We are the heroes in our own story. To some extent, I believe everyone innately understands this - and for good reason. Our major life events are like chapters, our loved ones are like supporting casts, and our thought process exists as the narration that carries us through from moment to moment.
It can be hard NOT to view our lives as some sort of procedurally-written book series, especially with the saturation of books, film, and television that inform a huge part of our existence. However, I believe this presents a problem with how we tend to view the nature of our own lives. We expect our existence to be some sort of linear narrative - a clean-cut series of events that work in a specific order.
Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. Our missteps and triumphs don't always move along a simple A-to-B storyline, and that's perfectly fine. We need to stop worrying about our lives not following a clear, linear narrative.
Put simply: success is not always a clear path.
Today, I'd like to share the story that brought me to this realization: How I quit a lucrative office job to follow my dreams of writing and helping people, then got a job at a retail store three months later.
I’ve wanted to be a professional writer since I was ten years old. I was gifted a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a birthday gift during a difficult time in my young life, and after reading it, I really understood the power of words for the first time. I was transported to a world where things were beautiful, where anything was possible, and being different was something to be celebrated - and I wanted to be able to give that to other people.
Unfortunately, most of the figures of authority in my life spent the following seven years telling me how “writers never get jobs,” so I went with the safer option and attended school for Graphic Design. (Thanks, Capitalism!)
After getting a degree at 19, I spent the following four years working for one of the biggest design and print studios in New York City. Though this was a respectable career path, and paid far more than any 19-year-old deserved, I simply wasn’t happy. It wasn’t what I wanted for myself, and as my views on body positivity started to develop over time, I began to realize just how problematic it was to work for a company that spent their time retouching models to look thinner (though that’s a tale for a different time).
I was following my dream. But in doing so, a lot of my life was crumbling around it.
That’s when, almost out of nowhere, the woman who is now my boss approached me for an interview for an article on her website, which eventually turned into a job offer.
It was a risk, and it was one hell of a pay cut, but it was my dream. I put my two weeks in at the only job I’d ever known and told myself I’d make it work. I decided to move out of New York City in order to live a more quiet and modest life. I saved and stretched every dollar I had in order to try and make it work. I took some freelance writing gigs for fairly boring websites, used loose change to pay my way around the city, and lived off the Maruchan company and their wide variety of instant noodles, but I was doing it.
I was a professional writer, and I was following my dream.
However, being a starving artist is way less kitsch and romantic than hipsters make it sound. The “starving” part isn’t just a playful adjective, it’s also a very apt description for the lifestyle.
Capitalism rears its ugly head again.
I was following my dream, but in doing so, a lot of my life was crumbling around it. I managed to pay my rent, but I always knew I’d be stretching the remaining money until the end of the month. Working from home, I wouldn’t leave the house for days at a time in order to avoid spending money. I compulsively checked my bank account every few hours, unsure whether or not the $3.29 charge for a Sprite and a bag of popcorn would be rejected or not. So eventually, I decided to apply for a part time job at a retail store I’d been visiting a lot.
In the days leading up to when I started working retail, I made offhanded excuses for why I’d decided to pick up the job.
“It’s mostly for fun,” I told people. “It’ll get me out of the house.”
That’s not true, me. You’re broke, that’s why you’re applying there.
While I did find myself excited to have a reason to get up before noon, there was undoubtedly a lot of internalized shame. I’d boldly left behind a high-paying career in a field I found unethical, moved to an entirely new city, pursued my dream... and now I was scanning bar codes and folding jeans?
That feeling changed in me when I looked at that first month’s paycheck from my writing job. It was the same as every month, only now it wasn’t my only source of income.
This paycheck was all I had lived on for months, and now it didn’t have to be.
Sure, maybe I don't make a living on solely writing anymore, but writing is now responsible for about 60% of my income, when it used to be responsible for none. I used to hate my job five days a week, and now I spend a majority of my time doing something I truly love and believe in. While it isn’t something I can currently live off on its own, I’ve seen that it can be something I make most of my money doing. And that motivates me to work harder and to keep pursuing it.
That sounds like progress to me.
Success is an uphill climb, but it’s rarely a directly uphill climb. There are cliff sides and plateaus, there are points where you have to adapt and change in order to make things work. These are not steps backwards, nor are they indicative of your failure - they’re simply a byproduct of life. More often than not, this ability to work with the circumstances in order to get by will take you further than certain “skills” ever could.
We are not stories in a book - we are more complex, more meaningful, and more beautiful than that. We are experiences to be had, memories to be created, and ideas to be woven. We don’t follow a linear path because we have no linear path - we are gifted the tools with which we create our own destiny. We set out on paths we think we want, and often find ourselves on roads to completely different lives we never could’ve imagined. The unpredictability, the chance we’ll find something we love even more than what we planned: that is the essence of being human, and that is why we should be grateful that we are more than stories in books.