I recall being about six weeks into my first full-time post-collegiate job, one that expected unpaid overtime, offered few benefits, and had tons of deadline stress, when it occurred to me, “This is what being grown up means. You work forty hours a week not including the exceedingly tedious commute, and if there’s any energy left over, you do laundry, lug groceries, and clean the nest. Welcome to adulthood?”
The business I worked for competed for government contracts, and it was plain to me that the point of all that competition was to keep the president’s sailboat in good trim and to ensure that his membership at the swanky country club never lapsed. I was absolutely bewildered to think that I’d slogged through seventeen years of education, part-time jobs, and more education to… hate my life?
I was lonely, bored, tired, broke, and supposedly on my way as a “successful professional.” This was all very bewildering. Matters improved somewhat when I ditched the Beltway Bandits for the practice of small town law. My motivation was as follows: I had become a single mother, and spending three or four hours a day commuting that I could have been spending with my kid was morally untenable for any amount of money. I was all the family my daughter had on hand, and she did not ask to be born. Time for me to Mom Up.
And yet, the practice of law was no great shakes either. I was good at the niche I’d found–foster care law–but far from happy in my work. A case that ends up in foster care court means somebody has already dropped the ball, hard. But, I told myself, the work was meaningful. I could–if I was lucky and diligent–make a positive difference,
and besides, the bills had to be paid.
I think that was my parents’ Depression-era mentality talking–the voice that says any job is better than no job, and the bills must be paid–but I wish that voice hadn’t been so loud in my head for so long. Not until I started writing silly little love stories (I was fifty when my first book was published) did I get to a place where I felt my work was meaningful, sufficiently lucrative, and also joyful.
The advice I gave my daughter, until she was probably sick of hearing me say it, was, “When you think about where to put your fire, do the thing you love so much, you are going to do it whether you get paid for it or not. Life is too short to hate your job, and much too short to ignore your passions.”
I have always, always loved to write, whether it’s composing an email or writing a twelve book series, but as a young and even middle-aged adult, I ignored what gave me joy, and particularly did not expect to find joy on the job. I’m paying attention to the joy now, by gum, and I am desperately grateful that I can earn my living the way I do.
What advice do you wish somebody had given you earlier in life? Or did somebody come along with a timely word that helped you change directions when change was needed?