5 Things I Know Now That I'm 34, Part 1: PUSH
I turned 34 on May 29th, so I know this is way late. This started out as one blog post, but I just had too much to say. Thirty-four isn't usually a milestone age like 30 is, but since it's essentially the end of my early thirties ( or the beginning of my mid-thirties depending on how you look at it), I think now is a great time to reflect on some lessons learned. This first lesson is about career, achieving dreams, goals, and being great. This is what I've learned...
In one word: Push
It seems obvious. It's what our parents always told us. Yet, it's one of those things that you don't understand until you have context from your own life.
You have to push for what you want in life. Hard.
I remember the deep sense of dread I had every morning before I went to meet my 6th grade class when I started teaching. It didn’t start out that way. When I graduated from Hampton University in May of 2005, I left feeling like the extra year I spent taking classes after my major change from Mass Media to English Education would be a rewarding one. I was excited to teach, intrigued by the idea of helping growing minds reach their full potential. My new teacher chic outfit had been bought, and I was determined to be the cool teacher who made a difference in the lives of my students. I walked into my class one August morning excited but nervous. By Thanksgiving, I was burnt out. Many of the children in my class had ADHD, behavioral disorders, or complicated family situations that even a seasoned teacher would be hard pressed to deal with all at one time. I was overwhelmed, and I started to wonder how I came from pursuing my dream of becoming a magazine editor and writer to going to a job that had me crying every day before work.
All of that stress was due to me not wanting to accept how hard a person has to push to rise to the top in the world of publishing and writing.
I still didn’t get it even after earning a Master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse. I thought that with a new, shiny degree in hand, I had everything I needed to become the next writing G.O.A.T. I did a short, 6 month internship at a magazine in Atlanta before moving back home to the safety of teaching again. I didn’t become the writing phenom that I thought I would, but I didn’t push to get there either.
Neither the Master’s degree nor the internship experience did that work for me. It’s the push that makes the difference. Writing is the type of thing that you have to push to be successful in.
A big part of that success now relies on self-promotion, which conflicts with everything I was taught as a kid about being humble, "nice" and that those two things plus hard work would draw rewards my way. That was very comforting for me as an introvert, and I banked on being able to stay in my little bubble, work hard in solitude, and still make it to the top. Then social media happened. And the economy imploded, which led to the revolution in how journalism, publishing, and all things media are created, promoted, and sold. Writing has become more of an extroverted profession than ever before, which has pushed me out of my bubble into a world where it is increasingly becoming harder to be heard.
Being a writer in the 21st century has more to do with figuring out how to be heard, how to get eyes on your work, and how to be as genuine and through in the craft as possible.
It also requires an entrepreneurial mindset and a willingness to do the “unwriterly” things that all businesses must do to keep running, like budgeting and promoting work once it’s done. Yeah, all of that at one time. It can be hard to manage at times, and part of my writer’s journey that I struggle with most is being constantly told that writing will never make any money, and therefore it's a pointless pursuit. Instead, I should do something practical, safe, and financially predictable.
I’ve tried over the past 10 years to apply my passion for writing and my desire to make a living from it to careers that are considered to be more practical. I’ve also tried to imagine what life would be like if I just focused on my day job and forgot about writing. But writing and breathing are the same for me.
After almost 11 years of teaching with 2 years off for graduate school, I’ve finally found a day job (librarianship) that’s compatible with a writing career. I’m working on my first poetry collection, I’ve finally (FINALLY!) figured out what direction to go toward with my blog, and I’m laying the foundation for my media company. It took me a while, but I’m finally committed to pushing. Grinding. Hustling. Whatever it’s called, I think I’m on my way.