Friday, March 05, 2010

Quiet Epiphany ...

It came to me in my car.

Devoid of fanfare. No trumpets.

I've never had a dream.

Dream as in "aspiration," not the nocturnal nonsense that plays out in my head.

I know people who know, from an early age, what they want to do. And they've done it. I have a friend who always wanted to be a sports journalist. Today, she's rather high in the ranks at ESPN.

And I have a friend who has a friend who was once a kid who wanted to be in a band. Today, he's the lead singer of Pearl Jam.

Goals are good. Destinations. Not end points, but landmarks along the way.

And I've never had one.

No wonder I don't know where the hell I'm going.

Mind you, I'm a big believer in everything happening the way it's meant to happen.

I don't regret anything. My "career" to date may not have been part of a master plan, at least not any master plan of which I'm consciously aware, but I have met some extraordinary people along the way, people I otherwise might not have met, and so, in that way, I have done very well.

But at the moment, I am bobbing along in a vast sea of possibility. Which way is shore? In which direction should I start swimming? I have no idea.

I mentioned this to my mom the other day, hoping that she might say, "Oh, honey, don't you remember? When you were little, you wanted to be ...," that she would remind me of a forgotten plan and the light bulb would illuminate above my head and off I'd go.

But no. She did remind me that there was a time when I wanted to be a doctor. Mmm hmm. I remember that. I was young. And I was going to grow up to own my own hospital and I told my grandmother that she could stay there for free. My cousin Lora was going to be my nurse.

Today, Lora's a nurse. I'm not a doctor. Mind you, for a while, I was on that path. I started college in pre-med. But I quickly learned that that was not the path for me.

I also remember, as a child, wanting to be a lawyer. But that desire wasn't borne out of any deep-seated desire to practice law. No, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer when I heard my parents discussing how much their lawyer billed per hour. I didn't understand then that what an attorney bills is not what they earn. To my young mind, there were people working at jobs who made a few dollars an hour and then there was Mr. Attorney Man who was billing $125. And I thought, "I would like to make $125 an hour." And my brief legal plan was born.

It didn't last.

I returned to the doctor plan.

And then, late in my senior year of high school, a teacher declared that I was going to be a writer. Hmm. Yeah, OK. That sounded good. I liked writing.

But who got paid to write, I wondered. Journalists, I thought.

OK, then. Journalism school.

But not real journalism school. Not Missouri or Northwestern or any of the heavy hitters.

Alas, my journalism plan was short-lived.

Back to the aforementioned pre-med status.

But I had no patience for all the prerequisites. I wanted to jump right into anatomy.

I took a writing course to lighten my heavy science load.

And it was fun. So I took another.

And one day, lying in bed in my room in my parents' house, I looked at my Einstein poster, given to me by English Teacher Dave, and the quote "Imagination is more important than knowledge" suddenly seemed to say "English is more important than medicine."

So I declared my major – English – and took what non-fiction writing courses I could. The university where I'd landed didn't have a journalism school, but it offered a non-fiction specialty within the English curriculum.

And then, sitting next to my friend Brett in a Victorian Literature class, I noticed that he was taking notes on Chicago magazine letterhead. I asked him about it. And he told me that he was doing an internship there.

That seemed cool.

So I wrote a letter. And got an internship there.

I had already worked for a summer at the Chicago Sun-Times, so Chicago magazine seemed like a complement.

And then, once I was out of college, oh-so-useful English degree in hand, a friend at the university told me about an opening at the Chicago Tribune. The job market was awful, so I thought I'd land that gig – it was part-time – stay for six months, slap it on my resume, and then get a real job.

It didn't work out that way. I ended up staying at the Tribune for nearly five years. Which was just as well. As I never knew what that real job was going to be.

And then, just about the time I was getting fed up with life at the Tribune, a former Tribuner offered me a job working for a division of another newspaper company.

So I tendered my resignation at the Trib and started the new gig.

That lasted three years, until the entire newspaper division was sold off or – in the case of our little company – shut down.

And then, in need of a job, I took a position as an editor at an IT company. And eleven months later, that ended.

At this point, you may be thinking, "Beth, were you really that clueless? Could you not appreciate that you were constantly being kicked out of the nest?"

Yes, I could see that. But there's a lot to be said for being able to pay one's bills. And so, having worked for one IT company, I eventually took a job with another.

And three years later, that ended, too.

So, here we are.

I really do like my life these days, except for the issues with income. I'd like to continue this life, to get up and put on coffee and fire up the computer and write for a few hours and maybe have meetings now and again with interesting people about things related to my writing or some other fun, collaborative project. And many people very kindly tell me that I'm a very good writer, thereby reinforcing the notion that I could have a writer's life.

There's just one thing missing at the moment: an idea.

Taking freelance assignments isn't my dream. I take them, and my editors seem happy with the results, and sometimes I get a really good gig, like interviewing Melissa Etheridge last month.

