The other day I heard that my high school class is having its *cough* something-something-year *cough* reunion. I refuse to go simply because much of high school was one long blur of misery and bullying. There are very few people from that time in my life that I ever want to see again.
There were some bright spots, however, and the invitation got me reminiscing about my teenage years. Once I got past the bad memories, I remembered the things I did and the things I enjoyed as a teenager. I laughed when I realized that, had I paid more attention to my teenage self, I would have known that I was destined to be a writer long before that career became a reality.
Like a lot of kids, I harbored dreams of being a writer. And, like a lot of kids, I was told that “writer” was not a practical career choice unless you wanted to pursue journalism. Or possibly advertising. Of course, most of my school years were pre-internet, so things like self-publishing, technical writing, freelancing, “content creation,” and blogging either had very high barriers to entry or hadn’t been invented. Saying that you wanted to work as a writer was akin to saying that you wanted to go to the moon. Achievable? Yes. Likely? Absolutely not.
In the face of opposition, I shelved my writing aspirations and danced between wanting to be a psychologist, physicist, or aerospace engineer. All solid, realistic, and well-paying occupations. (Except for the stint where I wanted to be a fighter pilot and astronaut. That wasn’t realistic at all, but it was fun to dream.) Still, even though I immersed myself in science and math, I couldn’t shed my writer cocoon. On the surface, I was tracking toward a respectable career that would prevent me living in my parent’s basement for the rest of my life. Inside… I was still on track to be a writer, even if I refused to admit that to myself. Looking back now, though, everything was always pointing me toward writing and away from respectability. The things I enjoyed and excelled at in school were all writing-related.
- I worked on the school newspaper and was editor my senior year.
- When the school launched a literary magazine, I contributed to every issue. (Terrible, terrible stories. It’s embarrassing to even think about.)
- I secretly loved English class. I got excited every time a new book was handed out and summer reading lists were compiled.
- Reading beyond class requirements was a given. I read in math class, hiding my Stephen King’s and Douglas Adams’ inside my textbooks. I read at lunch, in the hallways between class, and in much of my free time.
- Oh, god, the journaling. So many notebooks filled with bad poetry, angst, terrible revenge plots against the bullies, and imaginings of a better future.
- Term papers and book reports excited me more than math problems.
- Any time an English teacher mentioned a writing contest, I entered. (I even won a few.)
- I wrote scripts for the school plays and speeches for the kids running for class officers.
See? Not a single math award or science related extracurricular activity in the bunch.
Had I paid attention to any of this, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by just admitting that I wanted to be a writer and telling the guidance counselors that I’d take my chances with poverty. I wouldn’t have changed my major in college (too many times). I wouldn’t have wasted time in jobs that were respectable, but boring and not suited to my talents at all. Most of all, I would have taken my writing seriously much sooner.
The moral of the story is this: If there’s something you want to do as a job, do it. Don’t listen to those who say it’s impractical or that you can’t make money at it. The truth is that if you are passionate about whatever it is, you can probably find a way to make it work for you. Plus, it’s very difficult to evade the things that make you happiest. They get inside you and never let go, so you might as well go along on the ride with them.