First, you must be sixteen, and you must dream of a brilliant and challenging career in an industry made of dreams. An industry that knows work – the work of the darkest early-morning hours and the longest late nights – but an industry that knows the stinging pleasure of immortality.
Work your summer breaks, bound out of bed at five in the morning with joyful anticipation to work the worst entry-level job in the world. Literally shovel shit, and love it. Discover truck stop coffee and NoDoze and Red Bull and think it makes you special. Learn the slang, the patois. Talk like you’ve been in the business for years.
Go to college, reluctantly. Go to work before class and know this is what you’re supposed to be doing. The job is a little less shitty than before, your enthusiasm is the same. Cold mornings — stomping the frost off your boots and clapping your hands to keep them warm in their deerskin gloves — make you feel the righteousness of good work.
Graduate in three years. Give up your senior year at one of the best Southern universities, and think nothing of it. When you’re standing in the administrator’s office, the clerk tells you you’re three hours short, and your knees give out under you, until you remember that you can take a summer class and still start your new career on time.
Travel. Pack a suitcase, and live out of it for three years. Chase your dream from the Middle East to the Antipodes. Build a resume, build contacts, build knowledge. Get lucky – find not one, but two truly great mentors. They teach you, challenge you, toughen you up. They write you letters of recommendation that you read and re-read when you need a boost.
Get these relationships mixed up in your head with the personal ones. Think that their approval is enough to sustain a person.
Turn down a man. A really wonderful man, who loves you. Turn him down because he is an established industry member – and you’re nothing but a baby. Tell him you want to be known as yourself, before you’re known as his girl. Tell him you don’t want to make it because you said yes to him.
Sit on the edge of your bed at 5 AM, chipped ceramic mug of instant coffee in your hands, 15,000 miles from home, and wish you hadn’t drunk a bottle of wine again last night.
Come home to America, with the job you have been working for since you were 16. Have your mom help you move into a new apartment, with hand-me-down-furniture. Set up an IRA account – because suddenly you can afford one – and buy a new car. Start running, maybe more than is healthy.
One morning, forget to read the trade news. Read a Dubus story instead. Redouble your efforts, make a couple good sales to big account.
Come toe-to-toe with real loss at home.
Cry on the phone to your mother. Often. Call one of those mentors – not the one you’re working for – and tell him you’re thinking about getting out. Say the words out loud for the first time: I don’t think I want it bad enough anymore.
But you’ve invested so much, you have to stick it out. Because what would you do if you weren’t doing this? You have always known. And what would you tell everyone? Your parents, who have invested so much in you? Your friends, who have put up with you missing birthdays and weddings while you were off working in some isolated corner of the globe? Colleagues and industry members whose respect you have been diligently earning since you were a kid?
Then one day your best friend calls you and says, “Do you want to drive across the country with me?”
And you say, “Hold on.” Put the phone down, walk into your boss’s office and give him your two weeks’ notice.
And that is how you quit your job.