This morning I read an article entitled “You’re Not Meant To Do What You Love. You’re Meant to Do What You’re Good At.” Brianna Wiest’s essay offers some sound advice on choosing a career based on skill. However, it does not address the matter that there are interests worth pursuing regardless of the possibility of economic gain. In this age, we have the unprecedented privilege of self-publication. We need not bow to publishers or other tastemakers to have our voices heard. I am not so worried that I could exhaust my ideas in a day, a week or a month. I write simply because I’ve had the time and clarity to do so, not because I have an illusion that I could support myself by writing. I feel so fortunate to live in a time and place where it is possible to publish my ideas and experiences so easily, and I will not be discouraged because this interest of mine is not financially productive.
My pursuit of writing is not entirely different from devotion to any other hobby. Just because a hobby has the potential for artistic value does not mean that its devotees necessarily have delusions of grandeur. Think of a teacher who breeds new varieties of flowers in his spare time. Are his students and family cheated somehow by the time he spends in his garden? Would anyone imagine that he would abandon his career if he happened to breed a dynamite petunia? In our culture, artistic hobbies are not so readily supported. They are often seen at best as dividing loyalty and at worst delusional.
Now that I am well into my 40’s, I have long resolved the conflict between career and identity. Career is not so much about who you are as it is about selling your labor and developing the skills that command value in the labor market. I don’t feel anguish that I do not have a creative job. I feel lucky that I have a job that pays my bills and leaves me with enough time to enjoy my family and do a bit of writing and photography.
I will close this entry with a quote by Martha Graham from Agnes De Mille’s 1991 book The Life and Work of Martha Graham that has uplifted me repeatedly through the years:
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.