Sunday, April 15, 2007

MFA or CPA?

The occupation of "author" is perhaps not the most practical career choice. It probably goes along with "musician" or "painter" in terms of stability. But I emphasize career choice; you choose what you do for a living. My knack for writing could have been applied to numerous jobs, practical jobs, ones with vacation time and a 401k. But I chose freelancing, I chose novel writing, despite the lack of stability. It's what I love and I know I cannot be happy doing anything else.

Tess Gerritsen had an interesting blog post about the lack of Asian-American authors, saying that as a race, there is much emphasis on the sciences and families encourage their children to pursue careers in that field. Gerritsen became a doctor before pursuing her career as a novelist, and she wonders how many Asian-American Pulitzer Prize or Academy Award winners are out there working in the sciences.

I completely understand where Gerritsen is coming from, but I don't think it is simply an issue of racial differences. Although culture and upbringing play huge roles in shaping a child's future, I think many, if not most, Americans are working somewhere other than their dream job. How many people have told you, "I've always wished I was a rock star/movie star/president/etc?" Far more, than people who have told you they love what they do and wouldn't want to do anything else.

But it's more than just doing what makes you happy, it's also doing what your good at. I love to sing, but I save it for the shower because I sound horrible. Scratch rock star off the dream job list. My mother always wanted to be a forensic scientist, but flunked high school chemistry because she accidently burnt all the textbooks with acid. Talent+Passion=dream job. Can't have one without the other.

So that leaves us with the people who have a talent for something, but don't have a passion for it. My girlfriend is a brilliant accountant, but it's hard for me to believe that she'd rather audit than do anything else. Why does she do it? Because, as she says, "Having a CPA is like money in the bank. I'll always have a job." She does it for the stability (and the nice paycheck). My father, when he was in high school, told his mother that he wanted to be a plumber. She gasped and pleaded for him to set his goals higher, but he said that being a plumber was a stable occupation, that he would never be without work. (Side note: he is now an accountant).

Writing was never seen as a stable occupation, and now, with people reading less and less, it seems even more impractical. But to me, going to school for creative writing wasn't as dumb a decision as practical people may think. Writing is a skill, a trade, and I went to school for it. In nearly every career, writing is a necessary skill, one that many professionals, sadly, do not have. To me, I can always get a job writing and my degree is far more "practical" than others.

I've always had a "follow your bliss" attitude, but I can see where it's difficult for others to have the same. Stability is important, but to me, it's more important to do something you love. Fact of the matter is, whatever you love to do and whatever you're good at, there's someone out there who will pay you to do it. My girlfriend has a passion for tea and a knack for business and I always tell her to open up her own tea shop. My mother loves helping people and is great at solving problems and listening, so she became a therapist. I love to tell stories so I became a writer, and can be one of those people who say, "I love what I do and wouldn't want to do anything else.

2 comments:

David J. Montgomery said...

No flies on me -- I married a CPA.

It's the best of both worlds! :)

Quinn said...

I sometimes wonder if passion and talent are really different things; every now and then you get someone like Ed Wood or William Topaz MacGonagall, who seemed to love their craft even when they were really terrible at it, but for the most part I feel like the real hacks are the people who are doing it for the wrong reason (usually money. Not that writing is often a gold mine, but take a look at Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Blech).

My theory is that talent is little more than a strong desire to become good at something. Yes, Mozart was writing symphonies at four, but he was clearly some kind of freak mutation. Most artists/craftspeople start out at the same level as everyone else; it's simply their passion that enables them to spend way more time working on whatever their craft is than everyone else, and that's how they get good at it.