Did I Choose The Wrong Career Path? Insight From A Multi-Passionate Creative
"What if I chose the wrong path?" I burst out breathlessly. My mom and I were at it again, having another one of our excitedly animated conversations. Amy Grant softly crooned I'll Be Home For Christmas over the car stereo as we grew evermore engrossed in our discussion. The holiday season was upon us, and we were closing in on the final stretch of our 12-hour drive from Nashville to Des Moines. Being the eternally curious creature I am, this conversation captured my fascination, as do most exchanges that spiral to the figurative speculation of what if's. "I mean, let's say I'd chosen to be a novelist," I continued, "And say I could've had the success of a Dan Brown. Or Nicholas Sparks. Or J.K.-fricken-Rowling. Would you say I chose the wrong path?" I searched my mom's face, her silhouette dimly illuminated by the glow of our dashboard and flicker of oncoming headlights. In true mom fashion, she replied with the most obvious but enlightening answer:
"You still could."
I sat there, stunned. She was right. There was no one telling me I couldn't write a novel. "You could write one and finish it in six months. Or ten years." It wasn't the first time this had occurred to me. I want to write a novel someday. At least that's what I've always said. But it's always been that: someday.
What occurred to me in that moment was not that I could write a novel, but that I had been looking for permission.
As children, we get asked what we want to be when we grow up. But I never found the idea of being just one thing very appealing. I had a new dream every minute. One day I wanted to be a detective, the next an Alaskan musher, and I kid you not—there was a period of time where I thought it would be the coolest thing ever to work as a dental hygienist—poking around peoples' mouths, cleaning their teeth. Why do just one thing when you can do many? I thought innocently to myself. One job for the REST OF MY LIFE not only sounded painfully boring, but terrifying—like being stuck in the Twilight Zone.
There are a million things I still want to try, and I don't believe that deep-seeded desire ever leaves us. But somewhere in the process of growing up, we get this idea in our heads that we must choose a lane and stick with it. "PURSUE YOUR PASSION" and "FIND YOUR CALLING" begin to feel like an ominous warning, like getting told your biological clock is 'ticking'. What you do starts to feel synonymous with who you are. And we all want to be awesome, right? So we choose a lane and pursue it with drive, vigor and dedication. Because we don't want to be just a doctor, we want to be the BEST doctor. We don't want to be just a painter, we want to be DA VINCI. We are told to put our blood, sweat and tears into this one single profession we've chosen, because talent can only get you so far—and someone equally as talented as you is working 100x harder, so you better put in those hours and hustle!
Hard work is not an entirely bad message. Some days we need a good kick in the butt. Some days those are exactly the words we need to hear. But when that message is screaming the loudest, consuming our mind, thoughts and self-worth, it's not healthy—it's plain out of hand. It leaves us with zero time to explore our other interests. We live and breathe work, becoming slaves to our "passion", clocking past the typical nine-to-five to go the extra mile. When we do give ourselves a break, we have about enough energy to sprawl out on the bed with Netflix.
Therein lied my predicament: I didn't feel I had the time.
I was whipped. Music was "The One" for me. I had fallen fast and hard, nurturing it like some crazy obsessed girlfriend, while my other passions slowly faded like forgotten friends. But eventually the high wears off, and when it does, you begin to notice what you've been neglecting. In my case, print writing. And drawing. And ice skating. And learning French. And, and, and...
To reacquaint myself with those interests, I would need to cut into my absurd workaholic schedule—an absolutely terrifying notion for me. When you're a culturally undecorated musician who gets asked how long you're going to give "this whole music thing" a shot, why you haven't tried out for [insert reality TV singing show], and are repeatedly advised to go back to college, the pressure to be "successful" can feel overwhelming. To even remotely stray from "the path" could be viewed as a costly mistake or (gasp!) a sign that you are not 100% dedicated. It could mean you chose wrong—that this was never truly your calling. Shifting your attention could signify that you're not in this for the long haul. After all, Beyoncé wouldn't do that, would she?
Maybe. Maybe not. To be honest, it doesn't really matter. Because I'm not Beyoncé—I'm Taylor. What would I do? What kind of person do I want to be? I knew one thing for certain: I did not want to be defined by my successes (or lack thereof). Which meant I would have to allow myself to do more—be more—than just a musician. What I had failed to realize was, in exploring my other interests, I could actually enhance my music and ability to create, not hinder it. I could be more colorful, more free and have more experiences to draw from.
So here's my resolution for 2016 (and beyond): do more. Dance more. Cook more. And stop feeling so guilty about it! Because we were not placed on this Earth to be zombies. We are not called to do just one thing.
And who knows, I may even have a novel out by this time next year! Or maybe I won't, and that's okay too. I'm going to stop worrying so much about success and instead focus more on following my heart—this crazy, wild heart of mine. Even if it's pulling me in a million different directions.
So...back to my original question: did I choose the wrong path?
The answer is irrelevant.
There is no 'right' or 'wrong' path.
There is only now.