We all remember being asked the big burning question as children.
“What do you want to be when you grow up…”
Our answers would vary. From an astronaut, to a teacher, a veterinarian, a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer; the list could go on.
When I was growing up, I first wanted to be a doctor, but after several encounters with a pen and paper, I set my sights on becoming a writer. All throughout elementary and middle school, I wrote in my journal. I wrote stories in my notebooks. I created stories in my head, gained insight and mentorship from my teachers.
When I got to college, I thought for sure I was on my way because I read most writers land their first “writing” job, typically an editor or junior-level creator of some sort after college. I had been told incessantly to gain experience to land that job. I wrote for my college newspaper, I co-wrote a chapter in a student anthology, I wrote a short story for a local animal magazine, and much more.
But then something happened…
I was fortunate to have many mentors over the years and when it came to my undergraduate advisor, it was no different. She was someone I truly idolized. She had written and published a novel herself, she had a M.F.A from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop which is hailed as the “Oxford” of graduate creative writing programs, she had extensive knowledge and insight on creative writing, the publishing world, and just about anything in between.
As an advisor, she always wanted to give us the best advice moving forward in our degree plan, even if that meant going against what we wanted to do. When I came to her, the little boy who discovered writing had matured into a young man who had dreams of being a professor, writing a novel, getting it published, making some money, and having the satisfaction of calling it a job.
I’m certain she was happy to hear that I wanted to be, in a way, just like her, but she let me know the road to getting there was not going to be a simple or as straightforward as I thought or would have liked.
Let’s face it. English majors are widely seen as under-dogs in the world of jobs and careers. Not as straightforward like Accounting and Accountant or Education and Teacher, it takes a certain level of patience and serendipity when obtaining a degree in English or any of the humanities in a world trying to deny the value of them.
Throughout my undergraduate career, I was set that I was going to be a writer and professor. Once I graduated and was out in the real world surfing the indeed.com and other job sites, I came to find the value in what my advisor told me.
I get it. You won’t land your dream job right out of undergrad and writing is hard to make a career for some. But for a millennial who has witnessed everything from a reality star made rich and famous from a sex tape to being made president, often you do question the validity of all that is told to you.
It amazes me still after all these years and after so many setbacks, I still wake up with thoughts and ideas and the impulse to write. Still there are moments where I get defeated when I realized I’ll never be Terry McMillian or Toni Morrison, Stephen King, or even J.K Rowling. Who wouldn’t want to be rich and famous off only writing? Who wouldn’t want to see their stories they slaved over on the big screen?
One should wonder what kind of career a writer can have now, especially when the road to getting there is still hard and almost impossible. But whenever the self-loathing and defeat rear their ugly heads, I remember a piece of advice my advisor told me that still sticks with me today, “you have to do it and want it… no one can do it for you”.