What do you value?

By Allison Brennan


I’m so sorry this blog is late. I had every intention of writing it last night, but best laid plans …


This weekend was homecoming at our high school. Normally, this isn’t something I actively participate in. To me, it’s about the kids, they have fun dressing up for school (pajama day, retro day, spirit day.) But we always go to the homecoming game. Last year, our football team was down 21-0 at the end of the third quarter and won 22-0 at the end. This year, we trounced the opposition 55-6. I know a lot of this kids–my oldest daughter has been at the school for 14 years, since pre-school. I’ve seen them grow up, now they’re all bigger than me, and I’ve seen them mature (well, most of them) and grow into adults. We don’t have a child on the team, but since my daughter’s boyfriend plays I feel like we do (he eats a lot of food at my house!) Our team is also special because we have one of the few female kickers in the country. There’s a long line of female football players, but they are still rare. I’m not surprised–football is a violent sport. But this is the third year we’ve had a female kicker. Our first graduated two years ago, and a freshman took her place. Both are star soccer players. It is fabulous to watch our players rally around her and, when necessary, defend her because not all the other teams think it’s cool to have a star female kicker (ranked 36 in PAT in California this year, 9th last year. She has big shoes to fill–our graduating female kicker was ranked #15.)


This isn’t our school, but I found this terrific article from Michigan about the homecoming Queen kicking the wining field goal.


This homecoming was particularly special as my daughter was voted Homecoming Queen. Dan and I were beaming 🙂 It was surprise, because she’s never been interested in these type of accolades. She’s an athlete (volleyball) and loves choir. But after 14 years at the school and now senior class representative, everyone knows her. I never got involved in extra-curricular high school activities, and I can’t honestly say why. My 25 year reunion is next year and if it weren’t for Facebook, I’d never have reconnected with any of my classmates. I’m thrilled my own kids–all of them–will have these type of memories.


Last night, a large group of kids came over to my house for dinner before the homecoming dance. Parents came and went to take pictures. And Dan took this one candid shot of Katie that made me teary–it reminds me that she’s growing up. That she’s graduating in May, she’s going to college, that whatever I did right or wrong, the future is now in her hands.


I’ve often said to people that I have no life outside of my kids and writing. Depending on the context, I suppose that it can come off as complaining. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my family, and I love writing. Everything else can wait. 


The writer’s life is neither harder or easier than any other life. But most of us are living our dream, at least part of it. We might not be rich and living in a castle on a hill, but we are doing what we love. I truly love telling stories. I love it even when I hate parts of the process. I love creating and revising and polishing. 


I’ve told my kids that they can do or be anything they want, but that the most important thing is they find a career that is satisfying. That if they love what they do, they’ll be happy. If that’s a stay-at-home-mom (or dad), a doctor, a teacher, an athlete, an artist, a writer–they need to love it. Because every job has a downside. Every job has heartache. You have to love it–or, if it’s a means to an end, put up with the crappy stuff and not let it destroy your dream. 


I’ve had ups and downs in my career; I’ve left one publisher and moved to a next. I have a new editor for the first time–after 17 books. I have a new agent. I’m excited about the possibilities, but a little scared, too. Fear is normal. But even with the uncertainties in this New Publishing Order, even with the ups and downs in the industry, the changes that seem to hit us hard even after we think we understand everything, I still wouldn’t want to do anything else.


Sometimes, it’s hard to remain optimistic in the face of big changes, whether it’s college or career or family issues. Shit happens. Sometimes really bad stuff. Sometimes we want to crawl into a hole and hide, or quit everything and say to hell with it. But there is always hope. I believe it, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning and do all the things that need to be done, for me or my family. 


I remember a group book signing (the Levy Bus Tour) where a high school teacher was sending students to buy Chip St. Clair’s memoir (to read for extra credit.) Chip was great, and told the parents that there was a bunch of authors in all genre–thriller, historical fiction, romance, inspirational. One mom said, “Oh, I don’t have time to read.” 


I’ve thought about that exchange many times over the years. That mom was telling her two daughter that she didn’t value reading. That everything else in life was more important to her than books. 


I don’t want to set that example for my kids. Not just in books, but in life.


I think about the two female football kickers from our school, and what my 8 year old girl soccer player told me. “I want to be the kicker for the football team.” I told her to work hard, do her best always, and don’t give up. And I thank those girls for setting a great example, not only to other young soccer players, but to the boys on the team.


I value many things, and I hope my kids do as well, as they learn by example. I value stories. I value honesty. I value hard-work and sacrifice. I value dreams.


What do you value? What one lesson would you impart to high school seniors today?




17 thoughts on “What do you value?

  1. Kim Bettcher

    Love this post! Agree…do something you enjoy and you will be happy and it will reflect to those around you! Also…to High School students…when you become parents…encourage your kids to be who they are…not who you think they should be! Scientists, builders, athletes, actors, readers or writers…they all have a fanastic place!

