On the eve of starting a new job in Chicago, I want to share an essay I wrote during the job search process. It’s been lightly edited from the original for relevance and was borne out of doubts I had expressed in my search. The hiring manager at a job I ultimately didn’t accept for fit reasons challenged me to write up an essay about what I wanted.
This was the prompt from the manager: Do me a favor and take some time to write me a lengthy response ( if necessary) to this question: what do you want? I don’t mean the job, I mean what’s your purpose, what do you live for, what turns your crank and gets you out of bed every day? There are not a lot of people who cannot answer this question so don’t be intimidated by it.
Below is my answer to the question, written May 9, 2019:
Last weekend, I read contemporary romance author Sally Thorne’s second novel. Her debut, The Hating Game, was a runaway hit, and I pre-ordered this sophomore outing back in January. But after the book was delivered, it sat on my coffee table for a few months, waiting for me to crack the spine. Between long work days, attempts at working on my novel in the evening hours, time spent at Orangetheory Fitness trying to whip myself back into shape, and the additional time spent on my job search after deciding I wanted to completely shake up my life and come home to Chicago, reading for pleasure had fallen pretty low on my priority list.
After a week of interviews, which included a rainy drive into the city and a steep climb up a dizzying and very packed parking garage, I was feeling overwhelmed by the “what ifs?” and the “what am I doings?” And the ultimate question loomed (and still looms): Will whatever choice I make be the right decision? With all of this on my mind, I turned to Thorne’s 99 Percent Mine and took a break from everything to lose myself in a story.
Author of Wired for Story, Lisa Cron, (who I’ve had the good fortune to meet in person) talks about story through the lens of neuroscience. She writes, “Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.” She goes on to break down how writers can use this knowledge of the brain’s craving for story to write a novel that will keep your readers “hooked from the very first sentence.” The books that sell aren’t about a bunch of things that happen. They’re about change and challenges and real transformation. When I encounter these books, I devour them in long sittings and turn over the last page feeling changed in one way or another. A good story teaches empathy. It can dissolve stress and alleviate loneliness. It teaches us about the world and what it means to be human.
Reaching the end of Thorne’s story only reaffirmed what I want to do with my life. I want to tell stories. I want to make people feel the way I do at the end of a good book — less alone, more powerful, and deliciously full and happy (bear in mind that I’m mainly reading and writing romance at this point). In an “About the Author” section at the end of the book, Thorne expressed the difficulty she encountered writing her second book, and the following really stood out to me: “I learned a very hard lesson that I’m sharing with you now. That important, impossible thing that you have nearly given up on ninety nine times? Finish it. Whether it’s a success or a failure, no one can take your The End prize away from you. Finishing is the most important thing there is. It’s proof of how hard you tried.”
So, there it is — I have my answer. I want to tell stories and I want that proof that says I tried. But knowing what I want and living what I want have always been two very different things, just as wants and needs are very different things. As I prepare to make my next move I have to be realistic about what I need in order to get closer to what I want.
From time to time, I’ve wondered if leaving the “9 to 5” world behind for an hourly service industry gig would be enough to pay the bills and give me time to write. I could theoretically be less invested (punch in, do the work, punch out, repeat), but after getting a taste of that world through bartending, I’ve concluded that it isn’t for me. I need new challenges (even when they’re scary and uncomfortable) that will help me grow. I need a full-time role where I can make meaningful contributions and find financial stability. As it stands right now, I keep taking on extra work outside of my full-time job to feel financially secure, which is eating into my writing time and breeding an undercurrent of frustration. It often feels like I’m treading water — staying afloat, but getting nowhere.
Another thing I need is to be closer to my family. I have friends up here in Wisconsin, I’m involved in writing groups, and I spend a good four to five hours a week at Orangetheory Fitness (I’m addicted, which is no small feat for me when it comes to exercise). But even with all those things in my life, I’m missing something. My heart isn’t quite set on making a permanent home up here — I’m hopeful I can find it or build it back in Chicago.
Earlier this week, I was letting the unknown get the better of me. The unknown is scary, but it can also lead to great opportunities. Sometimes I can get too locked in to how I think things “should” look. But that’s limiting, and it’s certainly won’t help me get any closer to fulfilling the needs that will get me closer to my wants. That’s why I started this job search in the first place. And when I tell my own story, I want to be able to show the proof that I tried.
Now, a full month later, it’s go time. I’m hopeful and terrified all at once, and I’m probably going to have to read this essay at least once a month for the rest of my life to keep myself on track.
But here’s to trying.