THIS I BELIEVE
I believe in money and material goods. All my life I have pursued my passion – writing – without concern for financial considerations. I’ve been able to do this because my wife has put aside her passions – horses, gardening, photography – and gone to an insurance office every weekday to earn a living. And so I have written short stories and poems and novels and personal essays and newspaper articles and much more. I have produced thousands of pieces of creative writing. I have spent thousands of dollars attending writing conferences and hiring professional editors and proofreaders to help me perfect my manuscripts. And I have never made more than a pittance in return for any of it.
Like most Americans, I was raised in a community that paid lip service to the idea that, when choosing a career, one should follow one’s heart and not be unduly swayed by money. But, by the time they are twenty years old, most Americans are smart enough to know that they will never actually become a major-league baseball player or Academy Award-winning actress and have learned to focus instead on earning a good living by working at some more practical occupation.
I was never that smart. When I was twenty, I went right on trying to be a great writer. A twenty-year-old man who lets his wife support him while he pursues his dream of being a novelist is a somewhat romantic figure in most people’s eyes. If he is still doing this at thirty, he is regarded as truly dedicated to his craft. But if he is still nothing more than an aspiring novelist at forty, he is considered a lazy dilettante. And at fifty, he is pretty much beneath contempt. Which is about where I am at right now.
My wife, meanwhile, is almost sixty and has toiled long and hard to help support my dream of literary glory, a dream that seems to grow dimmer by the minute. Most of her friends are much better off financially that she is. They have husbands with jobs that pay real money. They have big houses, take frequent vacations, and are not overly concerned with what will become of them when they are too old to work. My wife and I are far from poor, but her paycheck is our sole source of income. Even if I chucked my writing for good and went looking for a full-time job tomorrow, I could probably land nothing better-paying than a gig at Wal-Mart. Which wouldn’t bring in enough money to support us. And thus my wife would have to go on working fulltime, just as she has since we first got married 27 years ago.
Back then I believed that pursuing your passions was the only way to live. I planned to pursue my passion until it became profitable enough to support two people, and then my wife would be able to quit her job and pursue her passions too. But it never worked out that way. I’ve almost never been able to give my wife a present that wasn’t paid for with money that she earned. And certainly I’ve never been able to give her the kind of presents that many of her friends have received from their husbands: fancy jewelry, nice cars, big houses. My wife is not a materialistic person, and doesn’t really regret not having those things. But I do think she’d like to have a nice nest egg socked away and the prospect of a comfortable retirement somewhere in her near future. But, thanks largely to my failure to thrive financially, she is staring at a future that looks a lot like her past.
It’s too late for me to change course now. I am what I am. But if I could go back in time, I might think seriously about pursuing some far more stable and remunerative line of work. I know that old guys like me, who have followed their dreams for thirty years or more, are supposed to encourage youngsters to do the same thing and not worry too much about money. As the adage goes, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” But, personally, all that has ever followed me are credit card bills and late payment notices. More and more, I’m starting to believe in the solace of money and material goods. The problem is, they don’t seem to believe in me.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.