Living the Dream
A few weeks back, my therapist pointed out that I was basically living my dream. Eight books in print, with a ninth on the way. A Hugo award sitting on my shelves. Guest of Honor gigs lined up for the coming year.
Forget Klondike Bars, do you know what 25-year-old me would have done to be where I am today? There’s always more to accomplish, and there are certainly things I’d change if I could (::cough:: day job ::cough::), but it’s easy to get caught up in where you’re going, to the point that you forget to appreciate where you’re at. I love being a writer, and I love that I’ve been able to do it pretty successfully, at least so far.
There’s an inspirational quote that gets passed around, usually misattributed to Confucius:
“Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”
I’ve got a job I love, and I’m gonna come out and say this quote isn’t just wrong, it’s so fundamentally opposed to the state of “rightness” that if you put it together with a true quote, you’d create an explosion powerful enough to rip open spacetime and devour Kalamazoo.
I love being a writer, but if you try to tell me it’s not work, I’ll send goblins to eat your feet. It’s work I usually (but not always) love, sure. But we’ve got to move beyond the myth that dreams just happen. When I look around at my role models, the people who are living the kind of “dream life” I’d love to have someday, pretty much every one of them is working his or her ass off.
I don’t want to suggest that hard work will automatically make your dreams come true. That’s a different myth, and unfortunately, the universe doesn’t always play fair. There are no guarantees, and some of us have far more hurdles put in our way than others. In many ways, my dreams are a luxury, one I can afford because I don’t have to worry much about more basic needs.
None of which changes the fact that dreams, as a rule, are hard. And God forbid you ever complain about the work, because there are a hundred people just waiting to tell you how they’d happily trade places with you. Heck, if J. K. Rowling was venting about the stress and pressure of writing books after Harry Potter, I’d be tempted to say the same thing. “Just sign your career over to me, and I’ll take it from there, Jo! Happy to help!”
That “never work a day in your life” quote is nice and fluffy and feel-good, but I suspect the truth might be closer to this:
“Choose a job you love, and you’ll choose to work even harder every day of your life.”
I’m not complaining today. I reserve the right to vent some other day, but even if I do, that doesn’t mean I’d trade my life as a writer for anything else in the world. But I think the way we look at dreams is unhelpful and unhealthy. If we imagine our dreams to be this idyllic state in which everything goes perfectly and we never have to “work,” it’s gonna get pretty darn frustrating, since we’re never going to get there.
I’ve got a ridiculous (for me) number of projects lined up right now. I’ve managed to knock two of them off the list so far, but I still cry a little inside when I look at everything I want to write over the next 12 months. But you know what? This is what I’ve worked almost half of my life to achieve, and I love it.
Now if y’all will excuse me, I’ve got writing to do.
Goddess of Java
April 8, 2013 @ 9:38 am
I’m glad you posted this. No good stuff is ever without work. And you’re right, no matter how much you love what you do, nothing is perfect.
Though I think it’s awesome you do love your job!
April 8, 2013 @ 9:40 am
I would say “Choose a job you love and you’ll work harder than you would in any other kind of job but it will only occasionally feel like hard work” ;-).
I often got accused of doing for money what i would have done anyway, so i guess i know what i’m talking about….
Goddess of Java
April 8, 2013 @ 9:42 am
Though, your 25 year old self kinda DID do what was required for you to be where you are today, when you think about it.
Jim C. Hines
April 8, 2013 @ 9:47 am
He did, didn’t he. I should probably send him a thank you note 🙂
Jim C. Hines
April 8, 2013 @ 9:48 am
That would definitely be an improvement over the original quote, yes.
April 8, 2013 @ 10:05 am
Pour yourself a beer. Unless you have a time machine, that’s the best you can do him ;-)….. or perhaps forgive him some lapses 😀
April 8, 2013 @ 12:45 pm
The other problem with the quote: it assumes work is drudgery and to be avoided. I’m thankful I can work, have work, and enjoy my work. Many people would be grateful for any one of those three realities to be true.
April 8, 2013 @ 1:41 pm
Well, another fine slice of life with opinion I agree with, here. I’m going to link it over to my favorite board for others to read if they choose.
On a side note, I’ve realized that you are, to me, sort of a contemporary Isaac Asimov.
By that I mean that you write fine fiction that mostly doesn’t seem to be to my taste, while I really enjoy the non-fiction writing & other (the poses, oh, the poses!) side-projects you do. I’ll be suggesting your fiction as well as your blog to other people to read in various venues because “it’s as well we don’t all like the same things, or think what a haggis shortage there’d be!”
As for “enjoy and you won’t work”… well, play can be exhausting too. But you usually feel better afterward with satisfaction of accomplishment and enjoyment mingled, eh?
April 8, 2013 @ 2:00 pm
May I quote your revision of that fake Confusius quotation?
Jim C. Hines
April 8, 2013 @ 2:14 pm
April 8, 2013 @ 9:27 pm
i gotta disagree, i choose a job i love and i play every day (granted it is at work and i do get paid for it)……it is in I.T. of all things…yeah the dilbert comic is actually my bible for how reality works, but heh…
i firmly believe it is what you make it, but then again i have been told my head does work right….
April 9, 2013 @ 9:52 am
You’re spot on about dreams being a luxury–those of us who are in a position to worry about whether our jobs are fulfilling are sitting on a lot of privilege.
But even taking that privilege into account, there’s something about the expectation that we ‘love’ our jobs that’s always bugged me. You can’t eat job satisfaction. You can’t use it as collateral or pay rent with it. You can’t clothe your kids in it. And I can’t help but notice that the professions that are the most underpaid compared to their skill are the ones where people are treated as phonies if they suggest that love is not sufficient compensation. Creative professions. Teachers. Non-profit workers.
