It’s been one of those weeks, and it’s only Wednesday. Looming deadlines, decisions to make, a migraine, laundry, wrestling with a book draft, abandoning 80% of my to-do list every day and having a new to-do list the next, guilt over not doing ALL THE THINGS, RIGHT AWAY, because some of that to-do list affects other people. I need to take a deep breath, eat some chocolate, get a massage, and get back to work.
So why am I blogging? Because this article – found in my agent’s Twitter feed – touched a nerve and now I’m feeling ranty. If my blog stats are anything to go by, you guys like it when I rant, so here you are. I’m a giver that way.
The author, who has a freshly-published book on the subject of the article, talks about the pointlessness of finding your passion in life before you make a career out of it. Get a career, he says, and then let the passion come.
I need a minute to figure out where to start with this. Saying “this is such BS” is tempting, but it doesn’t really cover everything I think, nor is it fair to this guy I so completely disagree with, and I do try to be fair. I’m completely willing to accept that this philosophy worked for him – more on that in a minute – but it doesn’t work for everyone. To offer this kind of sweeping “advice” is naive bordering on harmful.
Right this second, I’m sitting in my living room surrounded by the detritus of a writing life: empty coffee mugs, my iPod, a half-eaten snack, three notebooks and seven pens. Scrivener is open on my desktop, the manuscript I have been writing and re-drafting since March. By an almost immeasurable margin, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever worked on. I’ve doubted myself often. I’ve considered trashing it more times than I care to count. It’s made me cry until I laughed because there wasn’t any other choice but to laugh.
If I’d been waiting for the passion to find me, I’d still be in the dark. During every hard time, every self-questioning moment, what’s kept me going is the enthusiasm I have for writing, for words, for bringing stories alive. The passion I already had. That same passion got me through rough times with CODA, through the query process, through every challenge, obstacle, and pitfall that’s happened on its way to becoming a Real Book I Can Hold. It’s gotten me through this week, which is why the article annoyed me so much.
It could be argued that Mr. Newport was talking about people with desk jobs, office jobs, eight-hours-in-a-cubicle jobs. That argument works until it’s countered by the one that says every single publishing professional I know, and that’s a decent number spread across many career paths, says that the only way to make it in this world is to treat writing like a job. To be professionals about it. And, while I’m sure they’ll correct me if I’m wrong, I feel comfortable saying that absolutely none of them want to work with a writer who says, “Here, I wrote this book, and honestly I hated the experience, but I’m hoping I’ll learn to love it.” Even if he was only talking about desk jobs…so what? Passion is one thing that gets you through the rough times. I don’t think it’s born from them.
He also says that this advice doesn’t apply to people who have a lifelong dream of a specific thing, but I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer. I always knew I liked to write, but that’s not the same. Even if I had known at 22 that I wanted to be a writer, I wouldn’t have been the same one I am today. That’s just the way life works. We change, grow, and learn, and then we apply those lessons to the life we have now.
Could the skills I use as a writer be equally applied to a different job? Yes. Would I enjoy it as much? No idea. I’ve found what I want to do. For the moment, at least, I don’t have a lot of interest in looking for something else to do. Nor do I have the time. But if I did, I’d use the things I’m good at, my own unique skill set, to do something else. I can’t help but feel he’s missing his own point here. Yes, he had different career options, but all of them built on skills he has and clearly enjoys. Whether he enjoys them because he has them isn’t really the issue, and is an argument for the philosophers among us.
Not everyone loves everything about their job all the time. I’d argue most people don’t. Work is hard, and it probably should be. I don’t for a second advocate giving up a job when things get rough. But the idea that struggling through misery is what makes us worthwhile humans frankly disgusts me. There are a lot of reasons to just keep swimming, even when the tide is against us, but most of them involve things like food and rent and bills, or eventual career progression, or because there are no other options.
Also, it’s pretty difficult to take seriously advice not to explore opportunities or hope for that “dream job” from a guy who makes part of his living from writing books that have nothing to do with his other career. Or from a guy who details in the linked article the three very attractive job paths open to him when he left college.
I wonder whether he thinks the barista who makes his coffee (for minimum wage) is just waiting for the passion to come.