What Nobody Ever Told Me About Career Choices

One of the blessings of being on the planet for an extended period of time is that it affords perspective. In that sense, I pity the young: they can’t look back very far.

Many of us hope to offer our insights and experiences to the chronologically challenged. As I may have said before, we want to offer the benefit of our wisdom to others…without them having to go through the sometimes-painful experience we did.

Sometimes lessons can be taught. Sometimes they can only be learned. I never seem to be able to differentiate between the two, as much as I try.

Nevertheless, one experience I thought worth sharing is this: when you make a career choice, you are often not only making a choice about what kind of work you will do. You are making a choice about what kind of life you will live.

The life of a flight attendant is different from the life of a research scientist. An elementary school teacher and a long-haul truck driver live different lives. Our professions shape us, for better or worse. If we don’t consciously get a handle on our lifestyle (Old Money, please) our salaries can limit our opportunities and quality of life.

We can consciously embrace the culture of our workplace or allow it to subtly influence us over time. This can affect our ethics, the amount of quality time we spend with our loved ones, and how we view the world.

In the office. 1st arrondissement, Paris. September 2021.

I never really thought about any of this when I decided to become a writer. Like many in this profession, it didn’t seem like something you really ‘became’ as much as something you acknowledged, like an illness or an addiction: Hello, my name is Byron, and I’m a writer.

Sure, I studied journalism in college. I read voraciously, assessing the styles and voices of other writers. More often than not, however, I read the biographies of writers. This exercise was equally enlightening, for nothing happens in a vacuum: the circumstances of a writer’s birth, the events that shaped their life, and the impact their literary endeavors had on their personality and their loved ones are laid bare in a well-written biography.

Eerily, one finds many common tendencies, good and bad, in a review of another writer’s life. One also learns to recognize the common threads: toiling for years without reward or recognition; ‘overnight’ success; changing public tastes; falling out of favor; paying the price for speaking truth to power; accepting the trade-offs inherent in dedicating oneself to a solitary, unpredictable professional path which requires one to routinely inhabit another world for most of the working day.

No sane person would willingly ‘choose’ this Carnival From Hell. It’s just something, as a writer, I must do. I think it was Lord Byron who said that if he didn’t write, he’d go crazy. To which I’m sure someone replied, ‘Well, you did and you still did.’ So, you know, kindred spirits.

What have I learned about a ‘writer’s life’? It’s a little bit of inspiration and a lot of craft. It’s a long road. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s rewarding in unexpected ways. It’s best to keep your monthly expenses low and your life simple, as you never know what’s around the corner: a dry spell or a great opportunity, both of which can require cash reserves and mobility.

It’s best to keep learning. Remain confident. Avoid ego. Discount praise. Measure criticism. Work relentlessly. Leave it all on the page.

And leave the rest to the gods.

  • BGT

8 thoughts on “What Nobody Ever Told Me About Career Choices

  1. Hello Byron,

    I trust all is well in spite of your career choice 😜

    Reading your column I couldn’t resist replying with an extract from the ‘Sunscreen Song’:

    “ Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you wanna do with your life; the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives; some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t. “

    Regards from someone who still doesn’t have a clue what he wants to do and probably never will !

    David.

  2. I sometimes romanticize the life of a writer, then I remember that Samuel Johnson said “no man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money”. That usually brings me back down to earth.

  3. Hello Byron,

    I am wondering what lead you to studying journalism at university? Did you experience any family influence for such a field? Your bio states that your Grandfather was a newspaper publisher. Did he influence you in any way?

    Thanks for continuing your blog. I am enjoying it as well as your books.

    Warmly,
    Karyn

    1. Hi Karyn, Thank you for the kind words. Writing had always come naturally. Journalism seemed to be a logical fit. My grandfather died in a car accident before I was born. So he was always ‘the legend’, which probably had more of an influence on me than if he’d been alive and around on a day to day basis. While no one in my family ever pushed me to be a writer, no one’s really surprised, either. – BGT

  4. I have a close friend who authored a string of non-fiction best sellers. He has explored many non-writing career paths, but always returns to writing. Indeed, writing gives him great joy. It’s his calling in life and his superpower.

  5. Writing is incurable. As for the rest of your post, this is the advice I have been giving lately too. What people should consider in their career choice is what kind of LIFESTYLE they would like. It is fine to enjoy learning about medicine, but do you want the lifestyle of a physician? If you want to be a museum curator, that is also fine, but don’t expect you can live a rural lifestyle. You need to be near or willing to commute to a city. Interesting thoughts!

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