The most satisfying part of being a writer is the freedom. I’m so glad I ignored the well-meaning, but flawed advice to, “stick to an ordinary job.” Of course, I earn money through a range of freelance projects, but my main priority in life is to create. ‘Ordinary’ just doesn’t fit with my values. Developing characters, inventing stories and bringing to life the little things that make us human – the joys, the challenges, the sorrows and the weirdness of human nature – is what I enjoy.
I’ve travelled far, but few journeys ever gave me the excitement and contentment that writing fiction does. The fact that something I invent could entertain, fascinate or even help another person is even more incredible and it’s just one of the many benefits of being a writer no one told me about. Family do-gooders, school/employment career’s advisors, even neighbours – they all said similar things. Some comments were understandable; some, downright heinous. “Writing won’t pay your way, at least not at first. Isn’t fiction just a hobby? Stick to your day job – or people just won’t respect you.” All apart from one person. Incredibly, he was a career consultant at a corporation I used to work at. A group of us had been made redundant and, for most people, losing their job this way signalled hard times and pressure to rejoin another organisation. They pretty much underwent a controlled panic. For me, this dramatic change opened up a risky, interesting new opportunity – to try something I knew I had the basic talent for, but not a clue as to how to go about it professionally. Writing fiction, what I’d been dreaming of doing and loving being good at since I was a kid, suddenly became a reality – and when the consultant heard my passion, he put aside his usual spiel and simply said, “Go for it.”
It’s been tough, but I’ve never looked back. I’m so grateful to that man for believing in a different path. I’ve met few people in business with true flexibility of thought – but he had it.
Fast-forward a decade. A friend of mine tells me he hates his job. I already guessed things weren’t going so well because his usual lively personality temporarily faded into something more miserable and that is totally out of character. He explains that the problem is a combination of a highly critical manager, a pressurising, not particularly interesting project assigned to him and a generalised, grinding boredom at being stuck in the same office job for years. I ask him what his values in life are and he rattles them off pretty quickly: “Fun, creativity, hard work, responsibility, success and love.” I tell him those are excellent values. He tells me none of them match his current job, apart from ‘hard work’ and, in saying this, he quickly realises my point.
If our values don’t match our job, our job satisfaction will be affected. Success is not the same as money – I decided one day to look it up in a Thesaurus. Success is a ‘favourable outcome’. Think about that for a second. Success can mean happiness, contentment, emotional stability and good relationships. The trappings of success are money, financial security and status.
My friend is fifty-eight and I’m in my mid-thirties. I knew that I didn’t want a standard job when I was nineteen. Believe me, you can be young, wise and free. I took the hard route, but I still proved the theory. My values are bravery, rebellion, empathy, love, success, hard work and creativity. A subtly different list to my friend’s one, but different all the same. The bravery and rebellion go a long way for me, enabling me to be the kind of person I want to be: confident, daring, open-minded, unpredictable – all related values that fit into the overall scene. And all of this feeds into my fiction. Every story I write exudes risk, the wisdom of youth, the perils of rating money over real success, the emptiness that can fill us when we lose sight of our values and work (or do pretty much anything) for the wrong reasons – and the incredible things that can happen when we embrace those core values that make us who we are and strike out in search of better for ourselves, or those we care about.
Mike, my friend – the guy who just gave up his boring job – became the lead character in a (longish) short story I’m busy writing, Drug Called Life. It’s a risky, bold portrayal, but it’s true to both our sets of values. Even though it shocked the real Mike on the first reading (it’s not about giving up your job; it’s about lap-dancing) he has grown to love it and, eventually, after a good deal of arm-twisting, he plucked up the courage to give me permission to publish it when it’s finished. When you read it, you’ll realise what a brave decision that is!
P.S. Bravery also happens to be Mike’s new, top-of-the-mountain value.
If you’d like to pre-order a copy of Drug Called Life, email Carla (email@example.com) with the subject line ‘SPECIAL OFFER CODE 456’ and you will receive a copy of the story for free as soon as it’s published, sometime next year. Make sure your first name is included in your email.
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If you have another few minutes to spare, you can discover why I love to be inspired by darkness, my best regrets or another piece of fiction about youth, freedom and bravery, Even the Young Can Be Warriors.