy. As a senior in college, I awoke one weekend to the nightmare that she’d had a stroke once the cancer hit her brain (or maybe it was the chemo; those particular drugs had a habit of triggering strokes) and had been rushed to the hospital. It was bad there for awhile, and I was 500 miles from home, and my parents didn’t really have the money to put me on a plane. So the youth pastor from my home church, a man whom I barely knew because he’d started working there after I went to college, graciously offered to drive down to Greenville from Western PA and pick me up for a quick weekend home to see my mom after she had brain surgery. Problem was, he couldn’t be in the car with me for the ride home. In Fundamentalism, that was a deal-breaker. My agnostic, rock-band, techie brother agreed to do the ride-along job of chaperon, creating what must have been the Universe’s weirdest “buddy comedy road trip adventure” story of the year.
I’d pretty much called ‘bullshit’ on this whole paradigm when the head pastor of the church I attended in Greenville made a point in a sermon and then in a published article of expounding why, if he saw a single woman walking down the road in the pouring rain with groceries, he could not be expected to give her a ride. I don’t have a copy of the article and this was pre-internet, but someone on that side of the fence commented on the general gist of it in a post at TGC.
So this might explain how I went for years without any man touching me ever, even on the arm, even as a hug, even as a goodbye or hello, when I lived and worked and studied in Fundamentalist circles. It explains why, when I joined a PCA church in the early 2000s, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a guy would tap my arm as part of normal conversation. Took me years to retrain my body that human contact is actually healthy and good.
Vice President Mike Pence made a splash in January when it hit the news that he refuses to be in a room with another woman if his wife isn’t present. A lot of people outside conservative religious circles guffawed, but many of us – especially women – rolled our eyes and said, “Here we go again.”
Many people wrote good articles about how this is a form of gender discrimination. I liked The Atlantic’s piece: “How Mike Pence’s Dudely Dinners Hurt Women.” In a world where men still serve as gatekeepers to power, barring women from the room unless there’s a chaperon around isn’t protecting either of them from wrongful accusation. It’s just keeping women out of the chambers of power.
A friend of mine is studying science at a nearby, large, Research One institution that shall remain nameless. She is a senior PhD student in a STEM field, highly capable and respected by her colleagues. If she needs to use a particular piece of equipment in another lab, the professor (a man) refuses to let women into his lab unless there are other people present. Since this student cannot control others’ schedules, she has sometimes lost her slot to work with this critical lab equipment because there were no other people around to “chaperon” their time in the lab. But it’s ok – some guy got to jump in and take her spot, since apparently religious conservatives are so opposed to LGBTQ+ people that they refuse to consider them when building these holiness codes.
What makes this so galling is the way her science department and university administration cannot see that this professor’s holiness code has become a weapon against women in STEM at that university. Instead, she’s noted that people are stunned when she suggests anything but admiration for this man “who cares so much about his marriage that he refuses to be alone with any woman who isn’t his wife! Isn’t that chivalrous?! Isn’t it grand?!”
No. It’s legalism, if we want to parse this through the lens of Christian theology. God never said “don’t be alone with another woman.” What He said was, precisely, “Don’t be an adulterer,” which Jesus intensified as “Don’t lust after another woman in your heart.” You can’t cut your heart out of your body, guys, so you’re going to have to rely on the Grace of the Cross for your sanctification, not your own rules about who’s sitting in the office after hours. [Please don’t bring up “Let not your good be spoken about as evil.” Not the point of that passage. If we want to play the proof-text game, then let me remind you, “To the pure, all things are pure.” So get your damn mind out of the gutter next time you see a man and woman together in a professional setting.]
And from a professional, “business” viewpoint, it’s sexism. The primary victim of all holiness codes are the women. In the name of protecting something good (marital fidelity), the brunt of the work falls on the women – not to be present if there’s a man doing his job; not to dress in a way that a man finds provocative; not to be available lest he want to rape her. Oh, sorry, I forgot we aren’t talking about the Stanford swimmer-rapist.
Things were simpler, I realize, when the only power brokers in the boardroom, the lab, the classroom, or the pulpit were white men. That 1950s demographic profile does remain in many conservative circles, but in general American experience, things have opened up for us ladies. ….Kind of. OK, barely….. 😉
But I wish more men were out there expressing the outrage they ought to feel when their religious structures reinforce the idea that sexuality and attraction are uncontrollable forces in the universe; that women are temptresses and men are faithless ever; that a man wants only sex from the women he’s around; that people’s ability to claim any ridiculous thing about your reputation trumps the Great Commandments should you happen to see a woman walking in the rain and you’re the only guy in your warm, dry automobile as you pass her.
