My dad’s been preoccupied since I can remember.
When I was a baby he left for a year or two for something work-related and during that time I thought my dad was our next-door neighbor. When I was growing up he didn’t have time to play games, or take me to the pool, or drive me to dance class or pick me up from friends’ houses. He definitely didn’t go to PTA meetings. I’m pretty sure my mom badgered him into going to school plays, at least the ones where I had leads. He took my brother and me to the movies exactly one time each. For some inexplicable reason, my brother got Spaceballs and I got The Passion of the Christ.
My father’s first love was chemistry. He figured out he wanted to be a scientist way before he could finish his first chapter book and proceeded to make himself that, and hasn’t stopped working since. Which is understandable, considering you don’t just bust out of a village in Poland situated on the corner of Emptiness & Nothing and become a world-renowned researcher by sitting on your ass, but that kind of ambition has always been a lot to live up to.
“When I was your age,” he’d say, on hot July afternoons regardless of what age I was at the time, “I read ALL the required textbooks for fall semester and knew the material by heart before the classes even started. What are you doing?”
I had no idea. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but it’s not like you can just sit down, decide you want to “be” a writer and suddenly become one. Hell, you can write every day for twenty years and never become one. Luckily, my tireless academic father was a wealth of inspiration and good advice in the career department, though he never actually said anything helpful.
Rather, he taught me what he knew about love by accidental example.
First of all, that it has to drive you. It has to be your reason to get out of bed in the morning and stay up all night, your reason to keep going anywhere and keep doing anything at all. You have to feel genuine passion for what you’re doing or else nothing will happen. But it’s not enough to just love it — you have to put your back into it. You have to give it everything you have or else it won’t be anything at all.
And it usually requires sacrifice, time, health, sleep, whatever; it consumes you so naturally some things get pushed aside. Whenever I feel too stressed or burnt out I just think about my dad, a man over sixty, going to bed at 3:00 a.m. and getting up two hours later to compose endless drafts and lectures and proposals, running to the lab on holidays and weekends to finish just one more thing.
Sometimes you have to remind yourself why you care in the first place.
And that when something is yours, when you feel like it’s meant for you, when you feel it’s in your blood, you don’t pussy out when things get difficult. You don’t crumple under failure when it inevitably happens. You remember there are no magical outcomes, and the world doesn’t owe you anything, and at the end of the day you make your own luck, and then you do it better.