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.
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.
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.