Like Tom Sawyer and his fence, the ‘love your job’ myth sells people on the idea that they should be grateful for the opportunity to supply their labor at any price they can get for it–or even pay for the privilege of doing it. Some folks buy into the myth so hard that the end up regarding people who do their job for more money with sneering contempt (“Of course John Scalzi made it big, the sellout“).
I enjoy my job. I find it rewarding. I like and respect my co-workers. I’m grateful to have a job that suits me well and pays my bills, especially in this economy. But investing more in my work than I get back out of it is just bad business.
So I’d rewrite the quote to say: “Loving your work makes it easier to get a greater return on a smaller investment.” Loving a job can make the work lighter, which can make it easier to do more of it without burning out. But it’s still an investment of time and skill in exchange for money. Taking a perpetual loss on that exchange is either an exploitation or a hobby.
Jim C. Hines
April 9, 2013 @ 1:54 pm
“And I can’t help but notice that the professions that are the most underpaid compared to their skill are the ones where people are treated as phonies if they suggest that love is not sufficient compensation. Creative professions. Teachers. Non-profit workers.”
That’s a great point, thank you!
Jim C. Hines
April 9, 2013 @ 1:55 pm
Works for me. While I’d love it if everyone in the world loved (and bought!) my fiction, we all know that’s never gonna happen, and that’s fine. And thank you! 🙂
Loving Work (But It’s Still Work) | Mindy Klasky, Author
April 11, 2013 @ 6:04 am
April 11, 2013 @ 6:51 am
I’d agree with that. I have several jobs that I love, but there are, and have been, some big sacrifices along the way and at the moment, it’s pretty tough finance-wise. Still, it’s not exactly like going down a mine!
April 13, 2013 @ 11:00 am
A bit late to the party…
I once read a quote from Neil Peart (drummer/lyricist/author for Rush) that goes something like: Look, I’m doing what I love, I’ve trained for it all my life, and I’m very well paid for it. But it’s still a JOB.
April 18, 2013 @ 5:29 pm
I think you’re making a semantic distinction that most people don’t. The concept of work when applied to what they do for a living is basically a synonym for “job,” as in what you do to get paid. Lots of people do jobs where they don’t necessarily have to work hard. In this sense, work is meant to mean “The thing I’d prefer not to do, but I do anyway because I need to pay my rent and feed my kids.”
It is in this sense that I think most people read the inspirational quote and take from it the meaning, “If you are doing something you love and getting paid for it, it will feel like you aren’t doing a job like those people who are working in call centers.”
Stephen King is famous for saying that he would continue to write if he wasn’t paid for it. Can you imagine someone doing tech support at a call center saying, “Well, I’d do this if I wasn’t being paid for it.”
Again, I’m not necessarily disagreeing with anything you say above. Your comments about enjoying hard work not being the same as not working for a living is certainly spot on, but I don’t think that’s what 90% of people are reading when they read that inspirational quote. They just want to get paid for doing something that doesn’t “feel like work,” as in a soul-crushing monotonous job that pays their bills.
April 19, 2013 @ 9:45 am
This inspirational quote applies to everyone not just writers. And it does not mean that the person who is doing what they love isn’t putting in a lot of effort to do it, but that they are enjoying what they are doing and getting paid for it.
I’ve heard so many people say they hate their job or they hate their work. This quote is for them. And it is for the kids today who are trying to decide what to do with their lives.
My son is in the army. He loves being in the army. To suggest that he doesn’t put effort into what he does or there aren’t times when he gets aggravated with it is absurd. But it isn’t work for him. It isn’t the “I hate my job” work condition that this quote applies to.
I have a friend with a degree in electrical engineering who works as a plumber, because he loves plumbing. I have another friend with a degree in Oceanagraphic engineering who crafts things using seashells and sells them in his gift shop, because that is what he loves doing.
Back in the 90s and maybe even today, there was a wave of people who quit their soul destroying jobs to do what they always wanted to do even if that meant getting paid a lot less for it. They were a lot happier because they did that.
This is what that inspirational quote means. To do what my son, my plumber friend, my seashell crafting friend, and others are doing: working in jobs that they love.
April 20, 2013 @ 4:21 pm
The fact that “writing is a job” was driven home to me over last few months: writing plans, project lists, prioritizing novels and short stories and marketing activities, deadlines. As much as I love to write and get a kick out of actually get paid for it, the following issues and adaptations have come up of late:
– I sit so much, my butt and legs hurt and switching chairs doesn’t help (I bought a treadmill desk – now I can walk slowly while getting work done)
– I walk so much, my feet hurt (keep changing shoes)
– I get lonesome in my home office, which is distracting (escape to a coffee shop where everyone is glued to their laptop – most seem to be writers)
– Too much laptop use! My wrists hurt. (Use the iMac – but that means sitting)
– Eyes are strained, because processing edits means squinting at those little comment bubbles (dang it, I’ll have to move the iMac to the walking desk after all…)
It never ends. Plots revolve, characters chatter in my head, submissions go out and get either accepted or declined, then edits come in (and in, and in) and I have a DEADLINE to get them back out (and out, and out), even though I’d rather be writing my next book. So yeah, it’s work. I’ve been a researcher, an executive, a florist, a translator… I’ve done things “just for the money,” and getting paid meets my family’s essential needs. Despite the (unexpected) rigors of writing, I love it best of all and it sure beats marching to the beat to somebody else’s drum.