I was straddling the fence on whether to write about the topic of following one’s passion. To some people, this is a guiding principle. To others, it’s a bunch of touch-feely malarkey of epic proportions. To me, passion is a two-edged sword. It can be what inspires me to give my utmost to a project. It can also make me beat my head against the wall when I hit a roadblock that seems impassable. In the end, I straddle that fence, and try to take the best passion has to offer me and leave behind what remains.
I’ve loved writing fiction since I was in middle school. Creating worlds, monsters, and adventures has always been something that excites me. Sometimes it keeps me up at night, thinking about the backstory of a character or the characteristics of an alien species. Writing and selling novels has always been a dream of mine, where other people dream of being rock stars. I love to hear or read stories of people who have made their dreams reality, beating the odds by hard work and dedication. I think we all do, picturing ourselves in the person’s shoes and wondering what it would be like to realize such success. Reality is the other, some might say heavier, side of the coin. It can be disappointing to see years of our lives pass by with our dreams still out of reach.
Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs” fame, has an interesting take on following one’s passions and why he hates hearing it. Here’s a link to it. I have to agree with a lot of what he says, even if I felt my spirit crushed a bit while reading it. Reality, dreams or not, dictates our circumstances. It can seem cruel and unjust, but that doesn’t change the way things are. When I’ve told people that I want to write novels for a living, typically I’ve gotten the advice that I shouldn’t quit my day job. It’s hard to make a living doing that, I often hear. No argument there.
But here’s my beef with these practical arguments against following passions: it’s how people start down the path to greatness. Dreams don’t make up all the bricks in the road, but they keep people striving and determined and enthusiastically working hard. The likelihood of failure is directly proportional to how large one’s dreams are, and at some point all of these people have to face that reality. And sometimes they quit, but they give it their best shots. That’s what I really want to do for my dream of selling my fiction. I want to wring every drop of creativity out of my brain, edit ruthlessly, and fail until I succeed. I don’t want to spend the last days of my life regretting that I didn’t try hard enough to realize my dream.
I still have my day job. In fact, I went back to college to get a degree in something I knew would get me a better job, even though I knew that occupation would have nothing to do with my passions and dreams for writing. Why? Bills, health insurance, and looking forward to a family were all part of the decision. Do I regret it? No. Do I wish I had more time to spend pursuing my dream? Absolutely. I know that if I hadn’t gone back to school, I would be struggling to make ends meet. I might have two jobs, leaving me even less time to write than I have now. I don’t think it would be right to have to depend on the generosity of others to support my dream, whether living in my mom’s spare bedroom or living off government assistance. If it’s really a dream of mine, I will make the time I need to reach it, and I will be more proud of myself for accomplishing it without abandoning my real life responsibilities.
So Mike Rowe is right, in a sense. I have to live in the real world, and that means my dream must often come second. But I won’t give up on it as long as I have the strength to type in my fingers and the brainpower to come up with stories to tell. “Take your passion with you,” he says in the video at the above link. I never leave home without it.