Three years ago, I completed my schooling. I was ready to start spending my life writing away. I walked in to interview for an internship knowing I knew enough to crack it. And then came the question.“What do you want to do with your life?”
“What do you want to do with your life?”
It seemed obvious to me. After all, I had chosen to write and I interviewing for a writing job. Why then would they ask me what I want to do with my life? Not understanding what the world hurled at my face, I stifled my mirth at her question. But someone had to think straight and my interviewer and potential teammate worried I was throwing my life away.
“I want to write.”
And if there’s anything scarier than saying it, it’s doing what I said.
Writing, like art, is a hobby. No one believed I could do that for a living. It couldn’t be a career choice. At least not one that pays well. Most people I know who write, also have a day job that’s not writing.
They write when they can, they say. And that means they’d write something sometime in between 9 hours of work each day, 3 hours of Blacklist reruns, and a weekend filled with booze and buzz.
Still, when I said I wanted to write, I had no idea what that meant to me in the long run. And sure enough, my interviewer knew I didn’t. She tried to save me, help me see sense, and chase me off to get a degree in something I could fall back to when things turned nasty.
My family and friends couldn’t agree more. Almost everyone was certain my choice would go bad. I wasn’t too confident either. When negativity encapsulates you, knocking the breath off your ribs, you can’t help but give in. And so I told my father it would be temporary. Six to eight months — it was just an internship anyway. I’d soon know my standard and could go back to the typical career timeline of college after school.
I hated my first day at work. People were cold.
I was nineteen in a city too big for me to grasp, and worried I was too fat. My doctor had advised me to lose weight and my family to lose my job.
For my first assignment, I wrote a bunch of articles. My teammates suggested we print them out and mark the parts I should rework on. They ended up underlining almost all of my work. Except, perhaps, a few ands and ors.
I was furious. I had put my soul into words and an unknown person swept them all away as if they were flies on his cheese. He had no idea how long I sat in one place, stringing words together in proper grammar and (almost) precise punctuation.
No one had any right, whatsoever, to meddle with my writing. I had been writing personal blogs for two years before I started working. I had experience, and it annoyed me when they treated me as a novice.
According to them, everything I wrote was crap.
It took me more than 6 months to feel better about myself. They still pointed out faults in my work, but I had grown to enjoy talking about it. After I’d been around for a while, my colleagues were open to sharing their opinions, and I was open to listening. They helped me work out strategies, they gave me ideas, and I realised that no two people read a sentence the same way.
That was a revelation. I saw the marvels of varying perspectives and unintended interpretations. While some thought it was fine to end with prepositions, some people abhorred the idea. And as always, the Oxford comma sparked discussions that transitioned from face-to-face debates to chat messages well into the night. Some chose the Chicago manual style over the AP style guide. And some others just ignored everything passive.
And then I saw it: What’s crap for one person isn’t so for another.
Everything came down to perspectives. I had chosen a career that was so unstable and wavering that even industry specialists had made peace with their disagreements.
And while I sunk neck-deep in learning the nuances of a semicolon and wondering if I should use words like “nuances,” my internship ended and I became an official employee.
The city felt old now, and I no longer was nineteen or fat.
But my father remembered my promise and began nagging me. My life seemed fine at the moment but I should have something to fall back to — when things turn nasty. They wanted me to get a degree for a career I could live on.
For some weird reason, my family didn’t think I was already living. They acted as if all I had done was extend my internship. And so to please them — to get them off my back, rather — I signed up for a course in literature.
It seemed like the right thing to do. I wanted to write, and what’s more natural for a writer to study than good writing itself?
I thought myself mature, but I had been naive about the quality of our education system. It didn’t take me long to realise it was a waste of my time. My parents, however, were hell bent on getting me through the course.
As a result, my degree in literature killed my passion for conventional literary education. And in the process, it convinced me further that a piece of paper stamping me qualified for employment is just society’s way of circulating money.
It got me thinking. According to my society, a career in arts isn’t worth pursuing because there’s no future in it. As for Engineering, medicine, and now MBA — they are future-proof courses. Plus, they have a heavy “return on investment”. Nowadays people only speak in economic jargon because life’s all about what pays you well.
It’s funny because people are passionate when talking about Italian art museums and French sculptures, and how we should protect ours as well. But they also discourage any child who puts a brush or a pen to paper.
Alas, I’m not immune to the rest of the world and its changing fancies.
From my parents who think I’m in ruins and relatives who claim to love me, to people I called my closest friends, everyone’s told me I need a backup plan—any plan beyond my stigma for writing.
However, when people ask me what I want to do with my life, I still say the same thing: “I want to write”. I began as a content writer, and three years later, I’ve morphed into a content marketer. And that gives me hope. I may not become the greatest novelist the world has ever seen, but I’ve been writing.
Sure, life hasn’t been as perfumed roses. I’ve written plenty of poor prose and pathetic poems. But every time I sit down on a mission to tether words to meaning, and meaning to sentences, I feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins. And I realise: There’s a good chance I’d never become a published author.
There are countless writers out there with a passion for words and parents with money. And I see myself scavenging my purse for coins at the end of every month. My family could be right, and life may turn nasty; I never can be sure it won’t.
Nevertheless, one thing I’m sure of — as long as my lungs can hold air, I will write.
Cross-posting from my Medium blog.