The routine was the same every night: Come home, strip off jacket and tie, cheese and crackers on the counter, bourbon from a bottle with peelable wax, wine from a bottle with plastic corks, dinner when cocktails had loosened up the day’s shackles. A little lubrication between work-life and home-life, to make the two slide together to create contentment. That was the order of the day, the order I grew up under, the order I thought I had to obey. That all adults did.
College taught me something different.
A professor of mine sat in an office lined with books and bobbleheads, piles of Mountain Dew bottles stacked up behind his swivel chair. Cowboy boots beneath blue jeans, he smiled as he asked me why I’d chosen my major. I didn’t, I told him. My major chose me.
Because it was at that point — at the moment of choosing — that I realized I didn’t have to come home every night and drown my work away. That I had the choice and freedom to do what I love; that work doesn’t have to mean drudgery. I learned, from a man wearing cowboy boots with a Hawaiian shirt, that I could do what I did for fun and get paid for it. And that resolving to do this is an adult decision too.
My parents never said they hated their jobs. If asked, they would list the things they like about it as if words speak more strongly than our culture, which says work is what you do to earn money for leisure. America says that the dream is a white picket fence, a minivan to drive around the kids and the golden retriever. It says the way to get to that is by toiling — toiling all week — taking the family camping on the weekend, and maybe finding a moment to relax during the evenings, in between PTO meetings and volunteer gigs.
But my dreams melted into other shapes, as soon as I realized the mold could be broken. That a respectable job doesn’t require a suit and tie, peelable wax bottles as dusk tosses workday worries into shadows.
Sometimes, I tell people I fell into writing as a last resort. Because I almost failed math and science classes enough times to convince me that my brain didn’t work that way. Because history bored me until I didn’t have to take the classes anymore. Because I couldn’t work at anything other than words, words became my medium.
But I didn’t become a writer to make a living. I turned to writing to make a life.
I never come home from work. Work lives inside my head, within the bones that build my body. I write stories in my dreams, and my dreams become my stories and my stories become a paycheck that gives me a place to lay my head.
During the day, I write about board meetings, house fires and ribbon-cuttings. I interview artists and lay out calendar pages. But as soon as I get in my car, my brain switches gears with the joystick, and I’m writing my own life, until I get back in the newsroom for another day.
I love what I do, and I love the life it allows me to have.
You deserve that, too.
We all deserve to smile on Monday mornings. There will be drudgery during some moments. There will be coworkers whose misery seeps inside your skull. There will be cut paychecks and layoffs and hours of pain, as well. But there should also be passion and fire running through your veins. There should be pride and beauty and love.
Your life is worth that much, at least.