Saturday, August 27, 2011

Doing What You Love

This week Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple because of health reasons. In one of the many news articles about his decision and his career at one of the most successful companies in the world, there was a link to the only commencement address he ever made.

It's a very personal speech, describing his adoption, his parents, his "failure" to get a college degree, the company he and Steve Wozniak started in a garage, and his subsequent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. And the title of it is "You've Got to Find What You Love."

A few years back, I was one of the millions who viewed "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch. This had a profound effect on me at the time and haunts me still. Pausch, also diagnosed with cancer and knowing he was terminal, used a similar theme: achieving your childhood dreams.

This message seems to be pervasive in my life recently. Yesterday morning's devotional said, in part: "I'd rather be ashes than dust. I'd rather my spark burn out than that it should be stifled by dry rot. The proper function of my life is to live, not exist. So I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use every moment."

Maybe I'm more aware of it lately, like when you buy a new car and suddenly every other car on the road is the same one you just bought. Or when you're pregnant, you seem to always be running into other pregnant ladies. Most of my life I've been fortunate to get at least a piece of what I loved. I got married and had a child. I built a career as a computer programmer, a field that used my talents and paid me well, and worked at really good companies. If I didn't like my job, I was able to find a different one with a company more suited to me.

But for the past few years I haven't enjoyed my work. It's become "just a paycheck", with no creativity, no appreciation for my work, no chance for advancement. And the paycheck isn't as large as it used to be. Because of the economy, there are no alternatives without relocating. And, if you own a house, you can't sell it, so relocating isn't really an option. Besides, I like Tucson. I don't want to move to Minnesota.

It's made me wonder how many people go through their entire lives working at jobs that are "just a paycheck." I remember a college roommate insisting that she didn't want to marry a guy who worked on the line at Oldsmobile. That was my first intimation that there were people who had boring jobs and were content to do them for the sake of a paycheck. I always assumed I would find a job I loved.

So now, when I'm doing a job I don't even like, I've been thinking more and more about doing what I love. That, of course, is writing. It's not a new idea, of course. When I was in high school trying to choose a college, I told my mother that I'd like to be a writer. Her reply was that I could be a teacher and write in the summer, ignoring the fact that I had no desire to be a classroom teacher, in fact was terrified of the whole idea of standing up in front of a roomful of children or, worse, teenagers.

Two years back, with a layoff imminent, I started thinking about writing again. Ever practical, I looked into magazine article writing, looked at books about how to become rich as a freelancer. Again, it required doing things that terrified me: pitching story ideas, calling publications, calling experts to get their stories before I could write them up. And, as a writing friend of mine pointed out, if I was doing all that, when would I have time to write the novels I loved?

It seems to me that I've always put off doing what I really loved. I've been practical. I've been risk-averse, like most Americans. Even now, there's a voice at the back of my head whispering, "You can wait two more years until your full retirement age. Or maybe even wait until you're seventy, so you have more Social Security."

But I don't want to wait. I'm tired of waiting. I'm tired of putting things off. Heck, I may not live until I'm seventy and what will it matter then how much Social Security I'd be entitled to?

It's time for a change. I'm committed to doing what I love, not two years from now, not when I'm seventy, but within the next year. I refuse to listen to all the voices telling me to put it off, to be careful, to be afraid. I'm not going to let dry rot set in first.
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