Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Young Writer: Society's Expectations vs Happiness

The topic this week: What Were We Supposed to Be: Vocational advice young writers get because writing doesn't Put Food on the Table.

Hehehehe. Zomg. 
Gather 'round, kiddies and fogies alike.
Once upon a time, in days of yore...

I'm very blessed. Growing up, my folks were firmly in the camp of "you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up...as long as it's a college graduate with an advanced degree." I went to college...to get away from high school. It was just a box of Expectations and Obligations that had to be ticked. That was it. That was in the days when the prevalent myth promised a six-figure job and corner office as a reward for graduating. (Ah, to be young and gullible again). Silly me started off as a business major with a second major in Japanese.

No, no. Don't be impressed. 
This is a tale of epic failure.

I'd never listened to, spoken, nor read Japanese before the Dean of Admissions said, "Sure, we'll let you in a year early if you sign up for this pilot program." I wanted out of high school, so I signed up. I was a good student. I could accomplish anything (cue superhero theme song). I hung in there for two years before academic probation made me surrender. I'd walk into the final exams for my business classes with an A and walk out with a C. Do you know what that means? That means I FAILED THE FINAL. (Looking at you, Decision Sciences and Advanced Accounting).  And let's not even discuss my language classes. Even with three tutors, I couldn't. My brain. It wouldn't. It noped right out of there. 

Not wanting to be expelled as an undergrad, I changed majors to the one that accepted most of my credits from The Epic Failure. Guess what it was.

No, no, guess...

ENGLISH with a focus in Creative Writing! It wasn't because I fancied myself as the next Great American Novelist. It was simply a matter of graduating before I was old enough to legally drink. Sorry. I'm not the author who Always Wanted to Be a Writer. I wanted to be an ACTOR. The STAGE. The LIGHTS. The LINES...I couldn't memorize. Remember that language failure I had during my freshman and sophomore years? Yep, I can't remember diddly-squat. Well, let me rephrase that, I can't remember the stuff I want to. I'm excellent at surprising myself with the random, useless tidbits rattling around my gray cells. 

Did finishing my undergrad degree convince me to pursue being an author? Oh hell no. It did the exact opposite. My lit professors assigned books I hated to the point I never wanted to pick up another book. Ever. My writing professors delighted in derision without an iota of constructive criticism. And the whole bagging on genre fiction because it's lowbrow? Yeah, it's a real thing in academia. No one taught a class on reader expectations by genre. Pfft. Ew. Worse? Not a single class was offered on the process of publication, how to write a query letter, or what the hell a synopsis was. Academic bubble vs real-world practical. This, my dear readers, is why I will never say getting a degree is important to being a writer. Admittedly, that was cough, cough decades ago and better programs exist today. Still, the absurdity and bitterness are real.

Now, what I did get during my final years as an undergrad was the rude awakening that a degree in English qualifies you to be...unemployed. I managed to snag a job as a temporary receptionist, then the company sent me out as temp secretary (yes, in those days, we were still called secretaries not admin assistants). Those dreams of being an actor? Fell to my innate desire to eat, have shelter, and--let's go crazy--wear clean clothes. Eventually, I was hired as a corporate wonk and worked my way through community management and product marketing. Yep, my company even paid for me to get my Masters in International Commerce & Policy. (Hello, business degree, I couldn't stay away from theeeeee.)

Man, that steady paycheck was sweet. 
Sweet enough to make me forget what actually made me happy.

How did I find my way to being a writer? Well, remember how I really, really, really wanted to be an actor? I've always loved make-believe. I enjoyed bringing others along on the journey of limitless imagination. Since I couldn't do it on the stage, I decided to do it on the page. Those lines I can't remember are now dialogues I spend days crafting. Those characters I pretended to be are now characters who come to life for me. Sets have become settings. I traded existing in someone else's world to build my own. 

Like Charissa, I was thirty when I had The Epiphany. Yep. The BIG 30. I'd fulfilled most of society's expectations for what a Young Lady should achieve, and I was done being defined by external pressures. My health had suffered greatly and for no great reward. That's when I decided to get real about my happiness. That's when I decided to take my love of the fantastical and turn it into something sharable. I joined a writers' group that taught me the basics of the craft and the business. I practiced. I failed. I practiced some more. I got better. I continue to practice, learn, and improve. I gleefully pursue this passion because it makes me happy. Even when I faceplant.

Happiness, dear readers, is often backburnered whilst in the throes of Putting Food on the Table™.  Once you're fortunate enough to stop scrabbling to simply exist, give yourself room to think about your happiness. Figure out the steps--the realistic steps--to get there. Give yourself permission to take that first step, no matter how scary it might be. Then, take another step. Then another. And another. There will be times when the steps are easy, and times when they feel impossible. Move forward anyway. If you stumble backward, it's okay. 

Keep trying. 
Your happiness is worth it.