As a woman who’s married (19 years and counting) to a man who’s nothing like that, I’m offended on my husband’s behalf that people not only think like this, they celebrate people who do. I don’t feel any need to track my husband’s movements via his iPhone or think twice about what he’s doing with his genitalia where other humans are concerned. Why? Because he’s a decent human, and I trust him. It’s part of what Love means when I think about my marriage vows.
You don’t get to close your lab “in the name of Jesus.” You shouldn’t applaud people like Mike Pence who use a non-biblical standard of sexual “purity” in a way that locks women out of the halls of power. It doesn’t matter whether Pence “intended” for that to be the effect. It IS the effect his holiness code has on the women around him.
You shouldn’t cancel your kid’s field trip for the sake of your testimony. (Good grief, who ARE your friends, and why do you keep hanging out with them if they are going to scream nasty things about your reputation the minute you set foot in an automobile with someone of the opposite sex?)
You shouldn’t avoid doing the right thing – the kind and loving thing – because you’ve built yourself a big ol’ holiness fence to protect your personal reputation. Sometimes doing the right thing is going to look rather messy. At that point, you can either love your holiness code or you can love the person you’re trying to help. You can’t do both.
This is the conversation I wish someone had held with me when I was 24 or 28 or even 31, early enough in my life to grab my shoulders and shake me and say, “Don’t just let life happen to you. Make some decisions. Don’t assume it’s not going to matter.”
Because that’s how I did it, and it kind of sucks to realize in the rear view mirror that I should have–and could have–planned ahead.
My experience is not the norm for yours, but maybe this can serve as a starting place for all you lovely ladies out there who are still trying to figure out your place in this world.
1. You need a plan.
This is what no one told me, boiled down to its simplest form: Regardless of your family status (married, kids, cat lady, divorced, whatever), you’re going to live a long time and do a lot of stuff over the course of your life. You’ve got 40+ years of life – probably more if you’re in your 20s and take relatively good care of yourself.
What are you going to make out of those years? What would you like to build with your life? What problems do you want to solve?
Or play the “Write your own eulogy” game: imagine you’ve just died, and write out what people will recognize as your greatest accomplishments. Don’t laugh – this is a great way to force yourself to imagine what your future might could look like. *
You don’t have to map it all out. But you can start heading in a direction toward something that holds your attention. Whether you turn that passion into your “day job” to earn income is a different set of questions. But you’ll be happier if you can get your work and your interests/skills/talents to align – even a little.
2. Make it a flexible plan – create room for growth and change.
It was really liberating for me to hear someone say, when I was in my 20s, “You won’t hit your [career] peak until you’re in your 50s. That’s when many of this world’s great minds churned out their best work.”
I know a couple people who are in their 40s and are doing the job they set out to train for when they were 18. Some of those folks are still in the same occupation because they are trapped there due to educational debt or the consequences of some career arcs. But a couple really did know at age 12 they were going to be a lawyer or doctor or whatever, and are happy with it.
That’s a few people. The vast majority of people I’ve encountered fell into their jobs, or stumbled into a career they enjoyed, or realized they weren’t happy doing one thing, and launched out (despite the risk) to do something better. Even approaching their 40s or 50s.
Knowing that life is uncertain (so eat dessert first!), you need to build contingency plans into your career master plan.
Acquire new skills constantly. If the job is meh but they’ll pay for you to train in some useful skill, it might be worth a couple years of relative boredom to gain something that opens doors later. Or take some classes at a tech college for a couple hundred bucks. Or go hang out at the maker’s collective downtown and see if you can get some hours painting or building furniture or sewing or whatever. Learn to code – classes on Udemy or EdX or Coursera are often on sale for $20 or even free. YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE NOT TO BE LEARNING SOMETHING RIGHTNOW.
Education is usually a good investment, except when it isn’t. Learn all you can about the job market you’re interested in before committing to anything long-term. [If you earn a masters, do NOT pay full price for one. Get funding, do a grad assistantship, or shop around for other schools.] Balance the value of the credential (at any level) with what it will cost you to earn it. For the record, pretty much every adult needs at least an associate’s degree.
But don’t let the potential consequences of your choices cripple you psychologically, freezing you into a state where you don’t make decisions about your future. If it seems like a good idea and you can legitimately afford it, go for it!
Be willing to trade comfort for experience. It’s nice to do a job that’s easy and in your wheelhouse… until you’re bored to tears with it. Then what will you leverage to move up or out? Will you have gained any experience or skills that will make you marketable? If not, it’s probably time to look for something that will challenge you, or get some more education in the field.
