What Does Your Price Tag Say?

“Madame Pericand felt that each social class should wear some sign indicative of their station to avoid any misconceptions, just as shops displayed price tags.” ~Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky

Doctor: So, you dropped out of your PhD program didn’t you?

Me: Yep.

Doctor: Well, now what are you going to do, I mean, why would you drop out of it, I mean, you should be doing so much, I can’t remember, what do you do right now?

Me: I’m a teacher and an artist.

Doctor: (scowl and smirk together cross his face) An artist? A teacher? Are you just trying to be poor. I mean, what are you going to DO? You can’t just do that the rest of your life.

Me: Actually, I am really hap…..

Doctor: What about law school? What about the PhD program at U of U? Have you applied there? Have you thought of that. You’re such a smart girl, you should be doing more than what you are doing. Your life isn’t over you know.

Me: um, yeah, I know. (insecurity strikes…and for some reason, i get dragged into this conversation that I don’t know why is taking place–with my Doctor, who comes across really poorly in this interaction, but who is usually such a great guy)…but yeah, law school, that would be cool.

Doctor: Exactly, now you’re thinking….blah…blah…blah…on and on…and…on…. ….and my mind wanders to what I am doing with my life and I start to feel a bit smaller. Am I wasting my life in small town USA? Obviously my doctor thinks I am a smart girl. Obviously he thinks I am capable of a lot more than what he currently sees before him. And obviously he sees me passing time as just a teacher and just a struggling artist…. according to him, and probably most people in the world, I should try to remedy that quickly.

“Alas, we– Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness– Could not ourselves be kind.” ~ Bertolt Brecht

When I graduated from NYU, I could have followed my head and been on the fast track to fame and fortune. I worked for a very “important” woman. Again and again she let it be known that she was the one who would give me my big break. She lived on Fifth Avenue, her son was a multi-million dollar film producer, she was a published writer, and she, like Madame Pericand in the novel, believed that people had price tags.

And, for awhile, I allowed her to treat me like my price tag was much, much less than hers….and in return, I would get what everyone wants. All her assistants had. Sometimes I find myself thinking back to my stint in the big city….wondering what I gave up. There was a time in my life when I was on a first name basis with the people at Dior. There was a time in my life when I was able to go shopping at Versace and people rushed to do my bidding (well, her bidding really). There was a time in my life where men in white gloves opened all my doors and pushed all the elevators buttons for me, a time when I got into black limos, a time when I got the first bags released from Gucci, and a time when I got high off of this type of living. People envied me. For the people who heard my tales, my price tag was high, I was living THE life. I had it made. I was going to be famous. I was going to be rich. I was going to be everything this world tells you that you should strive to be.

And then….I decided to move back to Utah. No one understood. Many still don’t understand. Now, instead of Dior, I help my dad weed his garden. Instead of making reservations at the newest five start restaurant, I made dinner for my brother last week. Instead of looking out onto Central Park West from the penthouse apartment, I had a late night girl chat with my sister. And, instead of getting that screenplay into the right hands, I helped my baby sister write her resume yesterday. And now, instead of a million nameless faces pushing past me on the street…each in search of that dream, my nieces and nephews know my name…. They didn’t before.


I'm an artist, writer, photographer, feminist, listener, lover, and a fighter. I believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, that skies are meant to be blue, and that the world is full of endless possibilities.

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14 Responses

  1. aerin says:

    Congratulations on your move. American culture keeps pushing people onward and upward – but never really stops to figure out what is best for people. People can be equally happy or unhappy on fifth avenue or in the middle of a small town.

    I am not sure why some doctors say inane things. Sometimes I think they are just making conversation, trying to put a person at ease. There is not always the respect for someone making a different decision (than the one they made) – to finish medical school and one’s residency. Our society needs teachers and artists just as much as it needs doctors and PhDs. Some doctors get that – others may not.

  2. Emily U says:

    I realized something recently which I never expected to be true. That is (getting ready to be shot or shunned here): using your mind and talents to their fullest is not the most important thing in life. Using them to their fullest nearly always requires an obsessiveness that results in an exclusion of other things and other people from your life. I think your doctor was out of line.

