My husband starts school again today after a hiatus of…I forget how long. He’s 29 years old and halfway to his bachelors degree. I had 2 when I graduated from college in 2002, and acquired a master’s degree a few years after that. I liked school–liked learning. He didn’t/doesn’t. He doesn’t see why he has to know about all the other stuff that’s unrelated to his field of study. It’s been something of a minor war to get him to go back. No amount of my fussing, support, or logic could make him go before he was good and ready. He’s one of those people who has to learn things the hard way. But this post isn’t meant to be about him.
Back when I was a senior in high school, when colleges were courting me (yes, I was one of those students), I was thinking a lot about what I would major in. What did I want to be when I grew up? The answer was then, as it always has been, to write. So I was pretty sure I wanted to major in journalism. I told my parents, who had many things to say on the subject, none of them positive. The one that sticks in my head all these years later is that they said it wasn’t a respectable profession. Excuse me, what? They didn’t then, and probably still don’t, believe that one can make a decent living as a writer. Neither of them ever saw the hypocrisy in the fact that they could both say about me “Oh she’s smart, and she writes very well,” and in the same breath discourage my dream to do so.
In any event, I listened to them. I wound up taking a generous scholarship and double majoring in international studies and psychology. Whether this was the right or wrong path, it was a good path. I learned so much, got to do so much international travel, all of which shaped who I am today. It’s likely that if I’d gone in and majored in journalism, I would have hated it. But maybe not. I’d have learned different lessons and would, perhaps, have led a very different life these last few years.
This entire scenario popped into my head this weekend while my mom and I were off shopping. She was talking about the younger daughter of a friend who did major in journalism and has been in China the last several months. Mom declared that “she’s an amazing writer. I’m sure she’s going to be the next great foreign correspondent.” I just kind of stared at her. It’s a little late to be angry with her about it. College is over and done with for me. I don’t have any desire to go back and get a degree in journalism since that’s not what I want to do with my life. But I confess it left a bitter taste in my mouth to hear her praising and supporting someone else’s talents when she knows absolutely nothing of my own. All my life, from the time I expressed an interest in writing, she’s had this “Oh, that’s nice dear. Why don’t you go do this other more practical thing instead?”
For many of us, there are likely to be a lot of people like my mother in our writing lives. People who don’t see writing as anything more than a hobby. People who don’t think that writing is a respectable profession because it isn’t a classic 40 hour, 8 to 5 job in an office somewhere. There will be people who wish to hell they had the chutzpah to do what you’re doing, but since they don’t, they’re going to discourage you too. These are the sorts of people who inspire us to hide our writing away, to work frantically in secret in the dark at the thing we’re almost embarrassed about because someone important in our life Doesn’t Approve.
Know what I have to say about that?
Whether your dream is writing, painting, NASCAR racing, or any other unconventional thing, if the people important in your life don’t support you, you hold your head up high and you pursue that dream. Just think of how good it’s going to feel to be able to stick your tongue out and say “Nah nah nah nah nah nah…I did it, so there!” Certainly, the ability to say “I told you so,” is not sufficient reason to do something. If you don’t want it yourself because it’s your passion, the thing you cannot possibly be happy without doing, then it may or may not be the thing for you. But don’t place more importance on the opinions of Important People in your life if they aren’t being supportive of your dreams. You follow your own path.