A friend of mine is unhappy in her career and she plans to go back to school and change her direction. The problem is, she hasn’t figured out what it is she wants to do now, and she said something that struck me. She said “I always thought I’d find what I wanted to do and I’d just know.”
This sort of bowled me over.
I thought about how it’s true that we are told as children that we’ll know. We’ll decide what we want to be when we grow up and we’ll just do it and then we’ll be happy. Well, that’s sort of silly, really. When you’re a kid the world is full of teachers and doctors and firefighters and all kinds of good, obvious things. No kid has ever said “I want to be a claims adjustor when I grow up,” but there are still a lot of claims adjustors. Sometimes you just end up somewhere, and maybe you love it and maybe you hate it, but you probably didn’t plan it.
Second I realized that I always knew. I’ve always been a storyteller. As I told someone in the comments on an earlier post (here), I’ve always wanted to write, for as long as I knew what it was, probably before then. It’s what I always wanted. Yet here I am, no longer in “My salad days, / When I was green in judgment,” finally pursuing that dream. I ended up somewhere else, even though I knew what I wanted. I had to ask myself why.
Why is a big question. Why did I let my dream go and only write intermittently for most of my adult life and then only for my own pleasure? Well, there was my mother when I was young for starters. My mother was a wonderful woman, but she was a single mother with little financial help. She worked hard, far too hard, and she took wonderful care of me. However, she always worried about my making money. When I was fifteen or so, she suggested I become an insurance underwriter. How many people would come up with that dream for their teenaged daughter? Well, it sounded profitable and stable and so it was a good idea. Writing, on the the other hand, was poorly paying and unstable, somehow suspect and certainly not a decent way to make a living… maybe even smacking of laziness. Now, these things are quite true (except the laziness–writing is hard work!) and I don’t blame my mother for worrying. But it scared me. It scared me enough that I never truly considered writing as a primary career. It was always something I was going to do on the side while I had some other, sensible career.
Still, that’s not what happened either. I didn’t write. I kept my hand in with a few short stories just for myself now and again, but I didn’t write, not really, and I never did anything with any of it. What was the reason for that?
I contemplated, it’s true, going into my college’s creative writing program, but I found out they required a sample of my writing for me to be considered. Between being a genre writer (fantasy, mystery, historical fiction and some splashes of horror and sci fi) and a crippling fear of rejection, I didn’t apply. Those things stayed with me. Genre fiction is still viewed as suspect by the writing world, and indeed the world at large, and that makes it hard to find a support network. Writers groups don’t want you. Your friends might understand, but very few other people get it. Only the most specialized of publications want you. It’s tough. Then there’s that self-doubt and fear of rejection. Ooh, that’s a vicious little bugbear to escape. Eventually I did, but it plagues me still occasionally.
Top it all off with the fact that I went to school in a subject I loved and could convince myself was my true calling. Before I knew it, writing was gone. Then I ended up in a career not remotely related to my college major, but writing, for awhile, didn’t come back.
I’m better now. I’ve recovered (mostly) from self doubt and I know what I want. I will get my work out to the world by hook or by crook. It’s good. It deserves to be seen by eyes other than my own, to spark imaginations other than my own.
Wish me luck!