  2. Amy Shojai, CABC

    Lovely post! I think that I'd impart TWO things to the HS seniors of today (and for a while I gave up writing to teach HS choir for a semester…)

    Treasure your friends–they are your chosen family. And never discount your dreams. They are the icing on the cake of life, the brass ring that keeps hope alive.

    Congrats to Katie–she's as lovely as her Mom.

  3. Alaina

    My lesson to high school seniors is probably different than what most people are going to put. See, I'm a college senior, and this is the first year that I know no students at my school. It's a little sad, to see the girl who was a freshman flutist when I was a senior in band, walking around college in a completely different major and direction than mine.

    But the number one thing I'd say? Because it applies to far, far too many of the people I see?

    Don't use your phone to call anyone or anybody you know at home for the first month. If you can, turn it off entirely.

    My parents refused to let me call them, and I cried a lot, but then I adjusted to being at college and independent and thrived. My freshman year, my roommate used her mother's phone call for an alarm clock, and frequently called home to ask if she could put off her homework to go out/if this club or that club was better/ could she have a second piece of cake. I can name Juniors and Sophomores who still go home every other weekend so their parents can do their laundry; despite the signs posted in the laundry room with plenty of explanations, they cannot do it themselves.

    I can name people who throw fits and call their parents if their roommate is being unfair by playing music too loud/keeping them awake by doing homework when they've gone to bed/won't let them decorate the entire room the way they want (and I mean the entire room– all four walls, carpets, your bedspread doesn't match).

    At the same time, there are people who call home once or twice a week (I call Sundays) or once a month or so. These are club officers, community-service leaders, part-time job holding, independent people. And it's no coincidence, because I have seen people erase their votes when someone took a phone call from their mother and promised they'd start their homework right after the voting, really, it'd look good on her resume.

    So, in short: grow a spine, graduating class. I won't be here next year to help anyone else learn to do laundry or show them how to sew on a button.

  4. Alafair Burke

    I saw on the news the other day that the average teenager estimates that his or her starting income at a first job will be seventy-something thousand dollars. I'm not sure how to translate that problem into advice, but I think Alaina is on the right track, and so are you by teaching your children that being happy in one's work is incredibly valuable.

  5. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison

    Sounds like you've done a great job with your kids. And good luck with all the changes happening to and around you at the moment. One day you'll look back and laugh … one day.

    Advice? Well, the Bill Gates speech is an oldie but a goodie, and bears repeating one more time:

    "Bill Gates gave a speech at a High School about eleven things they did not and will not learn in school.

    "He talked about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

    "Rule 1 : Life is not fair – get used to it!

    "Rule 2 : The world doesn't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

    "Rule 3 : You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

    "Rule 4 : If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss

    "Rule 5 : Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

    "Rule 6 : If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

    "Rule 7 : Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were: so before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room..

    "Rule 8 : Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

    "Rule 9 : Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers
    are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

    "Rule 10 : Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

    "Rule 11 : Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one."

  6. Jill James

    Allison, your daughter is lovely. I want today's kids to know life is not easy, but that doesn't make it unworthwhile. It means so much more when you earn it. Life doesn't get handed to you, you have to seize it with both hands, and hold on.

  7. Sarah W

    I always thought Ferris Bueller had it right:

    "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

  8. Reine

    Work hard. It can be fun — really. While it is always rewarding, the reward is not always what we anticipate.

    For those considering "higher" education:

    1. University is different. It is not like high school or prep. If you hate school now, you may find that college at the university level suits you.

    2. Go to the best university/college you can get into, because in the end they all cost the same. I know it doesn't appear that way, but it is true. The best have money to pass along to you in the form of awards, grants, scholarships, student jobs, and loans (some forgivable when entering certain professions or for other circumstances).

    3. You can study anything you want.

    4. You can change your mind.

    5. Student jobs can lead to wonderful and unexpected careers or life-long devotions.

    6. Work hard.

    7. Roll with the punches. Biology, or music, or computer science, art history, or teaching may not be there for you. Adapt!

    8. Something will be waiting your discovery.

    9. Your job is to find it.

    10. And love life.

  9. Shizuka


    I love the photo of your daughter – -both lovely and unselfconscious.
    And you say something in your post that seems to resonate through many of your posts — be true to what you love and who you are; don't let others make choices for you. It's something we always need to hear.


  10. Allison Brennan

    Hi Kim: I wholeheartedly agree. Encourage kids to be who they are. This is NOT to say don't encourage them to get a job and support themselves! LOL. I don't think parents do any service to their children letting them be free without responsibilities. But I do think that they should be encouraged in what they show aptitude and interest in. Thanks!

