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Living the Dream

A few weeks back, my therapist pointed out that I was basically living my dream. Eight books in print, with a ninth on the way. A Hugo award sitting on my shelves. Guest of Honor gigs lined up for the coming year.

Forget Klondike Bars, do you know what 25-year-old me would have done to be where I am today? There’s always more to accomplish, and there are certainly things I’d change if I could (::cough:: day job ::cough::), but it’s easy to get caught up in where you’re going, to the point that you forget to appreciate where you’re at. I love being a writer, and I love that I’ve been able to do it pretty successfully, at least so far.

There’s an inspirational quote that gets passed around, usually misattributed to Confucius:

“Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”

I’ve got a job I love, and I’m gonna come out and say this quote isn’t just wrong, it’s so fundamentally opposed to the state of “rightness” that if you put it together with a true quote, you’d create an explosion powerful enough to rip open spacetime and devour Kalamazoo.

I love being a writer, but if you try to tell me it’s not work, I’ll send goblins to eat your feet. It’s work I usually (but not always) love, sure. But we’ve got to move beyond the myth that dreams just happen. When I look around at my role models, the people who are living the kind of “dream life” I’d love to have someday, pretty much every one of them is working his or her ass off.

I don’t want to suggest that hard work will automatically make your dreams come true. That’s a different myth, and unfortunately, the universe doesn’t always play fair. There are no guarantees, and some of us have far more hurdles put in our way than others. In many ways, my dreams are a luxury, one I can afford because I don’t have to worry much about more basic needs.

None of which changes the fact that dreams, as a rule, are hard. And God forbid you ever complain about the work, because there are a hundred people just waiting to tell you how they’d happily trade places with you. Heck, if J. K. Rowling was venting about the stress and pressure of writing books after Harry Potter, I’d be tempted to say the same thing. “Just sign your career over to me, and I’ll take it from there, Jo! Happy to help!”

That “never work a day in your life” quote is nice and fluffy and feel-good, but I suspect the truth might be closer to this:

“Choose a job you love, and you’ll choose to work even harder every day of your life.”

I’m not complaining today. I reserve the right to vent some other day, but even if I do, that doesn’t mean I’d trade my life as a writer for anything else in the world. But I think the way we look at dreams is unhelpful and unhealthy. If we imagine our dreams to be this idyllic state in which everything goes perfectly and we never have to “work,” it’s gonna get pretty darn frustrating, since we’re never going to get there.

I’ve got a ridiculous (for me) number of projects lined up right now. I’ve managed to knock two of them off the list so far, but I still cry a little inside when I look at everything I want to write over the next 12 months. But you know what? This is what I’ve worked almost half of my life to achieve, and I love it.

Now if y’all will excuse me, I’ve got writing to do.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2013 01:55 pm (UTC)
My first boss gave me similar advice, but put a slightly different spin on it. Perhaps a more practical approach. He said: Pick a job you love, because no matter what you do in life, some days you are not going to want to be there. If you pick something you don't love, that will become every day.

It sounds a bit down, but I thought it a good deal useful. It has helped me make a few choices with my eyes open, when I remember to consider it.
Apr. 8th, 2013 01:58 pm (UTC)
Yes, this.

I'm finishing my PhD now, and I love my job. I love knowing I get paid to solve puzzles, to be the first one to know a fact (even an obscure one), to have Important NASA Scientists ask me a question, not because they are testing me, but because they know I am one of a few people who knows this tiny piece of the mission very well. Heck, I love talking science with people, from five year olds to fellow scientists, especially the parts of science I do. Even if I never do another piece of science again after I complete my dissertation, I am glad I did it. I try to keep regular hours, but I think about what I'm working on when I'm in the shower or walking home* or cleaning my apartment. It's hard not to when I'm caught up in something.

I still keep regular hours because I know if I don't have a scheduled 'butt in chair' time, I will spend it goofing off on the internet, or procrastinating by doing housework or picking up my needlepoint or a book. I do approach a few of my hobbies like that (like painting or writing), with the idea that they are both play and work, because even the funniest of jobs has some necessary boring bits. I mean, I don't want to grammar check my writing, or weave in a million ends on the afghan I made, or turn my notes into something my adviser can understand (and then something suitable for publication). But they are necessary bits if I want to be serious about my writing/my crafting/my research.

