On Dream Jobs, Writing, Goals and the Stuff In Between

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.

letters from an old typewriterWhen 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.

Photo attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76283671@N00/ / CC BY 2.0

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6 thoughts on “On Dream Jobs, Writing, Goals and the Stuff In Between

  1. Liz ~ I love (and share) your philosophy of taking the book deal and then figuring out if it’s still your dream job. That side of the fence looks good to me. 🙂

    Alexandra ~ Hello! Thank you for visiting and sharing your story. I’d love to learn more about your experience and do hope you’ll be back. Running an inn sounds like far more than a full-time job–and then to write and blog on top of that! Wow. I’ll definitely check out your blog, too. Welcome!

  2. I’m a writer whose day job is being an innkeeper. I also write a regular blog on living in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod. Over the past five years, I have become a very successful innkeeper, but realize I do not measure success in $$, but in my writing. By that measure, I have not been successful. I got so very close to getting a book published this past year. I had a mega-agent who submitted the proposal, then gave up because the topic was end-of-life and death, which editors are not eager to take on. This was such a disappointment. So, now I must pick myself up, write another book, find a new agent, and believe in myself as a writer at a time when publishing a book is harder than ever. A friend took me to a Wesleyan Alum panel in Boston last week. It was interesting to hear how the writers of The Good Men Project decided to do the whole thing themselves and how successful they have been. You are right about the writing not being enough when it comes to a book. You have to be able to sell the writing and self-promote. I like your blog. I will be back!

  3. Really great perspective, thank you. It’s easy to look at the other side of the fence and think it’s all green. It is about goals, you’re right. They are what help me stay on track. Sometimes, like the dream job, once I attain a goal I think…”Hmmm, is this it?” But still I’m so glad to have had the experience of getting there.

    So, I’ll take the book deal and then (from that side of the fence) I’ll figure out if that’s still my dream job :).

  4. Wonderful piece, Jesaka!

    My dream job came along in the 70’s– you probably weren’t even a gleam in anyone’s eye then– when I was appointed fulltime Poet in Residence for the St. Paul Schools. I had three weeks in the schools and one off to write. I was working as a poet, and as a teacher, with kids– the best of all worlds for me.

    It was a daunting job to tailor writing activities K-12 in a huge urban school district, but I rose to the occasion– when you’re young, you can do that. My chapbook In Pursuit of the Family had just come out from the Minnesota Writers Publishing House, edited and shepherded into print by Robert Bly. I remember sitting on the desk at the front of the classroom, reading from my book to the kids, writing an image for them to “borrow” on the board, and circulating through the class, encouraging them. This was a terrific, fulfilling thing to be doing. At the end of each residency I would collect the poems and publish an anthology.

    These days it seems to me that many of us have stumbled into the new genre if you will of journaling online. The pieces seem to me to comprise a greater whole, bits of a personal story as well as a chronicle of the times. Out of blogging may come the subject itself lending itself to narrative. I have found lately that it is intriguing to ask myself what stories I have to tell, and what stories do I relate to friends– what is the common thread, and as you wrote the other day, the “back-story”? I already hear a story in this post of how you have persevered, not let yourself be deterred in pursuit of your dreams…. bravo! And, feel free to comment on my recent posts, which seem to finally be leading me in the direction of a story that will be difficult but fulfilling to write… xj

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