“But what are you going to do for money?”
The question asked 3.4 times a second over the next few weeks as our kids get done with their formal education. When I was in college by dad would ask me this repeatedly. My English Lit degree seemed useless to his way of thinking. I am sure he had been hammered by his father in similar discussions. My dad wanted to be an actor. Instead he became a very charismatic physician.
Through the years I have often questioned it myself, “What in the world was I thinking getting a liberal arts degree?” My thinking in those moments of doubt was, “Maybe a degree in business or advertising would’ve gotten me further in my career.” I don’t believe that thinking is the correct line of thought on the matter.
Here’s what you either learn or don’t learn at college: the passion for learning something new, and the ability to recognize that passion and follow it along to some conclusion. This is different from “follow your bliss” self-help kind of following. The follow is about YOUR PASSION. In college you finally have the ability to follow the ideas, philosophies, and [potentially] career path that will set the next 30+ years of your future working-life in motion.
In Thomas Moore’s **Care of the Soul, he talks about listening to where your heart gets it’s greatest excitement. When you talk to others, what topics and ideas really get your blood boiling. Perhaps that is where your soul will be most satisfied.
So I studied Creative Writing at an expensive university with no real idea of what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to be a writer. I still want to be a writer. And in the last 25+ years since graduating, I have done a good bit of writing. And here’s the kicker, I am a writer, simply by the act of writing. There is a difference between being a writer and making a living as a writer. But here’s were the new economy gets interesting.
Advertising and marketing have always been a place where writers and creatives could make a living, regardless of your degree path. And in fact, this is where I have spent the bulk of the last quarter of century. It’s not exactly the writing I was thinking of when I started attending Texas State University’s MFA program while working at an ad agency. However I was lucky. I grew a real shine to Tom Grimes, now the current head of the MFA program. Back then Tom was just a damn good professor and semi-successful writer. It was in his class that I really began to feel a pain between what I WAS doing for a living and what I WANTED to be doing. I wanted to be a full-time student, just like 90% of my classmates. I wanted to go to poetry readings, do small press publishing, and most of all I wanted the supportive environment to WRITE.
Tom took me out for a beer at a local pub in San Marcos. Here’s what he said.
“You are making a good living doing what you do well. These kids in the MFA program will be lucky to find employment when they graduate. Even the students graduating from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop are most likely to not find jobs as teachers or writers. It’s a tough market.
“If you want to be a writer, WRITE. Make a living however you can, and then WRITE.”
At the beginning of the next semester at Texas State I was enrolled in my first non-creative writing class. A survey class of early English writers. During that first class, when we were learning what books we would be reading in the class and what our “assignments” would look like, it became clear to me that I WAS DONE. I dropped out of the MFA program after completing only the creative sequence. I did not EVER want to write another academic literary report. EVER.
I am still working in marketing. Today it is 90% online. And social media has brought back the craft of writing as a very valuable tool. So now I do write for a living. Still not quite the novel/poem/screenplay idea that I had 25 years ago, but still creative and still about words and expression.
And after 3.5 years of writing uber.la, almost daily, I have in some aspects become a writer. I balk against being called a blogger. But I guess that’s what I am. And if that’s what I am, then that’s what Seth Godin and Malcom Gladwell are too. And the answer for me is this: I learned how to use words. I kept my day job. And continued to work my word craft as I could.
In my highest ambition, I am sure I will publish a novel or two, at least a few tech books, and perhaps a screenplay. I would like to be seen, eventually, as a writer. That is my dream and my ambition. I am still pushing towards that idea every day.
And every day I am also working out how to pay my bills. Today I am about 80% of the way there. I am actually doing something I love, I believe in the power of communication and social media to change the world. I see it changing business and I am part of that change.
If I were to still have my dad today, I would tell him, “See, I am doing it. I am writing. I did what I wanted to do and I am happy.”
Find your “know and love” mix in “do for money” and never give up the “ambition and dreams.” That’s what college is for. Find the formula that works for you.
**Reference: Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore (Amazon affiliate link for convenience)
See Also the Full Series: LETTERS TO A YOUNG ARTISTS
Introduction: Letters to a Young Artist
Letter One: Letters to a Young Artist in the Digital Age – Your Personal Creative Cloud
Letter Two: Vocation and Passion: Letters to a Young Creative Artist
Letter Three: Sing At the Top of Your Range
Letter Four: Focus Yourself: Cutting Away the Distractions
Letter Five: Creative Energy: Finding and Maintaining Your Daily Juice
Letter Six: Cutting Deep to Find Your Genius
Letter Seven: Perseverance and Habit: This Creative Morning
Letter Eight: Stop Talking: Do The Work, Don’t Talk About Doing It
Letter Nine: Get Into Your Mess: Cleaning Can Be a Distraction
Letter Ten: Opening to the Poetic In Your Life: Poetic Listening
Letter Eleven: Paralyzed By Opportunity: The Firehose of Ideas
Letter Twelve: Survive & Thrive: First Find Your Congregation Within
Letter Thirteen: Solitude and the Artistic Temperament
Letter Fourteen: Pointing Your Arrow: The Artist’s Way to Happiness
Letter Fifteen: The Creative Impulse: Easy to Contain, Easier to Kill
Letter Sixteen: Artistic Depression: There’s Nothing Romantic About It
Letter Seventeen: The Portable Artist: Creativity On-the-go!
Letter Eighteen: What Will You Make Your Life About?
Coda: Love Money Ambition: Finding Your Sweet Spot and Career
Appendix: Writing a Plan for Your Future – A Career Path Template (Downloadable)