Every child is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As a middle school student, I answered confidently, “Astrophysicist.” The answer seemed easy to me. My father had boxes of astronomy magazines and a telescope. Based on the way my dad talked about astronomy, it was very clear to me that being an astrophysicist would pretty much guarantee that I was one of the smartest people in the universe.
In high school, I quickly jumped into a literary phase. I read voraciously, devouring the classics as fast as I could lay my hands on them. I was editor of the school newspaper and did quite well in writing competitions. I knew that I wanted to be a writer. My father said that writing was good, but that being a technical writer was the way to go to make money. As teenagers are prone to do, I rolled my eyes. Technical writing sounded like it would be absolute torture to a creative mind.
In college, my interest shifted to the study of television and film. I graduated with a degree in communication arts and reluctantly moved in with my parents while looking for a job. I dreamt of working behind the scenes at a TV or movie studio and I had several interviews, but I didn’t have enough experience to land a job. After a long six months, my dream was to find any job that freed me from my parents’ basement.
My liberation came in the form of a phone call from a former roommate who had information on a company that was eager to hire recent college grads. The job was as a Technical Writer. The pay was good. The benefits seemed generous. I was apprehensive, however. I didn’t think that this was a job that I really wanted to do. My reservations shrank when faced with the prospect of a few more months at my parents’ house. I took the job.
After nearly four and a half years working this job, I often think about my father’s endorsement of technical writing as a career and my initial rebuff of the profession. I have come to realization that just because our opinions differed, that didn’t mean that either one of us was wrong. He was right; this is a stable career that pays well, but I was also right when I realized that this career is not for me.
I believe that you must remain true to yourself. If you are impassionate about your livelihood, you are destined for unhappiness. Often, the most important things cannot be measured as easily as a wage. Happiness and fulfillment cannot be quantified. Dreams and passion aren’t poured by the gallon. As I examine the five years since the end of my college life, I believe more and more that selling out is the biggest mistake that I ever made.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.