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Mother knows best

February 9, 2024

Caroline Adams

You know the feeling when you’re thinking about life after Bowdoin?—dread, excitement, anxiety, uncertainty, a hint of nausea? There’s no word for it, but we’ve all felt it.

It’s the feeling that you’re at, or approaching, a turning point in your life, but you have no idea where things will go.

Certainly, everyone’s gone through it—so why is there no guidebook on dealing with this phase of life? Is there a networking call we can make where someone tells us calmly that everything will be okay?

While there will probably never be an exact how-to book for experiencing this phase and its accompanying emotions, maybe listening to other people’s experiences of post-graduate life can offer us some solace.

Our column can serve as a guide for navigating these years and recognizing these turning points through interviews with Mainers and Bowdoin grads who have successfully (or maybe not so successfully) done it.

The first people the two of us always turn to with such questions are our moms. So that’s who we decided to feature for our inaugural column.

We sat down with Margaret Donahue, a Mainer, and Rebecca Adams ’88 to see what their turning points were and how they managed them.

E+C: How would you describe your twenties in a few words?

MD: Not always easy. A lot of: “Am I doing the right thing?”
RA: Exciting, scary, exploratory.

E+C: Tell us about what you do for work/hobbies/interests.
MD:  Human resources leadership. Love being outside which led to living in Maine.
RA: Freelance editor/writer. Love a good coming-of-age novel. As a kid, “grownup work” never interested me. I always wanted to write but didn’t realize I could do that as my career.

E+C: Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?
MD: I thought I wanted to get into science and what I had studied in college. Early senior year, I got a job at Rodale Institute studying large-scale composting. It was brand new stuff. And I was excited about that, but it ended up falling through.
RA: I remember always writing stories. But I didn’t know there was a job that was just writing. I didn’t know that that translated to being a magazine editor, which is what I ultimately ended up being.

E+C: What was your first job out of college?
MD: I worked at L.L.Bean, and it was at a time where if you were smart and you were aware, you could move up into leadership positions. They had a great leadership development program, and I just did well there honestly.
RA: I moved to Portland with my Bowdoin friends and waitressed to make money and figure my life out. I remember asking myself, “What am I doing?” But I wasn’t ready to go to graduate school or get a corporate job. So I just cobbled stuff together. I ended up freelance writing, just trying to make money. I eventually became editor for Art & Antiques magazine. I was 27 when I started as an associate editor there. Before that, life was scrappy. I hadn’t figured my career out at all.

E+C: Was there a turning point for you during college or your twenties?
MD: March of my senior year, the funding for my research fell through, so the job I thought I had was suddenly gone. Instead, I took a job at L.L.Bean and soon got a temporary assignment working in human resources. From there, they offered me a permanent position. I truly fell into human resources, because my degree is actually in biochemistry and sustainable agriculture.
RA: Coming back from winter break of my senior year, it seemed like everyone was getting job offers, applying to graduate schools. I didn’t want any of that. But I didn’t know the name for what I wanted to do. I remember realizing that this magical place and time was coming to an end…. They had plans, and I had none. All I knew was that I was leaving Bowdoin, and I didn’t know what was next. It felt like being jabbed with a needle.

E+C: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
MD: Just put yourself out there. Don’t take everything so seriously. Confidence is so important.
RA: Don’t worry so much. I know I wouldn’t have taken that advice, though. And focus on your strengths—think about what you’re good at.

E+C: Would you do anything differently if you could go back in time?
MD: No, because I look back now and realize it all worked out.
RA: No–the process of figuring out what I truly wanted to do had to happen. It was uncomfortable. I wish I’d known earlier that I wanted to be working in magazines, publishing and editorial. But it took me those uncomfortable years to get there. I just wish I had a voice inside my head that said, “It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna work out.”

E+C: Best advice you’ve ever received?
MD: Surround yourself with really good friends. They will help you when you’re having a hard time, and you’ll be able to help them when they’re having a hard time. You know, it’s kind of like a rising tide raises all boats.
RA: Take yourself seriously.


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