Editor's note: This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.
SPRINGFIELD — Mike Brothers and Maureen Callaghan met and fell in love at Missouri State University while working at the college newspaper. After graduation, they both got jobs at the Springfield News-Leader, but concern over the stability of the newspaper industry led them to pursue other careers. Brothers, 32, is now the public information officer at the Springfield-Green County Health Department. Callaghan, also 32, went back to school to earn a nursing degree and now works as a registered nurse at Mercy Hospital Springfield. They cite education, hard work and a strong marriage as keys to their success. This is their story, told in their own words.
What the American Dream means:
BROTHERS: “At first it’s a pretty traditional definition. When I first hear that phrase, it’s the house and the neighborhood and the two cars and the kids and a good job and all of that. Probably if I thought about it a little deeper, it would be just being happy and being content with where you’re at. I think it’s all based on that job and that security. Having that sort of base that you can find that other happiness out of.”
CALLAGHAN: “I just kind of think it’s something you grow up with. It’s very aspirational. I grew up under different circumstances than Mike. I grew up in a single-parent household. And I always think of the American Dream as being comfortable, not having to worry about money or finances. And like you said, having the car and the house, and the dog, and the kids and the white picket fence. Part of that, for me, is finances. Not having to worry financially. And that’s just because I grew up worrying financially. So for me it’s a freedom from worry and a freedom from stress.
“I’m in this stage right now, I mean we just bought a house. So I’m very … I kind of feel like we’re almost there. We’re living it. I don’t stress about finances, and we’ve got the house and we’ve got the cars, and we’re in a good neighborhood. So I feel that we’ve been very fortunate and very blessed and lucky. It’s just really hard to see some people who are being left behind. And I feel like we’re seeing a lot more of that. With the economy these days you can see how it is for people, that they really are like one or two paychecks from being away from it.”
BROTHERS: “Yeah, for me I think that is my dream. I’m a pretty traditional guy. I never wanted to travel the world, I mean, I do, but not for months or years at a time.
“I think we are there, pretty much. We’re definitely on that road. I think for us, the path to get there was … I mean for me, it starts with my parents, and the way they raised me and just the values that they showed me and the expectations they had that I would do certain things. Education was one of those expectations. I went through high school, through college. There was never any question that that was what I was going to do. And they paid for it. So that was huge. I never underestimate that. It’s just a massive investment that they made. I mean, it’s not as massive as some; I went to a state school. But as far as what I’m going to get over my lifetime and that return, it’s just a huge return on investment. So I think that’s the key thing.
“And then, working hard. I always took my jobs and responsibilities seriously. And was always thinking kind of ahead, after awhile anyways, as I got close to 30. As I got into my mid- to late 20s, thinking ahead on things. I started thinking about what were my goals in my current job. Do I need to shift gears and do something else? And I did end up switching careers a little bit in my late 20s. I think education and work and thinking ahead on things were how I got there.
“And then also, another thing I think for us is marriage. Being married and working together as a team and pulling in the same direction is just huge. You can see how, in our society, marriage and all that goes along with it is a huge vehicle for success if you treat it that way.”
CALLAGHAN: “Absolutely when Mike’s talking about education, and family and marriage even.
“I’ve just recently undergone a career change.
“We met in college, and he hired me for the school paper, and we both worked at the paper together, at the News-Leader. And, you know, talking about planning and careers. I realized, you know, that Gannett (the national company that owns the News-Leader) has laid off hundreds and hundreds of people, and I kind of saw that coming down. I was on the copy desk, I did editing, I did design, and I thought, 'Oh my goodness, they’re going to outsource this. I just know it.'
“And I ended up going to school for nursing. So I’ve got my B.S.N. (bachelor of science in nursing) now and I work in a hospital and you can’t outsource those people, so we’re good there.
“But you know, when Mike talks about marriage and success — I wouldn’t have been able to go back to school without having someone there to support me. It was absolutely fundamental that I have his support emotionally and financially for me to go back to school.
“The earnings potential in nursing is much higher than it was at the copy desk. I’m thinking about going back to grad school to get my N.P. (nurse practitioner degree), which is something that’s also going to cost us a little bit more money. I managed to get through my first undergrad without loans (her father paid for her undergraduate education), but now we’re taking on loans. And that’s something that financially we had to be cognizant of, and we had to be on board with … There’s absolutely no way I could have done it on my own.
“I look at some of the girls I went to school with who had to do it on their own, and they’re going to be in debt for years. And they have no one to help them out.
“Right now, we’re dual income, and so we can throw a lot of money at those loans and get that debt behind us. And I just don’t know if I could have done that on my own. So I think marriage is a huge part of it.”