If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right. – Henry Ford
I write this blog in response to a commenter on an interview I did for FastCompany. The commenter called the story of my switch from the law to writing a “rubbish story,” suggesting that I could only make this jump because I was single (wrong), unencumbered financially (wrong), and able to live at home with my parents (wrong). He suggested that this transition was easy for me.
Dave, I tell you, it was not.
When I left the law, I was the primary earner in my household. I had a husband, two dogs, and a cat. I had a mortgage and car payments. I had a lot of people in my life telling me I was crazy to be leaving a stable, bread-winning career as a corporate lawyer for a non-existent career as a writer. True, my husband and I were youngish and healthy and did not yet have kids, which was huge, and neither of us had school loans, which was perhaps even more huge, but it was far from an easy or financially safe bet—an indulgence, if you will—for me to leave a career in the law for one in the arts.
Still, I knew that this was a leap I wanted to make, that the chance of failing was one I was willing to take, my husband supported my taking this leap, and he and I took steps to prepare for the very real chance that I would not make it as an author. We lived in a small, cheap apartment within our very meager means, comprised mostly of my husband’s teacher salary; I took out loans and applied for financial aid whenever offered to take my classes; and we budgeted and held off on luxuries we could not afford, things like cable television and take-out. I took on part-time legal work to help pay the bills. When we decided to move to Vermont, I pursued a job as a law clerk in the Vermont state courts with the full intention that I would become a member of the Vermont bar. We had a baby that year, and in the end decided it made more financial sense for me to stay at home with our daughter than continue working as a lawyer.
Through all of this, though, I was writing. I finished my MFA. I kept reading. I pursued opportunities to get in on the ground floor of the writing world whenever they popped up. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and learned about the industry. In other words, I worked my butt off. And took care of my baby daughter. And the three pets. And the house we bought. All this on my husband’s teacher salary.
In the end, I got very lucky. I got published! And then sold another series! But behind that luck was a ton of hard work and planning. My husband and I made choices and set limits on our lives to make sure that when an opportunity knocked, I would be able to take it. I worked hard to become the best writer I could be—which for me included a ton of schooling—so that when someone offered me a chance, I was able to give her a well-thought-out proposal that she wanted to buy.
In other words, it was very possible that I could not have been published. That I could still just be pursuing my dream instead of living it. But that moment of deciding that this was something that I could do, that this was a possibility, of saying YES I CAN! (cue cheesy groan): That moment was huge. And I believe that, whatever your dream and whatever stage of life you’re in, when you get to that place where you realize the life you are living is not the life you want, if you tell yourself, “I can’t,” then you can’t change. But if you tell yourself, “I can,” you will find ways to make it work. It will take sacrifice. You might not succeed. But I still think it’s worth it. And who knows? You might succeed. You might, like me, end up living your dream.
Which leads me to my title. Dave, I feel like your comment was aimed at taking away my ability to feel proud of my choice. At making my life out to be something easy or trite, of comprising no real choice at all. A story not worth telling—a “rubbish story,” as you called it. While I may not have climbed out of the slums to get where I am, I certainly did not take the easy path or the path the world told me was easiest. I took the time and effort to figure out what I wanted my life to be and I made that my life. And while I fully acknowledge that mine is not the most heart-wrenching tale of hardships overcome or even that exceptional a story of sacrifices made in pursuit of a dream, I am proud of myself for doing the hard work I did to get here. And I will not let anyone take that from me.
Amen and good for you! I am still on the ledge, waiting to make the leap. Thank you for sharing the realities of how you went about it. Every choice, every compromise, every hour of sleep traded in hopes of living your real life is and should be worn as a badge of honor.
It is unlikely that Dave will ever understand just how much is involved in staying your own course while your time is continuously divided and redivided by day to day life.
Congratulations on your true success — realizing your true self.
(P.S. And thank goodness you did, or we’d miss out on your fabulous writing!)
Thanks so much, Kate:) And good luck to you in making your own leap!
Was just reading about you on Fast Company. Congrats on your success! I look forward to checking out your books.
Having just read “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport, which contends that simply following your dreams and passions in order to construct an enjoyable and rewarding job for yourself, for most people, is a bad and even dangerous idea…I felt the need to comment.
So many people who decide to follow their passions are not able to do what you have done and fail. Harsh but true. Thus, its essential to look at why you succeeded….
The main reason, I think, is that you worked hard learning to be a great writer. You lost all the career capital (experience, connections, reputation) that you built up in your previous career. You basically hit the reset button and had to re-gain all of those things in a whole new profession. You wrote and studied and wrote and marketed yourself and wrote and learned and wrote, over the course of many years. You got feedback from other writers and learned and grew. Ultimately, you developed a skill and were able to convince others that you were good and to pay you for it.
Also, even though i haven’t read your books, I can bet that something about them is remarkable. The writing style. The premise. Something about them was remarkable and unique enough to make agents, publishers, and even you yourself, invest in these stories and bet on their success.
Thirdly, you made connections. You don’t get to be a published author by simply being a good writer. You have to meet and know people who can help you, believe in you, and can support you on your journey. So much of what happens to us relates to who we meet in our lives and when. You happened to connect with the right people at the right time in order for your success to happen. Some of that you worked for and made happen. Some if it was luck.
The essential point I was compelled to make: having a dream or a passion for something isn’t enough. Many people fall into that trap and fail, even if their intentions are good. Creating a rare and valuable job situation such as the one you’ve created for yourself has a price. It requires creating something rare and valuable that people want to have and will pay for, truckloads of hard work and connections, and a brutally honest assessment of yourself, your skill, and the realities and inner-workings of the industry you’re attempting to be a part of.
Again, congrats on your hard-earned success! 🙂