It’s not all about the money…but it is a bit

JCJ Column Published May 13 2015

Published in the Jersey County Journal Wednesday, May 13, 2015

This is the time of the year for Moms and for graduations. And for me this time around, I am lucky enough to celebrate both. While my youngest still has a way to go on his degree, my oldest will receive his Master of Fine Arts degree from Washington University St. Louis in just a few days. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate all the rewards that come with being a mom!

A young professional artist now, he got his start in the arts right here in Jersey County. Unfortunately there’s not much of the evidence of the fine arts left in public education anymore where he can serve as kindling for the fires of the next M.C. Escher, Patrick O’Rourke…or Jeremy Shipley. Therefore, the challenge ahead of him now is to secure gainful employment in his now limited and highly competitive field that keeps his fire ignited while also keeping Sallie Mae happy. Not an easy task…regardless of your chosen path.

Erica Galos Alioto, a senior vice president at Yelp, recently posted an article on LinkedIn entitled, “Don’t Take a Job For the Money or Prestige.” I thought it would be particularly applicable to highlight some of what she shared as we enter the graduation season. It is the same sage advice I have given my sons and to anyone else who’ll listen.

In the article Alioto talked about how she knew for most of her life that she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. She shared that she had dressed as a lawyer for her fourth grade career day. In high school she campaigned for, and won, the spot of top prosecutor on the mock trial team. And at 22, she entered her first year of law school.

Soon though, she found that the classes and her writing exercises were not very exciting. She also found that she didn’t enjoy the environment of being surrounded by overeager law students who saw success as a zero sum game. She found her work as a summer associate at a top firm to be mind-numbing.

But in the end, the money and prestige of going to a big firm won her over. She took an offer with a great firm where she was paid well and had the prestige of belonging to a top firm. She stayed there for four years, until her need for fulfillment could no longer be quieted.

When she finally left, she ended up at a start-up. She took a huge pay cut, but she went to work excited every day. There was very little money or prestige, as the company was virtually unheard of at the time (I think the company she is a VP for is a little more well-known these days).

I have always been much like Alioto. I pursued the spark, the fire, the passion…even after my Master’s degree, money was a secondary thought. As an entrepreneur for well over a dozen years now, I wouldn’t change a thing. But it has also made for some difficult times along the way. Doing a bit of what I don’t enjoy nearly as much had to become a part of my reality.

So, here’s my keynote address to all the graduates out there—a condensed version:

As you begin down the path of the real grown-up world where there are no extensions, GPAs, or a syllabus to inform you of others’ expectations, keep running down that path of your passion with your torch brightly lit. Just be sure you can make those student loan payments too…

Melissa Crockett Meske has served as a guest columnist for the Jersey County Journal since 2006. She is a professional writer and an organization catalyst. Follow her at