Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I saw this little gem in my Facebook stream a while back and it’s been the cause of much rumination since then.

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Is the idea that we (me, you, and your cousin Jim) need to earn a living really just a self-imposed prison? Should we all just go back to school and think about whatever it was we were thinking about before somebody came along and told us to earn a living?

I don’t know.

The way I interpret this is that we all have a true calling, and that our efforts in life should be in service to that, rather than a pay check. Some people are called to be heart surgeons, others are called to paint landscapes, and some would spend all day in the garden growing pumpkins if they could. If we all just follow our calling, we will all be happy, living in a world with excellent doctors, lovely art and lots of pumpkins to eat.

It’s a nice idea, but my mind keeps turning to our garbage man, my dental hygienist, and the administrative assistant at my kid’s preschool. All three of these people do important work, but I’ve never assumed their work is their calling. The truth is, in the world we live in, bills have to be paid, food needs to be bought, cars need to be repaired. These things cost money. We earn money by working jobs.

That’s not to say that jobs have to dominate our lives. In fact, in my experience, most people have a job they work for a pay check, and other pursuits they follow in their spare time. Hobbies, they’re called. My novel is what I do in my spare time. I’m reluctant to call it a hobby, as I genuinely hope to turn my novel writing into the thing that earns me my pay check, but I guess it would be an accurate label.

Until I have developed the skill to be a professional novelist, I will continue to work the day job. And that, I think, is the hole in Fuller’s argument. With all due respect, you don’t just get to declare yourself and artist and retire to a life of rumination. Not all artists are good. Not all gardeners have a green thumb. Some doctors have shaky hands and should never operate on anyone’s heart.

We all end up somewhere in our attempt to pay our bills. If we’re not happy with that, it’s in our power to change it, but it’s difficult. Like my mom always says: “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” The idea that we should all just sit around and ponder what interests us is flawed. What we should really do is study, apprentice, practice, train.

I have always said that a writer is someone who writes. Full stop. But as a writer I’m under no illusion that the bills will pay themselves. No matter what Mr. Fuller had to say about it.

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