Chasing Dreams: Guest Post by Rachel Neumeier

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Chasing Dreams is a feature about pursuing a career path that you’re passionate about and going after your dream job.

Rachel Neumeier is the author of several fantasy novels such as the Griffin Mage series, The City in the Lake, House of Shadows and The Floating Islands. In a previous Chasing Dreams guest post, she mentioned in a comment that what worked for her was to let her hobbies take over her life. I was immediately curious and of course, I asked her if she’d be willing to write a guest post for the blog. She graciously accepted so here we are with some lovely words from Rachel.

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Rachel Neumeier

Photo from Orbit Books

Chasing your dreams is probably better than standing still, all things being equal. Doing stuff to make your dreams come true seems decidedly more likely to get you somewhere than just sitting around waiting for the universe to drop ’em in your lap, all wrapped up with a nice bow.

But having said that, I’m not a hundred percent sure that it makes sense to chase all your dreams. At least not with equal dedication.

Modern American culture tells us that we can have it all – that any Real Woman can have a perfect relationship / fabulous kids / beautiful Martha Stewart home / amazing career. You know. Have it all. Which sort of implies that there must be something wrong with you if you can’t seem to get your life to be quite that perfect by the time you’re, say, thirty – American culture also suggesting pretty strenuously that the young are definitely more perfect than the middle-aged.

I’m pretty sure modern society isn’t doing us any favors by pretending all this is actually achievable. I’m not so sure it makes sense to even try to have it all. I wonder whether it might be more sensible to treat life a bit more like everything in it comes with both costs and benefits, and a bit less like it’s perfectible.

Now, I would hate to be stuck in a job I loathed. That’s why I backed away from getting a PhD: after doing a pilot study on female choice and male competition in fungus beetles, and a project on pollinator arrays of black mustard, and spending a summer looking at progression order in troops of black saki monkeys in Venezuela – anyway, after all that, I could be pretty damn sure that I truly hated doing research and that this wasn’t going to change. I mean, if you are deeply bored while studying monkeys in Venezuela, what kind of project is ever likely to work for you, right?

That’s why I switched from my PhD program to a Masters, so I could just get done and then take my life in a different direction. But that’s also when I quit worrying about finding a truly fulfilling job; all I wanted, after I finished writing my master’s thesis, was a job that would pay the bills and not be too insanely boring. And here I just want to mention that it might be worth keeping in mind that hardly anybody in all of human history has ever looked for the fulfillment of their soul from their job. That’s nice if you can swing it. But you can pour your heart and soul into plenty of other things besides your job. Your family, for example. Or, as in my case, your hobbies.

After I got my masters, I was an adjunct instructor at a community college for a few years, teaching biology and botany and horticulture. Later, I switched to working for a tutoring program, which I still do now. I help supervise the peer tutors, and I do various kinds of statistical analyses and reports, and, of course, I do a lot of tutoring – algebra, mostly, and chemistry and other sciences, and (yes) English composition. This pays better than adjuncting, and takes up less time, and I have total control over my schedule, which is a huge plus. I enjoy it, mostly, though I would be happy never again to be required to teach a college student how to add fractions. Don’t get me started, seriously.

But this is also the period in which I started to focus seriously on my hobbies. A stable part-time job that provides enough to live on? That is just perfect for letting your hobbies take center stage in your life. I started cooking in earnest, for fun as well as just because it’s so much less expensive to cook for yourself than to eat out all the time. (I think I have about seven Indian cookbooks now, and the last time I checked, I had nine kinds of rice and seven kinds of lentils in the pantry to go with them. Just for example.

And I garden. My parents (they live across the street) and I have, between us, a small vegetable garden, a small orchard, and a huge landscaped area. I’m especially proud of the magnolia walk, where we have, so far, a saucer magnolia, a Yulan magnolia, a stellata x loebneri hybrid, a M. sieboldii, a ‘Butterfly,’ and an ‘Ann.’

I also show and (attempt to) breed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, which, for a hobby, is rather too often a brutal, heart-destroying activity, but that’s a whole different story, I guess.

And, of course, I write. Not every day. I’ll take a break for months, sometimes (assuming I don’t have an urgent deadline). But after the first press of gardening tasks has simmered down in the spring, and the semester has ended, and provided as I’m not up every two hours for weeks on end trying to save the single puppy from a litter – he died at three and a half weeks, and I can’t even tell you how horrible that was – anyway, yes, sometimes I write.

I don’t want to babble on endlessly about this, but I will just say that the same week I got the news from my agent that Harper Collins and Random House were arguing over who got my first book, THE CITY IN THE LAKE? In the news that very same week, there was a story about a guy who won millions in a lottery, and I can tell you, I wouldn’t have traded places.

One last thing. You may have noticed the lack of an important romantic relationship in all the above. I am actually so far outside the American mainstream when it comes to relationships, I would not dare suggest to anyone how to prioritize that aspect of their lives. I won’t say that it’s impossible I might someday meet someone and totally change my mind. But, see, I realized more than a decade ago that whenever someone asks me something like, “Hey, would you like to… do something, go somewhere, act like a normally social person?” My answer is basically, “Well, not really.” It turns out that I am truly very solitary by nature. My twenties and thirties would have been significantly easier if I had already recognized solitude as a legitimate choice. Being a writer helps with that, too, since now I fit neatly into a category that society does recognize – the category of “writer, eccentric.”

So it’s not that I’ve got it all. The thing is, I’m happy with what I have, and okay with not having the things I don’t have.

