Musings + Essays

What Do You Secretly Want to Do?

By: Jen Shoop

Is there anything you secretly long to do? I’m curious because sometimes sharing an aspiration out loud has made me realize I’m not hanging onto a moonshot after all. I specifically remember sitting in the apartment of a girlfriend in Chicago many years ago telling her that I would love to figure out a way to support myself as a writer. The admission was littered with caveats and deprecations. She looked straight at me and said: “Jen, you can do it. You are doing it.”

But these aspirations need not always be the stuff of career and vocation. Sometimes they are simpler things, like going blonde after a lifetime as a brunette, trying Tinx-inspired nails, learning to drive stick, getting on Tik Tok, learning how to arrange flowers, or teaching yourself Norwegian because your brother has suddenly moved to Trondheim (as is the case for me, personally).

A few things that secretly interest me:

+Practicing French conversationally — I have for years and years contemplated joining a meet-up or forcing my French-speaking friends to participate in French-only dinners. I spent years learning the language, and it brings me joy to speak it. Why not practice it?

+Sitting on the board of a female-founded business — Those who can’t do teach (or invest?) — ha. I have lived in the entrepreneur trenches and know some things (not many, but not nothing) about early-stage start-ups. I spent a substantial amount of time conducting a post mortem on my previous venture and have insights that might be helpful to a fellow entrepreneur. For example, I came at my previous business disciplined in the “product first” mentality but have other thoughts now on the right mix of customer orientation, rounding out the team, early product iterations, and capitalization.

+Learning calligraphy — I bought myself a book, paper, and pens but am frankly lost in self-study. I think I need a class or tutor or some regular cadence to my efforts.

+Re-engaging in the social entrepreneurship arena — In another life, I participated in an executive program on social entrepreneurship. The coursework — heavy on design, which I loved — and my classmates were absolutely fascinating. At the time, I was working for a start-up attempting to build the financial health of low-income teens through technology (specifically, savings-oriented smartphone applications). I now have less of a purchase on the space and have instead engaged with similar problems through philanthropy. This is less by design and more by fortunate happenstance. I remain, though, interested and inspired by rise of B Corps (a private certification awarded to businesses that optimize around their social and environmental performance) and wonder how I might plug back in at some point in my life.

+Speaking publicly — I have a love/hate relationship with the dais.

+Being a student again — I would love to enroll in a program of some kind, preferably on literature or art. I am a good student and enjoy the experience. It would be absolutely delightful (?) to enter a classroom knowing an expert has thoughtfully prepared a prospectus of readings and all of the ancillary readings and prompts to support my learning process. I took these preparations for granted in school. As an aside, I feel as though I should take coursework in creative writing but the thought of interrupting my organic flow — of wrapping academic apparatus around something that has always felt joyful to me — sours me. I took one creative writing course as an undergraduate at UVA and hated everything about it, from the prompts to the grading to the process of providing peer feedback.

+Trail running — never done it, curious about it.

+Attending a retreat. I saw a small advertisement for a morning of prayer and reflection and found the idea both intimidating and appealing.

+Wake up early to create. I’ve written about this a lot lately (again here) but there is something vaguely medicinal about this idea. I am convinced my writing would improve.

How about you? What things do you secretly want to do?


+What are you secretly good at?

+I guess we’re all about secrets today — what song do you secretly love?

+Things I love that I shouldn’t.

+Things I love about my daughter.

+Things I’ve learned from my mother.

Shopping Break.

+This LSF-inspired top is flying off the shelves.

+These Raffia wrapped earrings are so fun.

+dpHue just released a new creme specifically formulated for blowouts. You know how I feel about this leave-in therapy by the same brand. Life-changing! (Hair changing!)

+The hype is deserved: these are my new favorite pens. Ultra-fine tip (great for those of us with tidy writing) but glides much more easily than most fine tipped pens!

+This puff-sleeved denim top is only $20 and would look adorable tucked into white denim for spring.

+Cute spring statement tops aside from the aforementioned LSF-inspired floral: highly tempted by this Brock Collection top — 70% off –, this Zimmermann (40% off), and this Thierry Colson (65% off!)

+I did end up treating myself to some new spring pajamas as a part of Lake’s ongoing annual sale: I bough these lavender stripes and this shorts set.