* Especially when I'm walking home. There's something perverse about getting ideas as soon as you get up from your desk for the day, and have at least fifteen minutes before you can write them down (let alone try them out).

Edited at 2013-04-08 01:58 pm (UTC)
Apr. 8th, 2013 04:15 pm (UTC)
You aint blowing smoke there. I've lost track of the just 5 more minutes i've put into different projects for work... this year.
It's well up over 8 hours already.

Eh well.. academia is a lifetime obsession as well as a job
Apr. 8th, 2013 02:10 pm (UTC)
Please to not be devouring Kalamazoo. Or, at least, warn me so I won't have bothered to do the dishes beforehand.

There's nothing worse than a full-on apocalyptic scenario timed after the crap chores are done - that's just adding insult to injury.

I'm extraordinarily pleased you're in such an awesome place, for lo it results in writing I very much enjoy reading and a intelligent blog that's wry and timely and generous and even covers parenting that is entirely applicable to my life. And being happy for you is a given, but as all that makes me happy, as well, I can be accused of being selfish. :P

I like your changed quote, it's dead-on. As is your observation about how unhealthy it is to look at dreams as a magical end, not an occupation; I see that in my grad students and the fluffy-nuttery most been fed re: academia (the academic job market and current attitudes towards liberal arts being a whole different can of stinky, stinky fish)--the dreamed-of tenure-track job in your wee piece of your discipline, should you get it, is just the beginning, ducklings.

A labor of love still requires labor. And labor without the love is just work.

(In my case - hauling and stacking and splitting many, many cords of wood then 24 hours-a-day monitoring and feeding the firing of a wood kiln for five days, and none of that includes the hours and hours of making pots and bisque-firing pots, loading and unloading and prepping the kiln, and, and, and... that's labor. That's a cubic assload of sore muscle, sweaty, achy back labor - and totally worth it.)

Edited at 2013-04-08 02:10 pm (UTC)
Apr. 9th, 2013 06:43 am (UTC)
...and then you still have to sell it. I'm a potter too, and by far the hardest part of the job--though still rewarding--is standing in the booth at craft fair talking to customers about (and occasionally selling them) my art.

(I don't do the woodfire thing myself, but we just spent a month completely rebuilding a 50 cubic-foot gas kiln, and will spend the next several firings fine-tuning it to get it back to where it was before the arch started dropping bricks, and it's still better than designing beer ads at the print shop--my last day job.)
Apr. 9th, 2013 10:05 pm (UTC)
Oh my, yes - that's the part that leaves me feeling the most vulnerable, too. Work is photographing the pottery... necessary, but fiddly and something I would like to put off til after the Great Devouring (along with the dishes).

Looking forward to quitting the day job (someday)!
Apr. 8th, 2013 02:15 pm (UTC)
I've been supporting myself by writing full time since 2006. I am told on a regular basis that I am "living the dream." Most of the time, I do love my job, but there are days when I look at the women in our local favorite breakfast spot who are taking orders and serving meals, and I fantasize about a much simpler life.
Apr. 8th, 2013 03:21 pm (UTC)
There's "work", and there's "hard work". The latter, these days, always bears the connotation to my ears that only work you don't enjoy is "hard work", and by perverse definition only counts as "real" work. I doubt that this is a modern phenomenon, and that not-Confucius was thinking of this when he emitted his aphorism.
Apr. 8th, 2013 03:56 pm (UTC)
There's another angle, as well. Not only are successful people in creative fields working extremely hard, but there's a great degree of emotional vulnerability and pain that goes with living and writing authentically enough to BE successful. There's a great TED talk by Brene Brown on courage and vulnerability, but it really speaks to me as a writer, because basically what we do is all about exposure and vulnerability, and the more successful you are, the more you attract criticism, judgment, expectation, and the more you are expected to deliver with your work. So those deadlines require not only extremely hard work, but COURAGE, each and every day. I think it's a very fulfilling way to live. The ONLY way to live, in my opinion. But it's not easy. It is the opposite of easy. Sure, the rewards are worth it, but it's not a life for wimps. There are reasons we writers are sometimes found with our heads in ovens. I can only imagine the kind of pressure Rowling faced in writing the Harry Potter books. I would not have traded places with her for anything.
Apr. 8th, 2013 04:34 pm (UTC)
“Choose a job you love, and you’ll choose to work even harder every day of your life.”