I definitely do not “have it made” as a writer, by the way. I don’t think there is such a thing as “having it made” for a writer these days – unless you’re JK Rowling, and I’m not sure about her. But I like where I am, as a writer. I feel reasonably confident about the future. Like everyone else, I would like access to a time machine: I would like to know now how some things I plan to try are going to work out. More specifically, I want to know that they do work out, and that I am as satisfied with my life in ten years, and twenty, as I am now. But, right now, at this moment? I still wouldn’t trade with that guy who won the lottery. Even though there is almost literally nothing about my life today that I would have predicted when I was twenty-five.

Except the dogs. There were always going to be dogs.

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The Griffin MageThe City in the LakeHouse of ShadowsThe Floating Islands

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about what it’s like to let your hobbies take over your life, Rachel. I get excited whenever I see a Chasing Dreams guest post in my inbox because everyone handles their career path differently. It’s always interesting for me to hear how other readers and writers go about this. I do agree with what Rachel said: if you don’t love your job, you can find happiness and fulfillment in other aspects of your life. I may not have my dream job at the moment and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get lucky enough to find it but I do have friends, family, my blog and my books. I would like to think that there will always be books in my life.

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14 thoughts on “Chasing Dreams: Guest Post by Rachel Neumeier

  1. What a great post. Thank you for sharing your interests, Rachel. I just turned 30 a week or two ago and sometimes it irks me when people/society puts temporal pressures on others to have their lives “together” by a certain age–jobs, relationships, etc. I think all that really achieves is making people feel crappy about themselves and their choices. Your hobbies are so interesting! I am envious of your garden, even without seeing pictures, as I’ve never been able to enjoy gardening.

    By the by, you have some of the most wonderful covers for your books.

    • Flann, I agree. It sucks when society (or other people in your life) make you feel like you should have achieved certain things when you reach a particular age. You’re right, it does nothing but make people miserable. What I love about these Chasing Dreams guest posts is it gives me an idea of how other people handle those kinds of pressures. Like I said, it’s different for everyone and I like hearing these kinds of stories. 😀 Love Rachel’s guest post because I know how rare it is to find a job that’s fulfilling – so I feel like it’s a good thing to be reminded that we don’t necessarily have to look for something like that.

      • Totally. It is kind of (read: so) reassuring to me to read posts about other people who maybe took a little longer to figure one aspect of their life, or about people who tried a bunch of different things before they found their passion. Don’t worry too much about your work life, C, I know it will all work out eventually.

      • Don’t worry, I will keep these Chasing Dreams posts coming! It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who enjoys reading them. I like asking authors or fellow bloggers to do guest posts because our love of books ties us all together. And I want to explore the idea of working in that space. Thanks, Flann, I try not to worry about where I’m headed next but it’s always on my mind lately. I think it’s mostly because I moved to Singapore for a job (so that’s my main reason for being here) and the most obvious question is, what comes after this?

    • Thanks, Flannery, I think I really lucked out with some of those covers!

      I’m not sure I know too many people who really had their lives in order by thirty. And yet, their lives came together perfectly well later. I wonder how many people ever look back on their lives and say, Yep, I meant to do that.

  2. Thanks so much for this post, Rachel. It is reassuring to be reminded that things do and will work out. Waiting and not knowing can be hard though. I’ve come to realize this on my own but it’s so helpful to hear it again: women can’t really have it all, but that’s ok. I’m just grateful we can choose what we want to have. Life is a bunch of trade offs, isn’t it? All about achieving that elusive balance. 🙂

    • Yeah, not knowing what the future has in store for you can be tough, especially when you feel like you’re still trying to figure things out. It really is comforting to now that things eventually work out for most people. I agree that life is all about trade offs and it’s a bit sad that we can’t have it all. I guess it’s better to focus on the positive side – like you said, we should still be grateful that we can choose our priorities.

  3. Thanks for sharing a picture of your life, Rachel! Yay for “eccentric!” I am trying to manage my expectations for my children to the point where “contented” is my goal for their lives….which is a rather fraught process what with all the normative expectations of what a “successful” life involves.

    And I try to manage my expectations of my own garden. I”m a tad envious of your magnolias….on my list of things to buy when the house has sucked all the money out of us it can is my very own star magnolia, because I think they are the prettiest…

    • “Contented” is a good status to strive for, I think that’s better that “successful” because there are so many ways that you can define success. I feel like it’s more complicated to be successful rather than content.

      LOL I’m clueless when it comes to gardeing but I hope you manage to get your own star magnolia in the near future.

    • Yes, it’s important (and hard) to step back from what everyone else thinks defines a normal successful life, in order to make a life that actually suits you. But it’s reassuring that things have seemed to work out well for most people I know!

      I do have a star magnolia, too, in front of my house — you’re right, they’re lovely. I hope you can budget one in for next spring!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post! I think it’s true that there are a lot of expectations that are certainly built up in society, particularly when it comes to women and the things that they’re expected to have/do/see/be by a certain time in their lives. It’s really eye-opening and great to see how you were able to redefine success and fulfillment in your life. I feel very inspired by your post to continue to do the same, no matter what anyone else says!

    • Alexa, I felt inspired and reassured by Rachel’s guest post as well. It sucks that society and our culture has so many expectations of us, which make us feel inadequate when we don’t meet them.

  5. Thank you for inviting Rachel to share her experiences here, Chachic! I could really feel her contentment through her words — a woman who has found her place and is happy where she is.

    • Chris, I’m glad Rachel agreed to do this guest post. I think it’s wonderful that she’s shared her experiences with us and that we can see that she’s happy with where she is in her life. Would love to be content like that!

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