+These $13 bins look a lot (!) like my much more expensive ones from Yamazaki. Great for bulky items in a pantry.

+OMG – Cult Gaia vibes for under $100. (Compare with this — also love it in the rattan material for summer! You know I have a thing for all things woven.)

+This Rainbow Brite-esque dress is in my cart.

+ICYMI: the sweetest gift for a Baptism / First Communion / Confirmation / godchild.

+Random utility finds: just ordered another of these pet food bins, which are absolutely perfect for Tilly’s food, which we buy in ENORMOUS quantities now with more space!, and these pasta keepers, which we use to stow all the fancy bronze-cut pasta Mr. Magpie basically imports from Italy himself. (My favorite pasta dish recipe here.)

+We did end up buying this C&B bunk for our playroom. I loved the architectural shape and modern design. I’ll share thoughts on bedding once I figure out which direction I’m going!

+Adore this layered statement necklace — 20% off with code YOUROCK!

+Speaking of necklaces: this set of heart necklaces is absolutely adorable. So fun!

+This ruffled mariniere!!!

+A perfect pink cardigan.

+Just came across this Elemis resurfacing skincare set for 42% off — love getting a pricebreak on a new cosmetic set! Great way to test new products without breaking the bank.

+J’adore this chunky cardigan for a little one! More H&M scores here.

+This citrus-print dress for mini is currently in my cart.

+Love these bunny jams for a little.

+Wedding guest dresses!

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23 thoughts on “What Do You Secretly Want to Do?

  1. I would love to write and live abroad as well! Something about Spain has always called to me. I’ve been trying to master Spanish for years 🙂 That’s great your husband has a green thumb, I have tried gardening but unfortunately I even killed cactus eventually lol

    1. Ha – I’m more in your camp. Can hardly keep cut flowers from wilting within 24 hours. I love the idea of living in Spain! A dream!!


  2. Jen, fellow UVA grad in my mid-20s here. My sister and I are exploring launching a line of detox baths. It’s no board seat, but if you ever want to share those entrepreneurship “lessons learned” on a call or in some sort of seminar, I know I’d be interested!

    1. Hi Hayden! Wow – amazing! It is really brave to even put a new idea out there. Email me and let’s talk!!


  3. Trail running is great and very meditative. It also takes the focus off pace and puts it onto effort, because the terrain is more challenging. I would love to learn to ski- I had a great childhood, don’t get me wrong, but I’m regretful that my parents never took me skiing (or that I never pushed for it) because I think it’s something much more easily learned when very young. I love outdoor winter recreation and think it would suit me well.

    1. Hi Anna – I can absolutely see how trail running would take the focus off of pace, and I think I’d like that. My one quibble with running as a form of exercise is that if I cannot clip into a good headspace, I find running excruciatingly boring. I can imagine trail running would obviate that possibility because, quite simply, you must always be aware of your next footfall.


  4. I don’t know if this is really a secret to those who know me well, but I really want to move and live abroad for at least a year or two. I’m in the process of getting dual EU citizenship which will make logistics much less complex. While I love my current work/job, at some point in the not near but not distant future, I picture myself packing up and really embracing life as a quasi-European.

    A few things make this a realistic possibility: I am mid-30s and single, own no property and am only responsible for myself. I also will have dual citizenship so I could work, earn a living and obtain health coverage without needing a visa.

    At some point in my life, I want to achieve airline and hotel status. For almost 15 years I have booked travel, planned conventions/conferences and helped countless others accrue elite status but have never earned any points for myself. I’d like to change that and become loyal to a single airline and hotel brand. As travel becomes more of a realistic possibility, I am going to work on this.

    Clearly I am someone with wanderlust.

    1. You should definitely do it!! My friend has a French passport since her dad is French and will spend 1 year in Paris every few years to live/work. I spent 4 months in Spain in college and it was the hardest/most enriching time. i miss the active lifestyle of walking everywhere. And of course, the design, fashion, etc… things people just do better in Europe 😉

    2. Thank you, Marcella!

      I absolutely plan to do it and cannot wait for a lifestyle where I don’t need a car and can take advantage of walking & public transit. Plus the fresh/local food, community and work/life balance lifestyle.

