A running theme in several conversations I’ve had lately is the overabundance of people who work at jobs they hate (but pay the bills) and would rather be working at something they love (but likely wouldn’t be able to make a living that way).
I know this very intimately.
When I first started working at the family auto repair shop (6 June 2000; I was 16 at the time), I absolutely loved my job. Loved it. I was excited for the new skills, the new responsibilities, the chance to prove myself and earn an income. As an introvert, I wasn’t too keen on the constant interaction with the general public, but as time went on I got to become acquainted with these people, learn their stories, share their hopes and woes — all the little things that get discussed in and around the process of writing up repair orders.
Time passed, and the more I continued at this job, the more I became frightfully aware of the big, looming monster always hiding in the shadowy corners of the room. The more I learned, and the more responsibilities I was given, the more I discovered all of the ever-present negative sides to my employment:
Taxes. Regulation. Taxes. Fees. Restrictions. More regulations. And did I mention taxes?
And, over time, these things only got worse. And worse. And worse.
Coming up on fourteen years at this job, I’m so completely burned-out and disgusted by the limitations that I find myself now operating on autopilot rather than being eager to come in to the office everyday. From the moment I walk in the door to the moment I leave, my coworkers and I are so hemmed-in by financial burdens (due to taxes, licenses, fees, etc.) and legal burdens (having to word a repair order just so, having to store items just so, having to constantly fill out any number of reports and forms for the State, etc.) that it just makes work a burden rather than a pleasure.
I now literally despise my job.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not ungrateful. I am very thankful to have a job. I know a lot of people today are out of work and would probably be eager to take my place. I know that, very well. I am exceedingly thankful for being employed and being able to (just barely) pay the mortgage that keeps my sanctuary intact. I am also exceedingly grateful that the conditions of my employment are such that I am permitted to write in my downtime. Still, because of all the governmental interference into my workplace, I just can’t stand being here.
Thus, writing — my love, my passion — is my solace, and keeps me sane when my paid work leaves me feeling empty and meaningless.
And it seems as though a lot of people are in the same boat. Work is not exciting and fulfilling. It’s no longer a chance to learn and grow. It’s just a paycheck — nothing more.
I look back on my high school years and recall all the constant pressure from teachers and counselors to figure out a career path, to determine a passion, to find a direction in life. Back then, I had absolutely no passions whatsoever. I had not a single clue what I wanted to do with my life. I had no direction, no desires, no goals except to go to college and continue getting straight A’s — but in what field, I couldn’t even begin to decide. Thus, like many of my peers, I took a job that paid the bills and kept waiting for inspiration to hit.
And still nothing struck me. I just kept going to work everyday, and waiting for a passion to strike me. My job didn’t inspire any ideas, nor did college. I found myself mechanically wandering through existence — not life, but mere existence — and wondering what was the point of it all.
Then came the best and worst thing to ever happen in my life: I was raped.
I know, right now you’re thinking, “Best and worst?!” Let me explain.
Obviously, rape is traumatic — in that sense, literally the worst thing that had ever happened in my life. Immediately after it happened, I slipped into an even more mindless existence, turning into an emotionless robot that simply went through the motions of working and feeding and bathing, but not actually feeling anything or engaging in life. I could go on for hours about the aftermath, though it’s not particularly relevant here (though, of course, I am writing a book about it all — surprise, surprise). The important part, though, is why this traumatic evil turned into the best thing in my life.
When medication and psychotherapy failed me, I sat down one evening and started writing about what happened to me. I’d never been prone to writing in journals or doing anything with the written word other than for school assignments, but once I got that first page down, describing the most vivid memory I had of being raped, suddenly I found that I couldn’t stop.
The words just wouldn’t stop coming.
In five weeks, I had a 300-page novel on my hands, and a couple months after that, I had a 600-page sequel, and a few hundred odd pages of scraps of ideas for a third. Then came ideas for another book, and another, and another, and before I knew it, I wound up with something like twenty novel ideas stored on my computer. The high school math wiz had suddenly turned into a wordsmith.
And I was happy. I’d found my passion. I’d found my purpose. Without even the slightest inkling of ever actually publishing anything, I kept writing, and kept getting story ideas. I just couldn’t stop.
Writing brought me back to life, gave me something to love, and gave me a reason to live. It’s all I want to do, and though it’ll probably never be an income source sufficient to pay the bills, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. In and around doing my day job, my mind is always on my stories, working out plot lines and figuring out characters. It’s darn near all I think about in the morning while I’m getting ready for work, and all I think about in the evenings while I’m exercising or having dinner. When I’m not reading someone else’s book, you can be sure my mind is on one of my own.
I feel free, and alive, and whole when I’m writing. The day job will have to stay, since I still have to pay the bills, but now I’ve got something more, something worthwhile.
I love to write. And I write to live.