Investments & Returns

by Lauren J. Sharkey
published in Writing

Whenever I think of investments and, by extension, returns on investments, words like appreciation, capital, and risk usually come to mind. For most of my life, investments seemed a foreign concept. As someone who lives paycheck-to-paycheck, is perpetually broke, and can never seem to have more than a $13.00 balance in their checking account after all the bills are paid, the thought of investing never seemed to apply to me in the conventional sense. At least, that’s what I thought.

I never thought of myself—and my writing—as investments until recently.

Deviating from the plan

My parents are boomers. From a young age, I knew my job was to go to college for four years, get a “real job” that came with financial security, and get married. As my love of books and the desire to write one of my own began to grow, I came to realize all the things my parents wanted for me were likely not in my future.

After leaving for college fresh out of high school, I found myself in an abusive relationship, dropped out of school, and had a mountain of credit card debt. When I finally left my abuser and returned home to live with my parents, I was twenty-two with 32 credits, no real job experience, and I was in collections.

Revisiting the plan

It was clear that if I was ever going to get my life together, I needed to embrace my parents’ plan. So, I got a part-time job at Barnes & Noble, finally got my drivers license, and enrolled in community college. Once I finished my associates degree, I transferred to state school and got my bachelor of arts degree.

I did something else, though—I buried my dreams of being a writer. My degree was in Multidisciplinary Studies (a fancy way of saying Liberal Arts), with a concentration in Technology in Society and a Writing Minor. I started working nine-to-five, I was whittling down my debt, and I was even seeing a guy.

Life seemed to be as it should—I was “on track.” But as the days passed, my “track” felt more like a loop. A predictable cycle that seemed to be endless and made me more miserable by the day.

Investing in myself

I was working in an office, and I remember my coworker coming to my cube and saying, “Ohmigod Lauren! It’s THE BEST day! There are bagels in the conference room and they got the good cream cheese!” Now, there’s nothing quite like a Long Island bagel, but I knew then and there this wasn’t the life I wanted (even though I currently work in an office that also gets excited about food). I wasn’t happy punching a clock, answering phone calls, and going through the motions of nine-to-five-dom for my parents’ sake. This wasn’t who I was.

I quit the next day and made researching, applying to, and writing my entrance sample for graduate school my full-time job. My parents thought I was crazy. When I told them I wanted to go to school for writing, they were like, “But haven’t you already gone to school?” You should have seen their faces when I explained an MFA was a terminal degree which wouldn’t offer career advancement in a conventional sense.

There were times I thought I was crazy too—after all, there seemed to be a lot of risk involved: there was a high probability I wouldn’t be accepted, there was no guarantee of publication, and I hadn’t been writing seriously for a while. Suffice to say, I was rusty. Not to mention I would be taking on more student loan debt, and I wouldn’t graduate until I was in my early 30s. But deep down, I knew this was right.

Taking the risk

Toxic positivity is real, not being realistic when it comes to big life decisions can be dangerous, and it’s not always easy to believe in yourself. But the thing is, if you invest in yourself, you will never be disappointed in the return. Am I in more debt that I’d have liked? Yes. Was I nervous it was a huge mistake? Yes. But am I living my dream and would I have done it any different? Absolutely not.

Lauren Sharkey

Lauren J. Sharkey is a writer, teacher, and transracial adoptee. Inconvenient Daughter is her debut novel, and loosely based on her experience as a Korean adoptee. You can follow her at, and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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