Between watching Conan O’Brien host his last “Tonight Show” and seeing the oh-so-relevant movie “Up in the Air,” the idea of dream jobs—as well as the dream of publishing—kept me very preoccupied this week.
When the issues between Conan, Jay Leno and NBC first broke, I wasn’t watching either TV host. In fact, I agreed with a woman on Twitter who posted, “Having a hard time getting worked up about which white guy and his all-male writing staff gets ‘Tonight Show’ timeslot.” Then, somehow, I caught a snippet of Conan sharing that hosting the “Tonight Show” was his “dream job” and I unexpectedly found myself relating to his heartbreak (even though he doesn’t have a single woman on his writing staff).
When I was a young journalism student in high school, the only real-person examples of writers I had were my mother’s father, who banged out poetry and prose in his spare time; my journalism teacher and the editor of the local paper, who barely made enough money to support his family in our little Texas town.
So being paid to write seemed like a fantasy, not something I would ever actually achieve. And, for a while, I pursued everything but a writing career. Instead, I managed a small business in Seattle and then became a recruiter for several years. I enjoyed the work—and gave it my all—but it was just work.
Then a family member—an older, wiser cousin with whom I shared a birthday and a sense of humor—gave me a kick in the you-know-what. “I’m sure the college kids love you,” she said, referring to my then-current job in college relations for that big Seattle coffee company. “But what are you doing? What are you doing with your writing, with all that creative energy you’ve always had?”
What was I doing? She was right and I couldn’t argue. After embarking on a journey to figure out exactly what I wanted to do—and how I could do it—I landed my “dream job.” I was going to be paid to write and edit newsletters. My feet didn’t touch the ground for months.
And when they finally did touch the ground, they landed with a heavy thud. Office politics and a corporate re-alignment quickly turned my beloved job into a stressful situation. All sense of joy was gone. Although I kept reminding myself that I was being paid to work with words, I found myself looking for other opportunities and let myself be recruited into another department. I was still being paid to write and I enjoyed the work, but again I struggled with office politics and several departmental re-organizations.
When I decided to launch my freelance writing business a.k.a writer and be my own boss, I accomplished a huge goal—and achieved a dream that was years in the making. But it lacked the giddiness of that first “dream job.” There were too many realities—marketing myself, securing projects, and balancing finances—to let my feet leave the ground. However, it didn’t stop me from doing a little dance whenever I landed a new client.
Do I consider myself jaded? No. Do I still believe in dream jobs? I don’t think so. But I absolutely believe in setting goals and reaching for your dreams.
One of my current goals/dreams is publishing a book. It’s easy to see authors with multiple books on sale at my favorite bookstore and imagine what that would feel like. Wouldn’t it be glorious to be paid for writing the stories stewing in my imagination?
But then, it’s not that easy, either. Many of today’s authors, even those with multiple published titles, have to be entrepreneurs as well. They are building relationships with readers on Facebook and Twitter, pitching articles to editors and teaching classes. In his recent essay The D.I.Y. Book Tour, Stephen Elliot (who’s published seven books) chronicled his experiences with giving readings in the homes of his readers. Being an author today is much more than you and a laptop.
Betsy Lerner put it in perfect perspective for me with her blog post this morning: “publishing a book doesn’t change your life so much as creates opportunity. Then it’s up to you.”
That sums up my approach to landing the dream client and/or project as well as achieving my goals. I’m glad it’s up to me to make the most of the opportunities.
What about you? Do you have—or long for—a particular dream job, project or goal? Have you achieved a goal only to realize it wasn’t what you thought it would be? Are you living your dreams now? Please share in the comments.