Warning, I am about to ramble. So, if you want a coherent, writing-related post, check this one by Chuck Wendig out: An Email About Writing, And My Response
A quick quote:
“If this is something you really want to do, do it.
Embrace the fear.
So, back to the topic at hand. Feeding your body or feeding your soul.
I think most people most of the time make the choice to feed their body first. This makes sense. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll mention it again. Every person who wants to devote themselves to a writing life should read Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. What the main character suffers in order to be an artist is painful.
That book shows what happens when you don’t meet those basic needs.
But, in our modern world, I think we often think we need far more to feed ourselves than we really do. And sometimes we back ourselves into a corner with debt.
Personally, I have student loan balances that could’ve paid for a nice house in parts of this country. (And I used to have student loan balances that could’ve paid for a nice house in most parts of this country.)
If I were pursuing a business career or had stayed on the corporate path that I was on four years ago, acquiring that debt would’ve made sense. The degree those loans purchased opens many, many doors.
But what if being a corporate type is not my goal? What if I want a simple life where my basic needs are met and I have the freedom and space to enjoy the world around me?
Then, that same degree and the debt I incurred to get it, becomes a chain preventing me from achieving my goals.
Let me back up and give a good example of what I’m trying to discuss here.
My brother played baseball from the age of six all the way through college. He was good enough to get some scholarship money at the college level, but not Division 1 or anything that might lead to a pro career.
But he loved baseball. LOVED it. And he wanted to continue with it.
Now, he could’ve probably started out with an assistant coaching job at his college when he graduated. He would’ve earned maybe $10,000 a year and lived in on-campus housing. It would’ve barely fed his body, but most definitely fed his soul.
Instead, he chose to move back home and take a “real job” and get married to his college sweetheart. That was the “smart choice”, right? The practical one. The one everyone tells you to make.
“You’re getting married, you have to provide for your family.”
He didn’t give up on baseball. He started coaching at the high school level and did VERY well at it. But high school coaching pays shit. So it’s basically a full-time job on top of his full-time job.
I understand the choices he made and why he made them. But I wonder sometimes if he shouldn’t have just sucked it up those first few years and tried to feed his soul by taking an assistant job at the college level. By now, given his talent for coaching, knowledge of the game, and insane work ethic, I have no doubt he’d be a head coach at some college and earning enough to feed a family.
And if it hadn’t worked out, well, the job he has now would’ve still been there. And starting out, he didn’t know what he was missing. He and his wife could’ve easily lived in campus housing and not cared.
Ten years later, when they had two dogs and were used to living in a nice home, stepping off the path he was on and onto the college coaching one just wasn’t a viable option anymore.
I made the practical choice after college, too.
I majored in three subjects: anthropology, economics, and psychology. Why did I major in each one?
I chose psychology because I wanted to help people deal with their issues. Unfortunately, I ended up at a school where it was more about scientific studies than counseling, so the degree I ended up with didn’t do what I wanted it to do. But I could’ve applied for graduate programs and become a counselor, which I would’ve enjoyed.
I chose anthropology because I was fascinated by Mayan languages and culture. I spent hours drawing maps of language change for one of my classes and liked it. I could’ve applied for graduate programs in anthropology or linguistics (or anthropological linguistics) and devoted myself to exploring Mayan hieroglyphs or doing fieldwork in Guatemala recording dying languages.
I chose economics because I took a year off from school and decided I needed to be practical about my life choices.
Both the anthropology and psychology paths would’ve meant more financial hardship.
The economics degree meant a nice starting job in a professional environment. And that’s the path I took.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVED that first job. It was great for the first couple of years. And I’ve loved some of the jobs or projects I’ve had since then.
But at some point I found that the work I was doing wasn’t nourishing my soul. It was paying me really well and letting me buy nice toys. (Which for someone who once got told a McDonald’s ice cream cone was too expensive, meant a lot.)
But it did nothing for me. I woke up every day, threw on a suit, and spent ten hours sitting in an office environment doing shit that really didn’t seem to matter at the end of the day. I could spin it for myself and say I was fighting the good fight, but…nah.
So, I finally quit. It was a HUGE decision for me. I walked away from a very nice paycheck, paid a fortune to sell my home, moved into my brother’s basement, and went backpacking.
That was the start of the path I’ve been on the past four years.
I wasn’t able to completely walk away at the end of the day. My old employer called and I had some good reasons for continuing to work with them. (Namely, it let me apply for a work visa in the country I wanted to live in.)
But I was finally able to find that balance between feeding my body and feeding my soul.
I was earning enough to pay the bills and finding time to skydive, hike, or write.
The last year work slowed down. (That’s what happens when you don’t pursue new work opportunities. You have to keep hustling or it eventually fades away.)
But that was okay to me.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to feed myself next year, but I’ve always made it work before and figured I could make it work this time, too.
I had decided I was going to completely cut ties with my employer and throw myself at writing 100% for the next year. I was ready to do that.
And then I got a phone call on Tuesday. “We’ll lose this project if you don’t take it. We need you to move across the country and work on this for the next year. It requires you to be in an office Monday through Friday, wearing a suit.”
I didn’t want to do it. I don’t want to leave the pup alone every day. I don’t want to sit in an office every day. I don’t want to be surrounded by people who think that the more you earn the better your life is.
But it’s hard to say no when you know that you’ll be affecting other people’s livelihood, too. And it’s good money. It means the pup and I can be taken care of. Taking this project means I don’t have to worry about cashing out the 401(k) to pay the bills next year.
Intellectually, the decision is a slam-dunk. Take the project. Save as much as you can.
I called my old mentor and he said things like, “Imagine how much you can save if you’re on the project for two years. Or five.”
That’s the type of reasoning that keeps people where they don’t want to be for their entire life.
“Well, if I stick around until they pay bonuses then I’ll be able to put a down payment on that house.”
“And if I stick around until next year’s bonuses then we can afford that vacation to Italy.”
It never ends. There’s always a reason to choose the money. Always.
My gut says this project is a trap. That it’ll suck me right back into the life I was living four years ago.
My gut says to say no. But…
I said yes.
Because I’ve yet to learn the art of disappointing others in order to please myself.
(I kind of secretly hope it falls through. Even if that means living on baked potatoes and crock pot meals for a year.)
So, to anyone who stayed with me this far, let me give you some “do as I say not as I do” advice.
Continually question your choices.
Make sure that you’re taking care of your soul as much as your body.
Remember that you can have the most luxurious lifestyle and it will feel completely hollow if you aren’t doing something to feed your soul.
And don’t put off doing what you love today with the assumption that you can save enough to do it later, because that’s not really how life works. Around every corner there’s a bus just waiting to take you out. So live your life now.