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.
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.