Monday, October 08, 2007

The Quarter Life : Career

It is time, time for the next installment of The Quarter Life. If you aren't familiar with The Quarter Life, visit the first installment here on my blog, and here on Aaron's blog. The second installments can be found here and here. Aaron's new blog on career should be up shortly. Read that here. Caught up? Read on.

Aaron said this would be challenging. Of course it will be. What am I supposed to do here, offer up advice on a career decision? I don’t know if I can do that.

I can tell you I love writing. By deciding that I would like to write for a career I made a logical decision by connecting my love to a potential career. I think I picked an illogical career though. I say this because, like many things one can become, you don’t become a writer, in terms of a career, just by going to a university and receiving a BA, an MFA, or a Ph.D. Instead of initials after a name, a writer seems to be forged by years of living in poverty, being broke, overcoming a drug addiction or defeating alcoholism, and spending years of his or her life in solitary confinement, mentally speaking. And then there is the nagging question: am I any good at this, or am I completely wasting my time?

I was just watching Chariots of Fire (1981), a true story, and there is a great scene in which Harold Abrahams is talking to his trainer (played by Ian Holm, as made very famous by his role as Bilbo Baggins) about wanting to be a faster runner. Ian reluctantly agrees to do his best, but adds “We can’t put in what God left out.”

I guess what Ian Holm says strikes a cord in me because I don’t know what God left out in terms of writing talent. I like to think that he didn’t leave much out, but to be honest, I don’t know. And, since I don’t know, and still love writing, I keep on doing it, hoping that years of practice will eventually help me find out if God has put in anything at all.

This thinking ushers in a search for validation, which I try not to seek in my career, but I realize validation is important for me. It helps motivate me. Thinking I am okay or good at something isn’t enough to convince me that I should spend my days reading and writing. Here is some validation I have experienced in the past: an “A” on a paper, a high hit-count on my blog, a community newspaper’s decision to publish my words, and friends and family complimenting me on something I wrote. These are all great forms of confirmation, but I have become hungrier for a different kind of validation.

A regular writing gig. A paycheck directly related to my words. Appealing to strangers, perhaps even acquiring a fan base beyond my intimate circle of friends. These are all lofty achievements that, at my age, would be extremely rare for me to have. Nonetheless, these are some examples of validation that a successful writing career might bring about.

When I think of a career as a writer I usually arrive swiftly at contemplating my validation. Am I any good? Yeah, my mom says she enjoys my writing, but I am her son. Am I pursuing something that is going to bring me to my 60s without one feature length article or book to show for it?

These are the kinds of questions I fend off everyday. Sometimes my doubt runs rampant. I’ll have a whole week to produce something and I don’t. I can’t even seem to write anything worth showing to the public. I flirt with the idea of abandoning the pursuit altogether.

It is during waves of doubt, dryness, and my lust for validation that I realize my love for writing isn’t going to take me to that many places if it remains about me. I become even hungrier for a different kind of validation, but something clicks this time. There needs to be something living and breathing inside my words, something universal. To produce writing like this there needs to be a major harvest on my soul, experiences, and my life. When I sit down with a notepad or a computer and really try to hash it out this way I usually come up with something that at least one of you might relate to. If there is a connection, then I feel like I have done my job.

It is hard to think of writing right now as a career because I am not getting paid for it and I don’t do it forty hours a week. In fact, it probably sounds a lot like a hobby. You could call it that. I guess I won’t take offense. If my hobby turns into my career I would be pretty blessed, and even more fortunate if my readers can relate on a spiritual level to my material, forging a connection we share in a relationship with Jesus or questions of faith, truth, and life.

If I were a Presbyterian missionary people would connect my work to a God that I serve and glorify (hopefully) with the work that I do. I have grown up valuing this connection between my faith and work. So, I would love for people to see in my career something that suggests a higher calling. Don’t get this confused for self affirmation. I want the validation to be directed toward God, hopefully, if I am that lucky, through a little part of my work.

That is the ideal scenario, but what if I end up doing humor writing for a career, how are people going to get some God out of that? And what if I end up reviewing books for a living? Am I going to feel like I should be doing something else to promote the true love I know? No, because regardless of how successful I ever become as a writer, I will know that God made me passionate about words. I believe I am honoring Him by using them.

However, I shouldn’t completely ignore the questions that arise. By answering them I can find a better path or clearer thinking. However, most of that doubt and questioning is going to keep me from the one thing that I want to develop into a career. I once said, on this blog actually, that a man can’t hear much of the world if he spends all his time on it looking for affirmation of himself. I don’t want to waste my time here doing that, but I still really want to write, and if I didn’t write, it would be to deny one of the greatest passions God has put in me.

During a conversation in Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell is trying to convince a friend that he must run in the Olympics (Paris, 1924) first before he goes on to missionary work in China. He says this:

I believe that God made me for a purpose, for China, but he also made me fast and when I run I feel his pleasure. To give that up would be to hold him in contempt. You were right. It’s not just fun. To win, is to honor him.

I can’t say that I am a fabulous writer with as much confidence as Liddell says he is fast, but I do know that to give up now would be to deny what I know for sure God has put in me, a voice.

*After refusing to run the 200m on the Sabbath, a race Eric Liddell could have easily won, he took first in the 400m. He died as a missionary in occupied China following WWII.


Erik Haagenson said...

For the first time I think I understand how your strong personality, which I have known for a long time, really pushes your writing and your choice to follow that passion. Thanks for leading down that path so boldly -- it is an inspiration.

Chris Nicoletti said...

I like this a lot.

Jarrod Renaud said...

I'll read this one a couple of times. It hits home with me and my passions, career, and whatever it is that God made me to do. I've been a little depressed lately about my career/job but have been realizing that I am so focused on myself and what I can get from this job or that job or when I'll get the chance to follow my dreams of doing art/film/music full time. All I really need to do is forget myself for a moment and serve people around me and the true desires and passions that God has set inside of me will become apparent, and the means to pursue those desires and passions will become available.

Rachel said...

I love this. It hits home for me as well, as it does Jarrod. I love his comment too.