      It is likely a few years down the road but I am so excited for when it can become a reality!

    3. I love these aspirations and it’s clear you’ve given this some thorough thought! I feel like you are going to make this happen!!


    4. Jen- I will absolutely share my adventures with the Magpie community when it finally happens!

      I have also been helping my parents research ways to potentially officially retire abroad and have found a few countries that make it pretty easy without needing to invest $100,000 or $1M+ like some do. Happy to share insight with anyone who is ready to retire and move to Italy or Spain. Since I am not at retirement age and will still need to work, those logistics are different and the dual citizenship will be more beneficial!

  5. Re: trail running – RCP is a great place to ease into it! The trails are well maintained, easy to navigate, and pass through some beautiful water/woods areas. I had assumed you were already exploring those trails when you head there for a run (!). The Western Ridge Trail is a great loop (I usually park at the intersection of Military Rd & Oregon Ave; there are always a few cars pulled over there), head up to the Northwest Boundary Stone 9 if you’re feeling ambitious, then looping back down the trail that loosely follows Beach Drive/the creek. It’s so fun to run it through different seasons and notice the changes! I usually run solo and have always felt safe.

    Re: my own secret to – do .. I’d love to go abroad solo, even though I have a lovely husband who makes an excellent worldwide travel partner and a few friends that have made fantastic international travel companions in the past. There’s something so alluring about a solo trip in an unfamiliar place, navigating languages, customs, transportation, etc. and hacking my way around; the idea feels both challenging and uniquely serene.

    1. Thanks for the RCP rec! I have never run those trails but agree that makes complete sense. Going to give that a try on the next not-freezing, not-rainy day. Thank you!

      Admire your spirit in waiting to travel alone!!! I agree that it sounds invigorating!


  6. Jen! This column may make it into my top ten! Look to Laura Hooper for calligraphy- she’s in your area! Does classes (now traveling again, I believe) & offers online classes. I want to reboot my art and have taken fledgling steps in watercolor. Calming and so challenging! As with calligraphy, making daily practice a priority and habit – even 15 minutes – makes a difference. I remind myself that I owe this to ME! And, secretly, I long to be in the interior design universe. Alas, I know my time to sing and dance on Broadway is long past. Ok I said it!

    1. Oo thank you for the rec! I just checked her out and saw she has lots of video classes. Thank you! I love the idea that “you owe it to yourself.” So lovely. And — it’s never too late!!!


  7. Do you want in-person recs for calligraphy or online classes? I can help out a little in that area. I found in-person much more helpful when getting started, but they may be more difficult to find right now (and also, not to mention scheduling issues!). Happy to share what resources I have there – I just picked up my pens again to help a friend out with wedding invitations, and it was fun but made me realize how much I need to continue practicing!

    1. I think it would help also to narrow down what style you want – more classic (copperplate, spencerian) or more modern? John Neal Books posts lots of online courses and also has links to teacher pages. I have found some online courses to be helpful, though in person is always more fun, I think. As another reader said, Laura Hooper is near us in Alexandria (I’m just a bit north of you). Look also at joining the local calligraphy guild (here it’s the Washington Calligraphy Guild) – it may seem intimidating, but often they’re the friendliest bunch and want to get people learning the craft. I keep meaning to join as I was quite involved with the Philly area one before we moved.

  8. Ooo…I smiled when I saw your title. The question struck me as conspiratorial in the best sense, particularly as I sit here before dawn with my coffee — very adult pajama party vibes. I long to write, which I have begun to do because why wait. I would love to grown a garden — my patches of here-and-there selections are lovely but they need a lot more company. Perhaps this spring… I would very much like to refresh and practice my second (or third) language skills. I took both French and Russian in high school and Russian in college, and have long wanted to re-engage that part of my brain. I would like to be proficient enough at golf to play with anyone other than my husband. It’s such a social sport, but my utter lack of skill holds me back from the best part of the game! I very much want to find a charitable organization to invest myself in after the pandemic shuttered the project I had participated in off and in for years.
    As for your thought of waking early to create, I highly recommend it!

    1. I love these aspirations, especially the garden-growing one. My husband is the green thumb in these parts but I also have an interest in learning my way around the garden at some point in the future. It seems to me such satisfying, contemplative, patient work.


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