When it comes to day jobs, I’ve been blessed. Over the years, I’ve worked at a comic book store, a toy store, a bookstore, a library for the blind, an elementary school library, and a disabled students program. I’ve had limited roles as a campus news reporter and a cat shelter admin assistant. For a few weeks, I was even a LEGO instructor. For the most part, I’ve been fortunate to land jobs I enjoy, jobs that give me a sense of satisfaction and provide me with barely (almost?) enough money to get by.
All the same, I don’t define myself by these jobs. I define myself as a writer. But as far as a line item on a resume, that one lands at the bottom. In the “likes and interests” section. A far cry from employable relevance.
Unless you make enough money from writing to make writing your day job, you don’t get to label it as a career. That’s the difference between being a writer and being an author—the latter word is reserved for those who have fully monetized the discipline.
I do not define myself as an author. At least, not yet.
Which means that although I’ve had rewarding day jobs, I’ve essentially floated through life without a career. I’ve let go the idea of grad school, or business ownership, or professional advancement, countless times now. Although I’ve thought of earning a Masters in Library Science, or opening my own comic book store, or working my way up the ladder at wherever I happen to be, something usually holds me back. When it comes time to sign the dotted line, I am struck with the realization: This would give me less time to write. And I would lose touch with who I am.
I didn’t listen to myself, once. I took a promotion, became a manager. Became miserable. The promotion only served to remove me from aspects of the job I once found satisfying, and the cognitive occupation of chronic responsibility left little space for creativity. I’ve since learned. Converting a day job into a career path leaves little room for much else.
At least, I’ve learned this is true for me. Certainly not for everyone. There are those who can perform brain surgery and write a book on the side, and to them, I say, godspeed. But we all have our limitations, and we all need to be honest with ourselves if we are to get what we want out of life. So I avoid promotions. I keep a part of my brain free for creativity. I preserve for myself a space to write. A space to be me.
I’ve always found it off the mark that we define each other and ourselves so resolutely by our day jobs. An article I read years ago pointed out that when we meet new people, one of the first questions we tend to ask them is what they do for a living. “I’m a doctor.” “I’m a teacher.” “I’m an administrative assistant.” Sadly enough, we place people in a social hierarchy based on their responses. Those three examples above? We all know where they rank.
We assign relative values to careers, and by default, to the people who have them, whether we try to or not. It’s subconscious. It’s ingrained. And it’s unfortunate. Because all of us have so much more to offer, so much character to exhibit, beyond that emphatic role.
That article’s advice? Rather than asking a person what they do for a living, ask them what their interests are. Not only does this remove career bias from the encounter, it opens up a deeper dialogue based on passions and self-expression. It allows you to discover who that person truly is.
Not everyone sees it that way. A lot of people willingly assign worth to others based on their careers, or even worse, based on their material wealth. In America, money has always been the gold standard of success.
I know firsthand the insufferable disapproval attached to a lack of success in this regard, especially now that I’m well into my forties. I’ve had people look down on me for not meeting the societal criteria of success. While most people are supportive, there are those who are not, who think that I am wasting my time, or focusing on the wrong things. And those negative judgments can sting.
Don’t let those kinds of people define you. They are judging you by standards that are not your own. Don’t let your day job, your wealth, or your status define you. Let your interests define you. Let your passions define you. And above all, keep making space for them.
Keep drawing, keep gaming, keep dancing, keep singing. Keep knitting those baby caps and crafting those poems. You have a lot to offer the world, and I am looking forward to encountering your spirit, no matter where your interests may land on your resume.
Nice to meet you. My name is Nate. I am a writer.