Once, when I was a junior in college, a fellow student asked me what I was majoring in. When I said, "Creative writing," she tilted her head and looked at me with these big, sorrowful eyes, as if I had just told her my dog had died.
"Aw, you're going to be homeless," she said. What? "I mean, what are you going to do with that?" she continued. She was a psych major, secure in the belief that there would be a million and one job offers lined up for her once she finished grad school. (Not necessarily true, by the way.)
"What do you mean?" I countered. "I can do lots of things with that."
She eyed me skeptically. "Well, I guess you could teach," she said dismissively, "but that's about it." She made a "tsk tsk" sound and patted my hand.
"I'll be just fine," I assured her. And I felt sure that I would be--even though truth be told, I hadn't thought much about my future career beyond "I will write." When I chose my major, I wasn't thinking, This will make me loads of money, or This job is in high demand. I simply thought, This is what I love to do and if someday someone pays me to do it, great.
All these years later, it gives me great satisfaction to say that I was right. Not only am I being paid to edit other people's books (thanks in part to the skills I picked up as an English major), but I've been hired to write and to simply sit around with other people and be creative. The idea I pitched at the first brainstorming meeting with my editor was well received. Meanwhile, I'm slaving away on a new book. And this past Saturday I was asked to come to the Montclair Public Library to read from one of the Your Life books for their mother/daughter book group. (More on that later. It was sooo much fun.) I've even gotten to teach a class at NYU, all thanks to the "useless" degree in English I received. I'm not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I had the means to take myself to Greece and Prague last summer and to Barbados this past March. Not too shabby in my book. Bottom line, creativity and a love for the written word has not only kept me from winding up on the streets but has allowed me to live a life I actually enjoy.
And I'm not the only one. I now have lots of friends who have taken it one step further and quit their day jobs to fully commit themselves to their art. My friend Jo is making movies. My friend Kanova quit her job at an advertising agency to pursue her Broadway dreams and is now auditioning and performing. My buddy Doug is now a published author and one of his books is being made into a movie! I was recently on line at the Kelly Cutrone book signing at the BookMark Shoppe with a woman who told me that she had quit her high-powered finance job in order to start her own business that offered makeovers and style tips to women and young girls. She is working on her first book and is happier now than she ever was crunching numbers. The point is, it can happen. There are other roads to success besides becoming a doctor, lawyer, or accountant--not that any of those things are bad things to become. They're great things. They're just not for everyone.
So when my cousin Ines invited me to the school where she works in the Bronx to participate in Career Day (which I'll be on my way to in about an hour), I jumped at the opportunity. I look at it as a chance to tell the kids there who may think there are only five possible careers out there for them--or that going into anything even remotely artistic is at best a long shot, at worst a big waste of time--that that is simply not true. There are a world of careers out there and definitely more than one way to success. And if you're a creative type all hope is not lost! There are ways to follow your passion AND eat three square meals a day. And if you're really lucky, you won't even have to take four part-time jobs to do it.
I don't know what ever became of the girl who told me that I'd end up destitute and on the street. Maybe she became a renowned psychologist with her own private practice. Or maybe she became a circus clown with the Big Apple Circus. Whatever she did, I hope she's learned what I've known for a while now: Do what you love and the money will follow. Hopefully.