Follow Your Own Path

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?

Screw them.

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.

4 thoughts on “Follow Your Own Path

  1. Amen, sister.

    I really had one teacher in all my school life who really took an interest in me and my writing. One day, during that college-choosing time when test scores had earned me bucket-loads of recyclables and this teacher didn’t even have me in a class anymore, he drew me aside for serious chat. Included amongst the things he said to me: a writer is what you are–you won’t be satisfied with anything else; and don’t go to college–it will kill anything you have.

    Now if you’re a big higher ed lover, that may seem irresponsible to you. There was never really any choice but to go, not when people want to pay YOU to go to their school and you’re a girl and your whole life’s training has been about how you can’t take care of yourself and know your own mind. So I went.

    But that conversation has stayed with me all these years. I believe that I let college and life kill a lot of what I had, or at least beat it down so that recovery will be a long process. But the fact that there was one that one person who recognized the skills [guffaw] enough to say that has meant the difference between trying one more time and giving up altogether more times than I can count.

    So anyway, totally behind what you’re saying. There’s nothing intrinsically right or good or even safe about working in a “regular” 8 to 5 job . Nor is there in making 80K a year and acquiring things as opposed to making 30K a year (or less) and living responsibly, happily, and well. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong or bad about material success either, but if you’re going to chase after something…

  2. Awesome post! And you know, I’ve been paranoid about “long posts” because sometimes I skim people’s blog posts (and how much I like them personally has nothing to do with it) but I read every word of this because it was saying something important (to me.) So I guess I can stop worrying about post length and instead focus on post content.

    Anyway… I was fortunate to have support from my family, and even my husband. Even though Tom has only in the last year started reading my stuff (long unrelated story about trust. It’s weird but the highest expression of trust for me with him was being able to let him read my fiction.) But even before that he thought the writing thing was “neat.” Though not in a condescending way.

    Though I HAVE had folks in my life who have raised an eyebrow and said things like: “You know you can’t make money doing that right?” Or “The odds of success in fiction is…like the lottery.” etc. And you gotta let these things roll off your back. I know it’s probably not the same as if your parents say it or your spouse…but I will say there are people close to me, family members and a few friends who decidedly would NOT support my writing dream, and especially not my “I gotta go indie cause that’s who I am” thing.

    I simply don’t tell those people about my goals. It’s not their business.

    If you haven’t already read it, the book: “How I found Freedom in an Unfree World” by Harry Browne changed my life with regards to who I let affect my choices. I always look to the successes doing what I want to do, in broader ways and more closely defined ways. Because those are the only people who really have any worthwhile commentary on the issue. The ones who failed can only tell me what specifically didn’t work for THEM. And while that’s helpful for me to avoid a pitfall, if they use it as a cautionary tale to try to talk me out of it, I am out of there.

  3. Wow Susan, thanks for that. I would like to finish college some day for personally enriching purposes, but I purposefully never took anything that would screw with my writing, like, I don’t know, a writing course. 😛

    Part of why I couldn’t get into college at the time, was that I knew I wanted to write, and everything else was all so much noise.

    I had one teacher who really encouraged me like that. An English teacher in 8th grade. She really supported the writing thing and told me one of her friends wrote romance novels under a pen name and was ecstatically happy doing it. I just kind of smiled and nodded because even in the 8th grade, I had been conditioned to look down my nose at romance novels! hahahaha

    And now I write them. Oh, how things change. I will be hand delivering a signed copy to that teacher.

  4. Wicked blog! And I also loved this post. I was the “writer” in the family and among my group of friends growing up. So, when I went to Columbia College Chicago to major in advertising, minor in Fiction Writing, I was surprised by my mother’s reaction to my choice. Now, mind you, I paid for my own schooling.

    When mom came with me to Columbia for the walk-through and orientation, she had this reaction to a comment the professor said. He said to the parents: “Now you’re probably wondering why your son or daughter chose fiction writing as their major. I mean, what kind of future is there for fiction writers?!” My mom laughed and agreed with a “Humph!”

    Well, years later and I’m strong again in my passion of writing (having been derailed from numerous outside influences.) I proudly display my first acceptance letter to my parents for an article in a popular parenting magazine. And my mom looks up with innocent eyes and asks, “Well, you’re going to publish this under your maiden name, right? I’d like our family name mentioned.”


    Keep up the inspiration!
    ~Mary Jo Campbell

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