Keep analyzing your interests and strengths, and get people (preferably older, wiser ones) to comment on your options. Do a career inventory every couple years; check out what jobs are developing in your field. Read job ads. Revise your resume. Apply for a couple dream jobs just to keep your interview skills sharp. Don’t assume things will just stay the same.
3. Don’t trade away the real future for a “maybe.”
My critical mistake was to assume the future was going to go a certain way.
In my 20s, I “knew” that eventually we would have kids, and then I’d have to drop out of the work force for at least 5 years because there’s no way we could afford full-time child care, and wasn’t that the best way to raise kids anyway? **
That perspective led me to believe my career choices wouldn’t much matter … until I didn’t have kids, and then my passive not-choices became my choices. It’s a hell of a thing to wake up at 37 and realize you don’t have a plan for this Life speeding along.
To be clear – I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done. I’ve worked as a teacher, reference librarian, academic coach, graphic designer, and communications/marketing professional. Along the side, I’ve honed my skills in design, writing, cooking, networking, problem-solving and game-playing…. not to mention instructional design, research, and progressive approaches to education.
But if I’d made a plan – an actual plan – when I was in my mid-20s or even my early 30s to target something I’d like to spend the bulk of my time and effort working to fix/make/create, I would have done things differently to prepare myself for the decades to come. I probably would have earned a PhD in my 30s, opening doors in higher education I can only dream of at this point.
I’ve met a lot of women who found themselves single at 30, childless at 35, or divorced/widowed by 40. It happens. If you’re in Evangelical Christianity, you may not even see these women because they’re painted out of the picture in so many churches or sermons. They are seen as the exceptions rather than the norm; yet demographic statistics argue the point that half of us won’t be married by the time we’re in our 40s.
My upbringing within Fundamentalism actively workedagainst me realizing I needed to plan a career arc formyself; instead, I viewed my work as a subset of my husband’s career (which has been even more patchwork than mine) and didn’t bother planning much for myself. (Not his fault. And he tried to get me to.)
It’s hard to row against the current here – so many forces push women to focus everything on getting married, making babies, and raising them. [If that’s what you want and what you get, great! Enjoy! But eventually, your babies are going to grow up, and you’re going to find yourself an empty-nester. Then what?]You need more of a plan than “I’ll figure it out once the kids are older.”
4. Seize the opportunities that appear in front of you.
Serendipity is a central feature of success. Yes, hard work and practice are essential too – your luck doesn’t matter if you don’t have the chops when it comes time to seize the day.
But being “in the right place at the right time” is a thing. Take steps to put yourself in the way of potential opportunities by expanding your skills and networking wth people.
At least a few times in your life, you’ll be staring right in the face of an opportunity, usually one that’s enticing you to take some big risk for an even bigger reward. And I’m here to say, when those opportunities present themselves, don’t be afraid to say YES.
We girls are notorious for under-rating our own value and abilities, for hedging our bets because we’re risk-averse almost as a genetic trait. We live with imposter syndrome daily on top of suffering the real effects of gender discrimination in the workplace. There will be 1,000 voices in your head shouting down a new idea. Go get some outside perspective to affirm the benefits of taking an opportunity when it comes.
My husband and I became teachers because someone we only sort-of knew thanks to the internet called us and asked us to consider helping him start a high school that was unlike anything else in the community. We said yes. It’s still one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had, and it set me on the path of becoming a formal educator. I was 27 at the time.
In hindsight, we should have probably wrapped things up a few years earlier than we did and moved on to new developments in our teaching careers. We should have looked for the new opportunities that would have stretched us, opened doors, helped us see the bigger picture. Live and learn from my example, young ones.
5. Do what you must to get mentors in your life. Don’t make career decisions in a vacuum.
This one is hard, because you don’t have a lot of control over whether people further along in life are willing to sit down with you and talk about how they’ve lived their lives to this point, what they’d change, and what wisdom they can share. And you might have grown up in a family that didn’t invest much in you, one that didn’t see you as having potential or much of a future.
But I’ve hardly ever met someone who, when asked with sincere interest, would turn down the offer to talk about themselves. 😉
You can connect to professionals across the globe now using Facebook or LinkedIn. It’s not weird to write someone in your field an email asking to grab coffee or for a quick paragraph response to a question about how to succeed in that field. It’s not weird to approach someone a little older than you to see if they have time for a drink and a chat.
It’s not weird to do more than daydream about the things you love doing, and to build the machinery to make that life possible. But it’s going to take a whole lot of work, and there will be times in your life when that work simply won’t be possible (because you won’t have the funds, the time, the energy, or the freedom).
