Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Pursuit of Fabulousness

Image by Steve Woods

"Oh no, I make too much money to give up my career," the successful businesswoman-turned-sometimes-author replied pointedly when asked if she had considered writing full time.

Surely, no one else at the writers workshop full of mostly middle-aged hobbyists could have made that claim. The remark of the visiting author seemed detached, aloof. Elitist, even. How could she (whose name escapes me) call herself an author when she didn't eat, breathe, and sneeze verbs and metaphors?

Well as my mom used to admonish, keep saying good morning. With a couple years, bills, and experiences under my belt, the author’s standpoint makes more cents. She is a woman who has published novels on a small scale, but felt no desire to give up a lucrative career on Wall Street to crank out more books. She has the best of both worlds.

As children our dreams didn’t have salaries attached to them. We mused over the prospect of becoming an ice skater or a singer or a circus clown. In college, we began to understand how our passion for computers or animals translated into dollars, but didn’t have a solid idea of what those dollars meant. (I used to think $25,000 a year sounded like a lot of money).

You don't develop a lifestyle until you're out on your own. As a kid, you go where your parents go, live in your parents' house, and wear the clothes they buy you. As a young adult, your lifestyle includes little more than cheap beer and Ramen noodles. You don’t know that you prefer tailored suits, European cars, hardwood floors, a trip out of state every couple months, and a certain amount of square footage in your place of residence. You're oblivious to the fact that your dream of living on 5th Avenue is incompatible with a teacher's salary. You're shocked that even as a certified medical assistant, you can barely afford to attend the family reunion.

It’s the intersection where “What do you want to be when you grow up?” meets “How do you want to live when you grow up?”

I’m standing at this intersection.

On the eve of my arrival into the late-twenties age bracket, that notion of pursuing dividends over dreams has garnered the “last chance” urgency of a going-out-of-business sale. Every day, life carries the potential to get more complicated. These are the years that folks (if they haven’t started already) add more factors to the equation. Kids, husbands, and baby daddies have steadily cropped up in the lives of people around me.

When the grown folks used to tell us the world was ours, it was because we had clean slates and no responsibilities. The built-in advantage of youth is freedom. While I’m not a starry-eyed kid anymore, I've begun to appreciate the advantage that comes with my situation. No kids, no man, no drama, and no one else's desires to be concerned about but my own.

And so, the clock is ticking. Not my myth of a biological clock, but the "get money" clock. In the words of Jay-Z in "Beach Chair," "Life is but a dream to me, I don't want to wake up, 30 odd years without having my cake up." Other folks are concerned about being 30 and single, I’m concerned about being 30 and broke.

It is not easy for men to rise whose qualities are thwarted by poverty.

-Juvenal (55 AD - 127 AD), Satires

Now's the time to make a move up a few tax brackets, before I get too old for spontaneity, or a man shows up and fuddles up my focus, or the stork drops something in my window (or is it the chimney?). The more factors you add to the equation, the more challenging life is to navigate.

So when it comes to that unabashed author that addressed the writers group that day, I get it. Do what you love or make great money doing something else. But struggling to do what you don’t love is truly unacceptable.