At Your Service: June 23, 2010
When they asked me to talk to the Girl Scouts about writing and the careers that writing skills make available, my first reaction was that I should tell them how hard it is to earn a living as a writer. The more I have thought about it, the more I think that it is simply hard to earn a living. Any young person, whether graduating or simply looking forward, needs to know that life isn’t easy.
In order to earn a living, you must make enough money to sustain your way of life. That means that you must generate enough money to pay for food, a roof and every thing associated with keeping the lights on and the phone ringing. At some point, if you do things right, you are likely to share the space under the roof with people you love and that takes even more money. The more you make, the more you need.
I don’t know anyone who is lazy and earning a living. Under the best of circumstances, you must work hard to just to get by. Whether you are doing the kind of work that has sweat rolling off your shoulders or off your brow, you will need to put in a great deal of effort to generate enough extra cash to pay for a roof that you own yourself and to pave the way to your golden years.
Working requires that we have some skill for which we can be compensated. Acquiring those skills is critical to our marketability. The craft skills, for all of us not born wunderkinds, take a great deal of practice to acquire and must almost always be learned from someone who has already developed their own skills. Apprenticeships have been replaced by on-the-job training and BOCES. However you learn, the more skilled you are in your craft, the more money you are likely to earn.
Those looking to engage in more intellectual pursuits, will require years of a formal education before launching into their careers. In a rapidly changing world, a liberal arts foundation sets you up for maximum flexibility over the long term while specialization affords the best short term earning power. One way or the other, you will come upon a day for which you are not prepared and suffer the consequences of not knowing some critical piece of information.
All in all, it is pretty daunting to set out into the work-a-day world. All your preparation, whatever form it may have taken, will fall short of what you need. You will be disappointed in yourself and by others.
In the face of this reality, you will be challenged to find some happiness for yourself. That happiness will always be tempered by how strong a bond you have forged between what you do and what you love. The more you love the work you do and the people with whom you are engaged, the more likely it is that you will experience your life as successful, whether you are earning a large or small number of dollars.
In the end we all come upon the day in which we judge ourselves and recognize that it is all about the choices we have made. Each choice sets us up for the next one and the next…. As the refrain from “A Chorus Line” so aptly says, “I will not regret what I did for love.” For me, one of those things is a love of writing and the perpetual hope that at some point in the future it will provide enough income to support a life I love.