I think a lot of people take stock of their lives around this time of year. Maybe you're in the middle of trying to figure out what you really want or what you want to do with the rest of your life. Maybe you're debating whether or not to go back to school. But what degree? And at what cost?
When I was growing up, there were two competing messages:
But they're both bull shit.
Do what you love? Yeah, have fun figuring out how you're going to pay $200k in student loans with a fine arts degree. I almost did that. I got into NYU and for about a week, I was so sure I was going to go to film school. I would have loved doing that - but it just wasn't a good idea, and I'm so glad I didn't. Can you imagine? $200K to probably never make a movie? I can never make a movie for free.
Do what makes money? I have a lot of friends and some family that have done this, and they seem to be uniformly miserable. How do I know this? They freely admit it. They make tons of money, but they never to get to use it. Plus, they seem stuck. Like they know what they're doing sucks, but they can't bear the idea of making less money, so they have to keep going. No thank you.
So if those two options are no good, how the heck do you figure out what do with yourself?
I'm only 30 years old, but if I had any advice to give it would be to do what you're good at.
What's the one thing you can do better than anyone else? Don't get judgemental, just be honest. What do people complement you for? What have they offered to pay you to do?
For me, it was editing. Starting in the 5th grade, my teachers would have me help other students with their writing. Friends asked me to edit their college essays. In graduate school, editing was practically my second job.
But it took me 30 years before I figured out that I should probably take this talent a step further and turn it into a career. And once I did, everything kind of worked out. I made just as much money freelance editing this year as I had at my old full-time job, and I was able to do that because I'm good at it (although please excuse any typos in this post, I'm writing quickly).
It wasn't what I wanted to be good at. I wanted to be a cartoonist, but I think I correctly concluded that my drawing skills weren't ever going to be strong enough. Then I wanted to be a scientist, but I was never that good at asking the right questions, and I think that's because I was never curious enough. I liked using my brain analytically, but I didn't read about science in free time. It didn't interest me as much as it should have if I wanted to make a life-long career of it. But I did it because it was challenging , it helped other people, the money wasn't terrible (it was never that great, though), and it was certainly socially acceptable. To be honest, that last reason was a big factor in my decision to get a Ph.D.
But I wasn't that great at science. I mean I was ok. I got results, I published, but it was always a struggle.
Editing doesn't feel like a struggle. It's hard, but it feels natural. That should have been my hint that editing was a good career track for me. But nobody taught me to think that way.
I wish somebody had. Then I would have spent less time trying to force myself into a role and a career that was never going to be a great long-term fit. I wasn't thinking about what career I would be really good at. I was worried about what other people thought of me and the sort job I should have to make them proud, comfortable, even envious.
Fuck all of that. Who cares what other people think. It's your life. Do the thing you're good at, work hard, and success will follow. I really believe this.
It sucks if what you're good at isn't the thing you love, but at least it will provide support so you can do the thing you love in your free time. Also, do you really want to turn your favorite activity into work? That would kind of suck.
Anyway, just my two cents, as always. Do what you're good at.