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.