But if the process of elimination is valuable, and it is, I know that I don't want a career as a freelance writer in the traditional sense of that word. Yes, I can take on assignments about a wide variety of topics and do research and find folks to interview and write up 1,000 words, but is that my heart's desire? No.

Somewhere in me is a book. Or a screenplay. Or some longer-form project that I'll write from the inside.

Sort of like this blog. I've been blathering on in this space for nearly five years.

Others have suggested that the key is contained in these posts. Somewhere, in all this rambling, is the germ of an idea.

So far, I haven't found it. But I have years worth of material to review.

In the meantime, I would like a large bag of money to fall from the sky, please, and land on my front stoop.

Or, perhaps slightly more realistically, I would like to find a job that pays enough to cover my expenses.

I can feel the possibilities swirling. In addition to the Melissa story and interview, earlier this week I applied to be part of series that's in development that will highlight amateur bakers around the country. I recently fell in love with the next song I want to record. I'm making changes to my home.

Ideas and creativity are returning to me, nicely aligned with the arrival of spring. And I am following the paths that appear before me. I'm anxious to see where they lead.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to recall you took some kind of an aptitude test (not the MBTI; something else) not that long ago. What did it tell you?

10:17 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Right, the aptitude testing from the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation.

My aptitude profile suggests that I should be, among other things, an architect or an engineer (of any stripe: mechanical, chemical, electrical, etc.).

Um, no thank you.

It was a fascinating day, though. I highly recommend JOCRF.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you should take the MBTI.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Oh, I have, several times.

I'm an INFJ.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmn. Based on your blog personality, I would have thought you were an ESFJ.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

It's much easier to be extroverted in print.

I'm odd (well, I'm odd in many ways, but in this area specifically ...) in that I forge very strong and immediate relationships with people, but I'm not comfortable walking into a party, let's say, where I don't know anyone. I do very well in one-on-one situations, but I'm not so comfortable in groups.

And I suck at selling myself. It feels too braggy. Which is stupid, I know. If I'm not going to promote myself, who do I expect to do it for me?

4:16 PM  
Blogger Steve Olenski... said...

Hey Beth, Take it from someone who's had their own epiphany... and mine too was re: writing/creating, you just go with it, which I know you are. It's so vital to have someone who is your #1 cheerleader, supporter, fan... I am blessed to have all that in my wife. After essentially every one told me I couldn't... she told me I could. And I haven't stopped since. You are a very talented, passionate writer and person. There is without question a plethora of stories rattling around your head all waiting their to come out. And they will... trust me, they will. By all means, if you ever need any advice, someone to bounce an idea off, etc please dont hesitate to ask... All the best, Steve O

4:40 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

You're very kind, Steve. Thank you.

I'm very fortunate to have so many people saying so many kind things these days. You can't all be wrong, right? : o )

I am confident that things will all work out well, that one day, I'll look back on this period of my life and think, "See? It was only temporary."

Sometimes it just takes a little extra effort to have that future vision, when you're so mired in the here and now.

But I'm getting pretty good at that.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, sports journalist here. I wanted to be a journalist -- specifically a foreign correspondent. I also wanted to cover a war, after growing up watching the Vietnam War unfold on my TV. But I knew I wanted to work for a newspaper. I wanted to write and support myself. I did the newspaper stuff -- never made it as a foreign correspondent though I did write about exotic travel and reviewed books (my other love). The sports journalism came about at a time when I desperately needed a change. It was a big risk and a new challenge, but I leaped anyway. After eight years as a reporter and editor in news, I switched to sports, and the rest is history. I do plead guilty to always, always knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life in general terms (I announced to my parents in 7th grade that I was going to be a journalist and in high school I applied to Northwestern's journalism school and said if I didn't get in, I wasn't going to college. I got in). I was lucky enough to be offered lots of options once I established my career, and I daresay that within a career that has spanned nearly 30 years I've done easily more than a dozen jobs -- news, sports, reporting, editing, print, online, TV. I've managed projects and managed people. I've worked in breaking news and not-so breaking news (in news and sports). I've covered elections and disasters and the World Series and the Super Bowl. I've never been bored or not challenged and I've accomplished just about everything I've set out to do. I knew what I wanted, I went after it, then adjusted along the way. My single-minded pursuit of my life's work worked out very well for me. I also know that I'm a rare bird when it comes to knowing exactly what I wanted to do. I never even changed my college major nor did I change my mind about what to study in graduate school. I was lucky to find a career that I loved and then was able to maneuver within it to find new challenges. For me, it's all about picking something and sticking with it, then making adjustments along the way.

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious..2 years later did you ever have the epiphany or direction you were looking for ?

11:28 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I have, actually. Your comment is very timely. And has spurred me to write a blog post about just this topic. Look for it in the next 24 hours. Thanks for asking!

11:32 AM  

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