I can jive with this! Certainly, I love that I'm finally in a doctoral program and being able to study what I want. I'm looking forward to being an eccentric old professor.

But every job has parts of it that just suck. There's paperwork, meetings, administrative issues, etc. And that's all stuff that is required. If you count the parts of a job that aren't required, but there anyway (inter-office/departmental politics anyone?), then you can rack up a list of stuff that stinks about a job that you love.

My mom always told me to pick a job where the sucky bits don't outweigh the good parts. Not on a daily or weekly basis, because there will be bad days, weeks, and even months that you'd like to forget. But long term, on the whole.
Apr. 8th, 2013 04:35 pm (UTC)
I built one business starting with the carpentry, the next with many hours at the computer and layout table, and now many more hours on a new project. And none of it is work!

Iti's time and persistence and long hours every day 18/365 and meeting deadlines and hundreds of versions and lots of little things that take common sense not inspiration. But it's not work!

It's play and freedom. Work is when someone else tells you what to do, and you have to do it ... and it's something you don't love.
Apr. 8th, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
I think that's an interesting personal definition, but I wouldn't want to apply it to anyone else. Or to myself. I put in a lot of hard work on things I love, and I'd be damn upset if someone tried to convince me it wasn't really "work" because it's for something I care about and want.
Apr. 8th, 2013 08:04 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear! Pretending that something isn't "work" because it's in aid of a thing you love is demeaning and belittling to those who can't keep up the pretense.

My partner is working on the taxes for his home-based business right now. He loves what he does, but goddammit, doing the taxes is WORK. And not the fun kind, either.
Apr. 8th, 2013 06:26 pm (UTC)
I'm with you. My CP said, "So, now that you have a book contract, you're going to take some time to celebrate, right?"

I said, "I did. I took a day. Now I have to get back to work." Because that's what success means...you get to work even harder.

Which is okay, because this is what I wanted. But to say it isn't work? OH HA.
Apr. 8th, 2013 07:01 pm (UTC)
it very cheering to read this.
Apr. 8th, 2013 07:09 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of people see it (the aphorism) as relating to work which has come to mean "That job you have which mostly sucks that lets you take care of important stuff and have something left for things that you actually enjoy." The key being "mostly sucks". If you love working a McJob and it's awesome for you, great! If you have a job which most people if asked would say it's awesome and you hate it, then it falls into what I just said.

No jobs mean or are worth more or mean you're a better human being than another, so long as they don't hurt anyone.
Apr. 8th, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
I recently had a friend worry a bit that what he was doing in his mid-thirties was very little changed from what he was doing when he was eighteen. (Outdoor educational stuff, such as living history teachers and summer camp.) It took me a while to formulate a response, but it went something like this: Most people work to get the money to do the things they want to do. Someone is paying you to do the things you want to do, so you're quite fortunate.

Feh on the idea that only certain forms of work are "real." Work is work. If you're lucky, enjoyment and/or accomplishment is part of the deal; if you're not, then I hope you're at least paying the bills.
Apr. 11th, 2013 04:35 pm (UTC)
Also feh on the concept that only climbing the business ladder is good/worthy/progress.
Apr. 8th, 2013 09:53 pm (UTC)
Heh, I just picked up software to turn off the social part of internet as part of my strategy to see if I can't push my writing rate up from two books a year to three. I love that I'm able to write two a year under contract, but it doesn't leave me time to write spec books for fun. If I'm going to recapture that joy, I have to work harder.
Apr. 9th, 2013 12:44 am (UTC)
I remember the counter warning:
If your hobby becomes your job, you need a new hobby.

All jobs involve aspects you don't like, if only doing stuff when not in the mood. There's going to be some effect. Also, improving the technical aspects of your skills means that you can't just turn your knowledge off at the end of the day. The effect of writing on pleasure reading can be quite dramatic.
Apr. 9th, 2013 11:26 am (UTC)
I've seen this before. People who work their ass off to achieve their dreams. It's damn hard work. And when they get there, there is no finish line and no applause. Just more work. You have to create the reward yourself. And that's more work.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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