If there is one thing I’d wish I’d known when I started writing, it’s this:
All careers involve pain. It’s just a matter of choosing what pain you want to endure.
Of all the advice thrown at new authors, I’ve never heard anyone tell them this, but so many young, struggling authors would have started their careers on much stronger footing had they understood this principle early on. So would many of this generation’s would-be entrepreneurs. Even teenagers looking for their first summer job would have more success in the mainstream workforce if they had this attitude.
It might sound like generic advice that everybody’s heard, but it wasn’t until just recently that I finally took this principle to heart. It’s completely changed the way I look at my career, and I can honestly say that had I understood this at a younger age, my writing would probably be much more successful today. That is to say, I would never have quit.
Writing wasn’t my first “job.” My first attempt at a career was selling my crochet and papercrafts. But I disbanded that after a year or two because I hated going to craft fairs, and I disliked having to turn the crafting process into an assembly line just to have enough stock. It was stressful and took the joy out of crafting, so I decided I didn’t have the right mindset to be a commercial crafter, and quit.
About that time I started pursuing my writing more professionally. I had more success at marketing my books–because I could do it from the comfort of my own home and didn’t have to put myself out there in public at a craft fair. But again, after a year or two I ran into trouble. My creative juices dried up, and a complicated personal life made the emotional aspect of writing too stressful to handle. For a second time I had a business completely crash and burn, and I abruptly stopped writing.
At this point I decided I just wasn’t built to try and make money off my creativity. I wasn’t good at marketing, and I didn’t like having my income depend on my flow of inspiration–nor did I like manipulating my art into a sellable good. I just wanted to write and craft for the enjoyment of it, not have to depend on it to pay my bills.
So I found refuge in a typical part-time job. It was the perfect solution to my problems, because work was confined to a set number of hours, and it was work that I could do successfully no matter how I felt emotionally. I could be depressed and on the verge of committing suicide, and I could still run drive-thru like a whiz. (And I did.) Better still, the job helped me discover that I really liked people and had the ability to strike up small talk with random strangers, and fast food was the perfect place to use that ability and get paid for it. I thought I’d found my niche and started down the path of making fast food my career, shooting for managing my own store.
Now fast forward–you guessed it–another two years. I’m still in food service, but suddenly, I’m not sure I want to be a manager anymore. I’m still great at the job, and I love the people, but I hate the schedule. I hate leaving my sleeping husband at 4:30am to go to work, and I hate having to miss church or other events because I can’t get off. I hate coming in on my days off and bending over backwards to help the store, and yet not even getting a living wage out of it. Even though everyone tells me I’d make a great manager, I’m not sure I want that for my life anymore. I’d rather be self-employed so I can stay at home with my husband and we can travel at will. Nevermind the fact that I swore off being self-employed two years ago.
What’s wrong with me? Will I ever find a job that fits my needs perfectly?
The answer is no. I’ll never find a job that fits me perfectly. There will always be trouble and headaches with whatever career I choose. The goal isn’t to find a job with the path of least resistance. The goal is to choose your job and forge it, working until you clear a path for yourself.
One of my current jobs is formatting book interiors for self-published authors. It’s as close to an ideal job as it gets. I work from home on my own time, I decide what I earn and I get paid upfront, and I’m playing an important role in supporting the indie author industry. Where’s the headache in that?
Well, actually, there’s a huge headache involved with this business, and it’s the authors themselves. Sure, most of them are perfectly reasonable human beings, but there are some bitterly sour apples in the bushel. There’s nothing like fixing the same book six times because the author kept changing things, or being put down by an author who thinks they know your job better than you (nevermind half of the sentences in their book are grammatically incorrect), or putting out fires after an author absolutely freaks out because you didn’t respond to their email within a few hours… on a Sunday.
So there are times when a client’s latest email makes me want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and write off the entire indie industry as incurable. But after I’ve ignored their email for an hour and given myself time to cool down, I realize… I’m happy to be putting up with this. I’m happy that this is the kind of workplace problems I have to deal with. I have a great job, and I would rather put up with a dozen self-important, untalented authors each and every day than put up with a whole lot of other jobs.
And that’s the key to finding your life’s work.
You aren’t successful when you’ve found a path without obstacles. You’re successful when you conquer the obstacles in your path. When you do that, you can be successful at anything–and you can turn anything into a dream job.
The reason my crafting business hit a rut was because I didn’t want to market. Had I been willing to make the dedication of going to every single craft fair, engaging with passer-bys, and putting myself out there constantly, I could have made it into a successful business. And today I could be at home with hubby making cards for a living. Wouldn’t that be the dream?
The reason my writing hit a rut was because I couldn’t separate myself from my writing. Had I been willing to force myself to write on a schedule and find new inspiration when my current one dried up, I could have kept writing consistently through a difficult phase. And today I could be sitting on a shelf full of published books, instead of cringing every time I pick up a pen. Wouldn’t that be the dream?
I could still make those things my dream. I could still make being a store manager a dream. Or I could make something new a dream. It doesn’t matter. The point is I will make it succeed, because when things get rough, I will change myself instead of changing my job.
And I’m not afraid to get a little scraped up in the process.
About the Author
Aubrey Hansen is one of the indie authors behind Penoaks Publishing, a company committed to helping self-published authors succeed in their careers by making their books the best they can be. Penoaks offers indie-budget-friendly services such as interior formatting and editing, all done by two newlywed geeks. They are currently located in Chicago.