For all the world’s sentimental quotes, there is nothing sentimental about following your dreams. The price is high. And you have to be willing to pay it. As I sat in the far back rows at the memorial service of one of my corporate heroes and heard the sappy, sentimental quote, “Life is too short not to do what you love,” I finally threw my hands up and quit my job. So, I’m a real writer now. Just a writer. And I don’t know how this will go.
— From “Who Needs Financial Stability, Anyway” Dirt & Seeds 2013
In September 2013 I quit a well-paying corporate marketing job to pursue writing (or writing-related work) full-time. I was 47 with four published novels and an MFA. I won’t go into detail about what led me to that decision because you can read the original essay here. But suffice to say, I was supremely unhappy in the corporate world and I didn’t have much of a plan. In fact, I had no plan. Nothing saved. I had a car payment, a mortgage, and student loan debt. My husband had just opened a fledgling retail business—and if you know anything about a) business, and b) retail, you know that was a gargantuan gamble. The only thing we had going for us financially was one small rental house that mostly just paid for itself, and a reasonable retirement fund that would need ongoing contribution if it was going to pay for our golden years.
During the previous fall (2012), while in an extended period of frustration with my job, I applied to Bath Spa University’s PhD program, hoping to be one of their first low-residency, international students. In June 2013 I got an interview, but before I was accepted I took a hard look at the feasibility of what I hoped to do. It was ludicrous. Financial suicide. The reality, and I knew it, was that I would never make the kind of money I was making in my corporate career with an advanced degree in writing. In fact, I would take a 50% or more salary cut if I was even lucky enough to pull it off and earn a living at it. After some soul searching and reviewing the numbers seemingly a hundred-thousand times, my pragmatic self—the one that had propelled me ahead in business—won. I set the idea of a PhD and studying in England aside. That was that!
It’s funny how our subconscious minds work when it involves the things we deeply love. Within hours of receiving the acceptance letter from Bath Spa University, I sat down and wrote my resignation. I didn’t look at the numbers or consider the preposterous notion that I could ever support myself without a job. I didn’t look back at any of the practical wisdom I had scribbled in the margins of those tattered financial lists. I simply sent word to Bath, England that I was on my way, and word to my employer that I was not. And then I penned an essay that was shared some 10,000 times on the internet. An essay that flowed out of some deep pent-up place inside me. I had apparently written that essay before, in my dreams, in long corporate meetings. In training sessions, and on weekends when I was trying to squeeze in as much writing as time would allow. I had organized it, chronicled it, and prioritized each detail. It ended it with the words: And I don’t know how this will go.
It’s been three years, and this is how it’s gone:
- My husband’s car (a nice sedan) died, and we replaced it with a 1994 Mazda Miata with manual transmission and a leaky roof. No A/C. It takes your whole body to drive it—when it runs.
We gave up television. It was an expense we couldn’t justify.
We replaced the dead lawn mower with a $20 flea market push mower.
I spent a year living away from home in Arkansas to gain teaching experience at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I’ve taught online, adjunct, and community writing classes like a maniac—not because there is any money in it–there isn’t! But because it’s kind of wonderful to go to work and talk about stories, essays, and poems.
Except for the Christmas gift certificate from a concerned family member, I haven’t had a professional haircut in… three years.
I’ve placed a few short stories and poems.
I haven’t been to the dentist in… three years. If not for the Affordable Care Act, I wouldn’t have insurance at all, though we avoid getting medical care because the deductibles are too high. Still, we won’t have to file bankruptcy if one of us is run over.
I researched Native American literature and the depiction of interracial relationships in fiction at a depth I would never have found time for when I was a corporate manager.
I’ve written a lot of white papers for a large high tech company, but it’s an hourly contract. If they don’t know what they want, I don’t stress about it. If they waste my time, that’s okay: This is not my life, and I get paid by the hour.
I completed a PhD and two novels, and I’ve begun writing book reviews for Colorado Review.
We drink two-buck chuck because that’s what we can afford.
I signed a publishing contract with Martin Brown Publishers for my fifth novel What Keeps You.
We sold our house—the 1930 bungalow that I loved so much—and moved into our tiny rental house, instead. That was the biggest sacrifice and I’ll be honest; it hurt. As I packed our things, I reread my essay.
For all the world’s sentimental quotes, there is nothing sentimental about following your dreams. The price is high. And you have to be willing to pay it.
I could not have predicted just how high that price would be. Would I do it again? Yup!