    Great advice Amy! (And I never looked as good as Katie when I was a high school senior–she amazes me. AND she can sing. I can't. :/)

    Alaina, you should be writing a blog! I love your advice. My husband and I have an long-standing argument about whether Katie should live at home while going to college (one of her potential colleges is only 20 minutes away) I think she should live on campus if she can get housing (hard, sometimes, even for freshmen) and he thinks we shouldn't "kick her out." Fortunately, Katie is already responsible — she's been doing her own laundry since she was 12, and whenever there's a crisis with her friends, they call her to resolve it. It used to annoy me, but now I realize all that was preparing Katie to succeed on her own. Really, though, you should blog about this–I can't believe how many immature, irresponsible people are in college, considering how hard it is to get in nowadays. Book smart, but no common sense!

    ROFLOL Alafair! Where do they get these ideas? I started making $27K and change, AND I thought that was a GREAT starting salary when I was a 22 year old college drop-out. I did love my former career … for awhile.

    Hi Zoe! Thank you for posting the Gates rules. LOVE them!! I don't know that I've ever read them, at least not in a long time. As far as raising my kids … I'm certainly not perfect. They tell me that often enough. I just hope I give them a solid enough foundation so they can make the right choices for them when they graduate from high school. I suppose, however, I probably shouldn't tell them to go complain to their future therapist when they criticize me for something …

    I love that Jill! Seize life with both hands. 🙂

    I love Ferris Bueller. Probably something else I shouldn't have let my 10 year old son watch … but he loves the movie, too 🙂

    Reine, thank you! I love your advice. And It's important to learn to adapt. I totally agree. And changing your mind. Not only in college–I've met a lot of people who started in one career, then took a big risk (and often a pay cut) to change careers into something that was personally more rewarding.

  11. JT Ellison

    Your example to your kids is one to be proud of, Allison. They see your commitment to both oyur love, writing, and your love, them. And that's all any kid really needs to get a good start in life.

    My advice is to think for yourself, and not let yourself be pressured into things that you don't want to do. Take classes hat will make YOU happy, not your parents. And always trust your gut, especially with people. It's rarely wrong.

  12. Reine

    Thanks Allison. I thrive on the practical. Change is normal and often the useful choice when situations alter your life.

    I have had several career changes – not because I was undecided or overly flexible but because circumstance intervened. I am grateful that I've been able to grab the unexpected.

    I started as a theatre technician and actor. The physical labor was too demanding, and learning lines was exceedingly difficult for me. I thought it might be easier if I studied theatre in a college.

    While preparing for transfer from L.A. City College to UCLA, I took a course in psychology.

    UCLA didn't want me for psych, but UCR did.

    I became a marriage, family, and child therapist. After a few years I was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy (Van Gogh's/Dostoevsky's disease) and came to realize there was no medication current that was going to make that career possible for me.

    I returned to school to study theology and ministry. It was wonderful. I studied everthing that pulled at me. I studied neuroscience and psychology, as well as religion. I took a course called "Thinking about Thinking" taught by Alan Dershowitz, Harvey Cox, and Stephen Jay Gould and learned to be brave, to allow myself the pleasure of freedom, to change, and to count for something.

    I moved through several student jobs and developed a community ministry with the street people. Because I refused salaried positions in my church at that time, my church would not ordain me. That came as a shock, but my ministry was strictly one of service, and I did not want it to be influenced by income in the form of money.

    Continuing my ministry without the blessing of my former church, I entered a doctoral program in education. I also maintained one of my first student jobs, one that developed out of a neuroscience course I'd taken my first year of divinity school. That job became my best career choice: counseling and advising medical students. I am very pleased I did that work and am now on disability leave.
    < https://sites.google.com/site/harvardlongwoodmuslims/history > http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2000/12/4/suicide-shocks-medical-school-pa-first-year/

    And writing – yes of course, I am writing. Hard to do with quadriplegia, but I am doing it.

  13. lil Gluckstern

    Your daughter is lovely, so on the verge of doing something special. I tell kids that they may not enjoy what they are doing now, but they are learning, and keep their eyes on the prize, and they will find a way to make it happen. I believe that kids can call home now and then, but they will grow out of it before you do. The most important thing is to hang in there until they master their task. The triumph and satisfaction of that is incomparable.

  14. Allison Brennan

    Shizuka, I really believe that, though I didn't know I wrote about it so much! I was very lucky to have a mom who encouraged me to pursue my dreams and didn't dismiss them as foolish. I try to support my kids in their dreams, even though sometimes I have failed to be as supportive as I should be. I'm getting better 🙂

    Great advice, JT — truly great advice.

    Reine, I don't believe in giving up. I'm glad you don't either!

    Lil — I agree, my daughter is already independent, and I'm sure I'll always be waiting for her calls and messages and posts on facebook to keep up with her!

  15. PD Martin

    I bet it feels like yesterday that she was starting school!

    My advice is kind of boring…follow your dreams, but always have a back-up plan.

    But I LOVE the Bill Gates pointers. I've never seen those before. And Ferris Bueller does rock 🙂


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