Recently, I came across a professional job-search site, TheLadders (a comprehensive career source for emerging professionals.) I noticed they were looking for career professionals in their respective fields to discuss their "top tips for college grads entering the workforce."
Now, if you have read my blog at all (or know me, which most of my readers do) you know how hilarious this request is. For one, I'm a writer which is one of the top three career options I would council sane people to avoid at all costs (the others being: adjunct university faculty especially in any of the humanities fields, an actor/actress who will "make it big", and a time-traveler. All options are equally detrimental to one's physical and mental wellbeing because of the type of money--i.e., none--you will make doing them and all three are, alas, equally short-sighted in the sense that they depend on a miracle in order for one to make any sort of "living" in the normal sense of the word.)
So, let's just say I didn't think I'd find myself writing a blog about how I came to discover my career after I pursued an undergraduate degree in English Literature with a minor in French and nearly enough Philosophy courses to qualify for a second (unlisted) minor as well when I was in my early twenties. Or, how I decided to go back to graduate school for not one, not two, but three advanced degrees in different fields which, alas, didn't really grant me a clear "career path," either.
In other words, it's completely ridiculous that I would be the sort of person to give career advice to anyone since I made such (poor?) choices.
But after writing that, I have to pause.
After all, I am a writer since I am paid to produce text Monday through Fridays from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Pacific Standard Time for a software company; I have also taught writing courses at four-year universities, community colleges and private colleges; I have started a literary reading series called Literary Arts & Wine; I have been a part of the Creative Writing Outreach Program in Reno, Nevada which teaches the craft of writing to those who populate its homeless shelters; my work (the mark of a good writer) has been published in newspapers, news weeklies, magazines, story and essay collections as well as literary journals. I have a Literary Agent. I have ghost-written a memoir. I have written a book manuscript which is in consideration with several publishing houses.
And so maybe it's not so ridiculous for me to write a blog about how I got to where I am, where I (think) I am going and what I've learned along the way. There will be no bullet points, no step-by-step instructions nor will I quiz my readers at the end of the post.
What I can offer is (I hope) an honest answer to the question: "now what?" which can seem daunting when you face the world as yourself, alone.
There are no exact market predictions for which college major is the most lucrative and no way, truly, to know what your degree is "worth" in terms of a salary. If you're reading this and still in school, for the love of all things natural and good, do NOT see your education as a dollar sign.
What is the value of reading The Odyssey? What is the value of the Renaissance, Taoist Philosophy, knowing the transmission of disease and how those movements literally effected the flow of people, societies and history? What is red-shift and blue-shift in regards to stars? What do I care if matter is immutable, if French auxiliary verbs must match in gender and number to the subject they modify?
I have no idea what any of these bits of information-- or any other bits of information-- are "worth." What I DO know is that I have used EVERY class I have taken, EVERY text I have read in one way or another. Do I quote Homer directly as a technical writer? No. Do I speak French with my clients? Do I need to know how to calculate the speed that a star is moving away from our planet?
Of course, I don't need to know any of these things, literally, in order to do my job. But what they have given me-- and what employers appreciate-- are the mental muscles that have been developed as a result of knowing and thinking these things.
Creativity, ingenuity, curiosity-- these are the unarticulated skills welcomed in any professional environment. I can't tell you what they are worth because they are priceless.
Give yourself time.
I wrote my first "novel" when I was twelve. I was hired to write for a museum after college (which was lucky, in retrospect) but between then and now I have been: jobless, more or less homeless, lost and, well, broke! Granted, I picked a really difficult career path but I bet each and every one has its own challenges.
I think part of the reason I am an aspiring Ironman (yes, I am that, too) is that the sport requires a daily practice that isn't always rewarding or fun. There are days I feel awful and I cry because I worry that I am wasting my time on a pursuit that I will never be good at. I train 18-20 hours most weeks and coupled with a 40-hour a week job as well as a writing career (I blog, write, revise, publish, promote my reading series as well), that's a lot. It doesn't leave much time for the other things in life a lot of us take for granted. Family, for instance. I see my parents when I can, but I don't have a husband or children of my own.
I have a (small) garden but it's nothing much. I don't own a house (yet) and I don't have time for television, video games, painting my nails, curling my hair, going out to [insert non-writing or athletic event here] and I don't drive something fancy or something that (quite) works as it should.
But I am a writer and my "career" is just getting started. So-- maybe you won't have everything at once. Maybe you might struggle for a while and not have everything you want. In fact, getting the job you want may force you to sacrifice all that seems rational (shouldn't you always have a nice car? time to watch TV? New clothes?) Even if you make the "right" career choice (or, you're in pursuit of the one you want) you might not have all-- or, any-- of these things at first.
This is going to sound hokey, but I remember my grandmother telling me that if you pick a job which is something you are passionate about, you'll never work a day in your life. I don't think it is- or can be-- totally true. Sometimes I hate going to work and dream about 200-mile long bike rides or long swim sets or some really potent alcoholic drink. But I also don't want to write all the time, either. Sometimes I really dread my time before the keyboard when my thoughts just don't (or won't) come, when the words clog themselves in themselves-- and it sucks.
But I'm a writer. And the fact that I write every day-- that I am paid to write-- means that I've "made it."
Find your metaphors. Honor them.
OK so you're not a writer (or for the sake of all things, don't be. Re-read the first few paragraphs if you're confused as to why I'd say such a thing.) But you still need the reasons to do what you do.
One of the reasons I want to do the Ironman is that the event represents my journey becoming a writer: a journey that is long, unpredictable, difficult, at times (seemingly) impossible, beautiful, awful, painful and glorious. It makes me cry and laugh when I think about what I am preparing my body to go through; not unlike the process of writing about my life, which also makes me laugh and cry and requires hours of my life every day.
Does the Ironman help the writing? Yes and no. I was not an athlete in college and becoming one has helped me to understand who I am and how I undertake goals whether they are professional, athletic or personal.
But the metaphors come from my experience and the experience comes from the time I have given to my career choice. And the time (funny enough) comes from the ways I allowed myself to explore ideas, to think and to grow as a person back when I was in college and taking courses which seemed to have no bearing on the "real world." But time moves beyond that-- back to when I was only twelve and writing my first novel on lined paper and a ball-point pen.
Maybe that was the most important moment, then, when time and effort were all that mattered. Trust--and believe-- they still, always, do.