On Careers & Shit

I always loved to write growing up. I wrote in my diary and I made up stories. I had an obvious knack for it–I was obviously at reading and writing levels slightly above my peers, my standardized test scores were always really high in English, and my teachers would point out how good I was. They always said I should do something with it as a career and I always said no matter what I decided to do, I’d keep writing, too.

My freshman year of college, I technically went in undecided but was taking classes toward a computer-science degree, which went well at first, but by the end of my first semester, my grades in those classes were pretty terrible.

The story of how I decided to go into writing instead is really kind of stupid. My mom wanted to see that movie Dan in Real Life when it came out, which was actually a decent movie, but I went with her and my dad one weekend. The main character wrote for a newspaper and had published a book, and the whole time, I kept thinking, “That’s what I want.” When I next met with my advisor, writing was declared as my major and I was registered for English classes in the spring.

Everyone thought–and I’m sure some still do think–I was a dumbass. After all, there are no jobs in writing, and the newspapers that would have them are all dying out! But I said, “Fuck that, I don’t care.” I wasn’t in it for the money. I knew I was risking low paychecks for potentially the rest of my life, but I’m really good at the English language. I may not be the best writer and I may get things wrong (it is a complicated language, seriously), but I know what I’m doing. It’s always been the one subject in which I could tell you the right answer and know it was right but not really explain how I knew it–I just did. And I love it, too–I legitimately enjoyed all but one English class I ever took in college, and what ruined that one was a mediocre professor. When I was at mandatory English department events, I felt at home, cliched as that is, and Paul said at Jakiela’s book launch over the summer that it was one of the only events/places where I seemed to be genuinely happy and comfortable. Besides, I watched my mother come home every day from a high-paying job she hated that she still thinks has made her depressed and stressed and decided pretty quickly I wasn’t gonna sell out for a good paycheck.

In a bizarre yet potentially cruel twist of fate, I found a job with my writing degree faster than some of my peers did with more “marketable” degrees, including Paul’s fancy engineering degree. I’m making less money than probably everybody I know, but I’m also not miserable. In fact, other than stressing myself out for no reason and that whole bit about seeing a therapist, I’m actually pretty happy and in a very good place.

I’m not sure how many of my peers can say that. My Twitter feed is full of people who are unhappy in their fields or used to be then switched gears. Paul is flat-out leaving his job no matter what happens, it’s just a matter of where he’s going and when. I obviously can’t speak for anybody, but I know enough from having heard both Paul and his mom talk that it seems there was a large focus on getting a degree that would get you a good, high-paying job rather than a fulfilling career that won’t leave you miserable until retirement, and I’m guessing others were probably in a similar position. And here we all are in our early 20s, some realizing already it wasn’t worth it.

I’ve always known I was lucky to know what I wanted to do, but I was also ballsy enough to say, “Fuck it,” and do it anyway when people told me not to. Tip for those wanting to write or go into something artsy or otherwise frowned upon for lack of a job market: work your ass off and seize opportunities, and when you do land a job, it pretty much shuts everybody up. Don’t let anyone talk you out of happiness.

Oh, and I guess this would be a good time to say I’m officially in the early planning stages of writing a book about local veterans in the area.

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