When I Grow Up...
I've wanted to be a writer since I first learned how to read, but the only reason I'm an author today is that four years ago, after I came home crying from a hellish workday and my MBA night class, my husband looked me in the eyes and said, in his gentle but no-B.S.-allowed way:
"You're a writer. And even though I know you'll kick ass in your MBA program and any career you follow, you're still a writer. You keep trying to run away from it, but you won't be truly happy unless you put your energy and time into finishing your book."
Well, duh. Sounds pretty simple, but after listening for decades to teachers, guidance counselors, parents, friends, and society about the importance of following "the right career path," I was pretty brainwashed. My husband's words were a mega wakeup call. I dropped out of grad school and devoted the next few months to finishing my neglected writing project, a.k.a. Twenty Boy Summer. A few months later, I sold the book, and long story short... now I get to write stories for teens every single day and work from home in my PJs. :-)
But this post isn't about my awesome husband who encouraged me to follow my dream. It's about the people who encouraged me not to -- people that many teens have or will encounter as they start thinking about their own dreams, career and otherwise.
Congratulations! Your Career Match is...
All through junior high and high school, whenever I took a "life assessment" -- those Cosmo-quiz like assignments they handed out on career day that were supposed to determine your ideal career based on whether you liked people or traveling or cooking or watching grass grow -- my answer was always the same: commercial artist or writer. Which was super cool, because back then, not only did I write reams of horrible poetry and pointless short stories loosely based on my own life, I drew all the time, too. I did at-home research projects for fun on Disney, Hanna-Barbera, and the history of animation, and I secretly imagined myself drawing cartoons for Disney Studios. A creative life that blended my inherent passion for art with my supposed career-day-approved skill set? Sounds like a match, right?
That's Nice, Dear. But What About...
Apparently, not everyone in my life thought a creative career was a good plan. In fact, whenever I'd start talking about the possibility of pursuing writing or art for a living, people would respond with things like:
- Writers and artists don't make any money.
- You should really have a backup plan, just in case it doesn't work out.
- Be serious. Writing and drawing are a hobbies, not careers.
- Don't you want to be like [insert name of wealthy, "successful" relative who is not an artist or writer]?
Fast forward fifteen to twenty years. Despite the fact that I'd shoved my creative urges into the closet and taken a very "traditional" career path that landed me in a job eerily similar to the movie Office Space, I still managed to write and sell a YA novel. How? Well, like my husband said, dreams have a way of catching up to you, no matter how hard -- and for how long -- you try to outrun them. But even after I'd done it -- followed and achieved my life's dream -- people still responded to the news with things like:
- You probably won't make any real money writing, so you'd better not quit your day job.
- Nobody reads anymore, so you can't make a serious career out of writing books.
- Why don't you finish your MBA and just "do your writing" on the side?
- I realize [insert name of wealthy, "successful" relative who is not an artist or writer] is now divorced because he spent his whole life working and neglecting his family, and now he never gets to see his grown kids, but at least he has a nice house and a lot of money.
It was the exact same naysaying rhetoric I'd heard as a teen, and now it was coming from all angles: family, friends, and even total strangers! And despite the fact that I now write full time, get paid to do what I love, and yes, sell books to people who supposedly don't read (magic, right?), I still hear some variation on the "why don't you do X instead" theme all the time. I'm not kidding.
Why Do People Hate On Dreams?
I think part of it is that some people -- even well-meaning people who love us and truly believe they have our best interests at heart -- can get so stuck in their own modes that they can't imagine a life where someone makes different (i.e., non-traditional) choices, and makes those choices work. And instead of asking questions and learning about it, or just being encouraging and supportive, or just plain STFU-ing, they become dream squishers. They try to talk us out of it, or put down the successes we've already earned (and by "successes," I mean whatever goals or achievements we set for ourselves, which often have nothing to do with money or promotions or levels or anything like that). They insist we need backup plans, because that's what they were taught. Because that's the smart, logical, successful thing to do.
But you know what I say about that?
Screw Backup Plans!
When it comes to following your dreams, screw backup plans. If you love something, and you want to spend your life pursuing it, then you must. No matter what other people say or think. If it's in your heart to do it, you have to find a way to make it happen. Don't "plan B" your dreams! And don't let other people tell you how something is or how it will be (even me, with this blog post). Find out for yourself by exploring, trying, learning, asking questions, venturing, tasting, experiencing, and maybe even screwing up a few times. When you let other people talk you out of something you haven't even tried yet, you let them eliminate your options and make your choices for you.
And when you do that, the rest of us lose out, because we don't get to experience the unique, special gifts you have to offer, whether those gifts involve writing, drawing, medicine, acting, inventing things, flying planes, designing buildings, raising children, starting a business, running for president, dancing, singing, making cupcakes, growing crops, playing football, painting houses, teaching someone to read, or any of the gazillion other things people dream about.
And that's just not cool!
What about you? Have you encountered dream squishers (even well-meaning ones)? Do you have a backup plan (or feel like you should have one) for your dream? Have you ever made a choice about your education, career, or other important decision based on someone else's "warning" that your plan might not work out? Tell us about it in the comments!