  3. EM says:

    My price tag used to say: Busy, busy, busy, and “You’re so talented; you do everything perfectly – blah, blah, blah”. I finally removed myself from the roller-coaster ride I was on for 20 years, and said goodbye to that crazy life. Even though it was hard to all of a sudden go from being this person who was important and did everything so well and “perfectly”, I am enjoying just Being. Being myself to do whatever, whenever, and with whomever. The question I asked myself was: “what is more important to me – family and friends, or people who really didn’t place any real value on me as an individual, or accomplishing more important tasks? Everything I left behind was superficial; I disliked the backstabbing, gossiping and whining,/cranky people, constantly being on guard – so to speak. It’s not that I didn’t love my job – I really did and the salary wasn’t bad either, but it was all that negativity. I much prefer dealing with people who are kinder, gentler, and easy to get along with and in the process I’ve become more kinder, loving and easier to get along with type of person.
    I always find it interesting how other people seem to think I should be doing this or that – other than what I really want to do. Only I know what is good for me and what makes me happy, and for me to be true to myself, I need to ignore others and follow my heart. Life is good.

  4. Carol says:

    Ah! You have discovered the secret to peace and happiness! Hooray for you!

  5. EmilyCC says:

    An inspiring piece, Stella. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Corktree says:

    Great post. I especially liked the last paragraph.

    This makes me think of what I gave up with continuing my education to accept motherhood when I did. So many people didn’t understand not finishing what I started and making a completely different path choice at the time, and in some ways, I think the price tag applies to how much education we “officially” receive, and how in academic and professional cirlces, we can be made to feel less than or at least less credible for our choices.

  7. Stephanie says:

    It sounds like you are doing what Christ would want you to do: serving others. Isn’t that really what this life is about? This was beautiful to read today. Thank you.

  8. My tag says:

    My tag says “Hand wash only. Do not dry clean,”

    Oh, wait that’s the care instructions, not the price tag.

    The price tag says, “How can you be happy teaching early-morning seminary? How can you stand teenagers?”

    My response, “Quite well, thank you.”

  9. aerin says:

    I was thinking more about this. As a society we create and enforce cultural norms. At any given point, a person figures out if they are in the line or outside the line(s). And, human society and culture figures out how to re-enforce those norms.

    Maybe at one point, the “norm” of a mother working as a full time mother in the home was re-enforced through lack of options. It was also re-enforced through criticism of a family’s choices or a personal choice (if a person decided to go outside the home to work, if a person decided to have kids or not have kids).

    There is no real way, at this point, that I could say to another adult woman – you have choices. You don’t have to do x (whatever x may be). It would probably be taken as a criticism or a threat.

    Yet the personal becomes political (what Friedan talked about in “The Feminine Mystique”). What happens to our society when women feel like they can’t or couldn’t use their education, that they couldn’t work outside the home – where they were socialized to feel like staying home with their kids was the only option? Likewise, what about women who (now) may feel like they don’t have a choice about being able to stay home full time. That by choosing that option, they are not using their education. What does that mean? Is it all about using an education to the fullest potential?

    So, I still think this doctor was out of line by what he said.

    Not with anyone’s specific situation (including the OP) – but I understand wanting to communicate some of that frustration sometimes. The frustration that social norms are reinforced instead of a person being able to figure out what is right for them. To communicate what I have found as my truth (today, as it is).

    I want to say to younger OR other adult women – find your own truth, not necessarily what everyone else says is right for you. I think that promotes major boundary crossing on my part, however.

    I don’t know how to talk about this appropriately or tactfully…apologies if I step on anyone’s toes.

    • Madame Curie says:

      aerin, I liked what you said here:

      find your own truth, not necessarily what everyone else says is right for you

      I think there is a lot of power in that statement, and I think its something everyone has to come to grips with in their life, sometimes over and over again.

  10. Two of Three says:

    This speaks to the part of my mid life crisis that wants to “BE something”. I have a part time job and a family but there is an itch to “BE more”. Why am I not content? Is it that I am not finding value in the right things? I read an article by Betty Friedan yesterday that made me think I should “get out there and do something”. I think the value on your tag has a lot to do with what you want and what brings you peace. Glad you found yours!

    • Two of Three says:

      Should have read Aerin’s last comment thoroughly. THAT is what I am trying, not so eliquently, to say!

  11. Davis says:


    I enjoyed what you wrote. It takes a long time to figure life out, but something my father told me has always rung true:

    “Everyone wants to change the world for the better. The truth is, every generation there are only a handful of people that are even remembered, let alone make changes to the world. You can however change ‘your’ world for the better. Society will not remember you, but those around you will. And they will remember the good that you did.”

    It has guided my life well to remember these things.

  12. Stella says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments. It is an interesting thing for me to write a post where people actually agree or support me (I’m not sure how to take that!)

    There is a fine balance, though, isn’t there? I mean, being a teacher is good for me now, but I never want to enter into a place of apathy or contentment. I’ve known (and dated) too many people who get SO settled in their lives that they tend to not be able to make any changes, to take any risks, to, in fact BE MORE.

    The balancing act of life is tricky. But, it can also be happy. The bad thing would be letting others push and pull you off your game 🙂

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