No one can plan your life for you. (If someone is attempting to do so, set some better boundaries or get that person out of your life.) But you can learn a lot by asking people to share what they learned about #adulting.
Not gonna lie: adulting is 99% making it up as you go and hoping this isn’t going to be a colossal failure. On the other hand, I’m thrilled to be an age where I’m ok with that. Haven’t died thus far (from my own stupidity) and hopefully won’t die till cancer gets me (it’s in my genes; I’m resigned), this in-between time is mine to play with, and I’m glad to say I finally have some goals in mind to shoot for.
If we know each other IRL and you want to grab coffee and talk about planning your own career (regardless of your gender), please don’t hesitate to reach out. My door is open. Plus I really like coffee.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ *If I were do this exercise now, because really there’s no reason not to check in on one’s life goals every few years, this is what I’d write: “Lori left behind a legacy of creating opportunities within education for many who would have otherwise dropped out or given up. A respected instructor at several university centers of teaching and learning, she mentored hundreds of faculty into better teaching practices and ways to support struggling learners. Thanks to her work, thousands of students attained their educational goals and graduated. She also worked to simplify educational processes, clarify messaging within the educational world, and unite disparate departments into holistic teams working for the best interests of students.”
** I’ve always loved Ursula LeGuin’s assessment of how women can juggle parenting and a career in writing. One person cannot do two full-time jobs and make it work. But two people can effectively juggle three jobs, and that’s how she and her husband made it work:
For a couple years now, we’ve been reading the Hugo nominees and voting on the awards. I don’t have any illusions that my vote “matters” much more than my political vote matters here in South Carolina, but it’s fun to be part of the process (and Hugo nominees don’t flood my airwaves with horrific ads).
Overall – and I’ll start posting specific reviews of individual works shortly – this has been an excellent Hugo season. Granted, the past couple years were pretty rough when the various “Puppies” groups (Sad/Rabid) hijacked the nominations with their “slates” of primarily white/male/power fantasy/old school science fiction. It’s not that their nominees disagreed with my worldview; it’s that their nominees were terrible. Like, the writing quality was just appalling. If you want your fiction to resemble an alt-right paradise, knock yourself out. But don’t expect me to give you the time of day if you can’t construct sentences and plots above the level of a high schooler. (With apologies to high schoolers – some of mine wrote waaaay better than those guys.)
Happily, after the “E Pluribus Hugo” adjustment to how things get nominated and voted on for the Hugo Awards, this year’s slate of nominees has been really good. I loved 5 of the 6 novels, and all 6 were worthy of nomination. The short stories were solid; the “Related Works” category includes essays by Neil Gaiman and Ursula LeGuin for a refreshing change after a couple years of terrible crap from the Pepe-loving crowd. Next up, I’m reading novels, novelettes, and graphic novels. Might not get to the ancillary content, but that’s ok…. the bottom line is, if you want some good summer reading, check out the Hugo 2017 nominees!
I’ll just treat this like a grab-bag of content, since it’s been a while since my last post. Honestly, there’s a ton of great stuff to read, watch, and play right now, and it’s been hugely tempting for me to consume content rather than create it.
I wrapped up my play through of Mass Effect: Andromeda (my review stayed essentially the same) and need to play the last chapter of The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine DLC, which as a game add-on is better than most of the games I’ve played in the past couple years. (My review of Witcher 3 is here.) Thanks, CD Projekt Red, for ruining pretty much any game I’m going to play in the next decade with your ridiculously high-quality writing.
I’ve also returned to the siren song of the Steam Summer Sale to grab Stellaris (like Civilization, but in space, and different, sorta) and Firewatch (haven’t played it yet so no spoilers) and Undertale (which everybody says is amazing but I can’t figure out what the hell is happening in the first level and I just feel stupid).
Netflix released a little series called GLOW and it was a laugh and a half for sure. Yes, it really is based on a little-known 80s era women’s WWF show called “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” and yes it packs in all the 80s nostalgia you can handle. Because GenX is now in the driver’s seat when it comes to nostalgia-driven media and ad campaigns, and I can feel a whole lot of 80s/90s throwbacks in our near future. *tips hat*
Even music has been on point lately. I should probably write a separate post about seeing U2 in Chicago a couple weeks ago, playing Joshua Tree for its 30th anniversary. Absolutely worth the trip. Led me to look up 80s era U2 videos and gape at their baby faces. Apple Music led me to a couple neat albums in the past few weeks. Looks like their service is finally coming into its own with a good recommendation engine. *fingers crossed*