Do What You Love, But… Career Advice for Our Kids

I’m looking for a job. Actually, multiple jobs—freelance writing projects that I can complete when I’m not taking care of my two small daughters.

The other day I was scrolling through job listings on Indeed. Somehow I scrolled past a listing for a finance position. “$20,000 signing bonus,” it said.

I did a double-take. As a part-time freelance writer, I’m glad to earn $20,000 in an entire year.

Hmm…maybe I had picked the wrong profession.

I’ve always loved writing. I wrote my first poem, “Magic,” when I was 5 years old. Like most first poems, it was terrible—cheesy, full of clichés. I dreamed of becoming a writer, though, so I kept writing.

Then at age 9, I wrote a short story called “Boris Takes Over” for my local library’s annual fiction contest. To my surprise and delight, “Boris Takes Over” won first place in the third/fourth grade category. My blue-ribbon award was bragging rights, plus the privilege of having my story hardbound and added to the library’s permanent collection.

As I grew up, my friends spent their summers at sports camps. I, on the other hand, went to writing camp. (Yes, there really is such a thing!)

In college, I was named editor-in-chief of the campus-wide literary magazine. I began to feel some confidence, some affirmation that I really could have a career as a writer.

During the past 10 years, I’ve worked in writing positions for a magazine, nonprofit organization and marketing company, among other side gigs. I feel a jolt of childlike joy every time a publication accepts a piece I’ve submitted.

It’s “Boris Takes Over” all over again, every time.

I feel thankful I’ve been able to do something I’ve always loved. I’m also conscious, when I see notes about $20,000 signing bonuses for finance positions—as I’m trying to generate enough supplementary income to pay for my older daughter’s summer dance camps—that creative fields aren’t always lucrative.

Compare, for example, the annual salary range of an entry-level copywriter ($42,750 to $60,000) to an entry-level Web analytics specialist ($72,500 to $99,750) in the marketing industry (source: Robert Half). In terms of bigger-bucks paydays, numbers games often trump the arts.

After one of Grace’s dance classes recently, she pirouetted across the kitchen and announced, “Mom, when I grow up, I want to be a dance teacher just like Miss Phaedra.”

“That sounds great, honey,” I said. I meant it.

Dance teachers are similar to writers in that both work in creative fields. Through their work, creative professionals have the opportunity to inspire people. To recognize and encourage talents within them, as teachers do. To move them with words, as writers might.

Do What You Love, But...

Creative professions, of course, traditionally pay less than their more “practicum” counterparts—medicine, business, engineering. Grace is still years away from declaring a college major, but the thought crossed my mind in the kitchen that day: Should I really encourage her to do what she loves as a profession, when that profession may not pay the bills as handily as another one?

The answer, for me, is yes. For a couple of reasons.

First, you never know where life might take you. Amazing things can happen when you’re doing something you love. As a dancer, or a writer, or anything in between, you may find yourself someday just one step away from your big break—one step away from directing a world-renowned dance program, or from garnering a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Years of practice, dedication and, yes, a little bit of luck—energized by your love for what you do—may lead you to your dream come true.

Second, we don’t know how much time we have in this life. We should spend it, then, doing something we care about.

I’m a practical person, however. Money isn’t everything, but it is important. It allows you to live in a safe neighborhood, to eat nourishing food, to give your children experiences that will enrich their lives.

Money is important. For that practical reason, then, I’ll encourage my daughter to pursue her dance aspirations with an eye toward realism, as I’ve had to be realistic.

This will be my message to my daughter, and maybe it will be your message to your kids too: Do what you love, but if and when needed, do what you have to do too.

Didn’t make the cut for the Lyon Opera Ballet? Then work in arts administration, possibly, until you’re ready to try out again, or try out with another dance company.

Every experience will make your creative passion that much richer, that much more rewarding.

Every now and then, I pull up a document I’ve been writing and rewriting, on and off, for years. It’s a nonfiction story, untitled as of yet. I want this story to be part of the legacy I leave behind as a writer.

In the meantime, I have a family to help take care of. I need to be there physically for my daughters, preparing their meals and washing their clothes and doing the millions of other little things that children need done. I need to be there financially for them too, no explanation needed.

Consequently, I gladly apply for and gratefully accept freelance writing projects related to copywriting, corporate communications and Web content development—nothing to do with the writing aspirations I’ve had since “Magic.” I do all these things to earn money to help take care of my family, while constantly doing the writing I feel meant to do whenever I can.

Do what you love, but if and when needed, do what you have to do too. Your life and your legacy will both be richer for it.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

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