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.

Chasing Dreams: Pursuing Your Passion, It Ain’t Easy by Heidi

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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.

One of the perks of being a book blogger is you get to meet fellow book lovers that you wouldn’t have ever been friends with if you never had a blog. I will always be thankful for how my blog has introduced me to so many wonderful friends. Heidi of Bunbury in the Stacks is one of those friends. We’ve gotten to know each other through blog posts, email exchanges, tweets and even a readalong. Heidi’s pretty smart and when I found out that she could relate to my Chasing Dreams feature, I knew she’d have clever things to say about the topic.

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Bunbury in the Stacks

You know those posts you see about how hard someone worked to get where they are, but it was all worth it because they made it? This isn’t one of those posts. This is one of those posts written by a woman who strategically avoids Facebook, largely because seeing all of her old friends land their dream jobs, find the perfect home, and happily find marriage and children a part of their lives makes her feel a terrible mixture of jealousy and self-defeat when she wants to be genuinely happy. The reality is, it’s much easier to be happy for others reaching their dreams if you’ve reached yours yourself.

A decade (or a little more) back when I was in high school I was certain I’d go to college, meet my true love, get married, and of course find a job I was passionate about and completely fulfilled me, one I would work at for 30+ years before retiring. I thought that’s how life worked. Now, a lot of you out there are shaking your heads at young, naive little Heidi, but the reality is, that’s how it worked for my parents (I thought). That’s how it worked for my older sister who was very much a role model for me (I thought). Heck, when you’re from a town as small as mine, it really seemed like that’s how it worked for everyone. Truth of the matter is – that’s not how life works, for me, or maybe anyone. The world isn’t as simple as we thought when we were 17.

Heidi

Heidi’s photo from her About Me page

There have been a number of “ah ha!” moments in my life where I suddenly had it all figured out. Followed by a number of subsequent moments when I collapsed in a heap of hopeless disappointment.

When I went to college, I was so sick of having everyone say “oh, you’ll be majoring in English”, that I stubbornly chose not to major in this area that I loved. I also stubbornly refused to consider switching schools when I was unhappy with where I was, or ever ask for the help I desperately needed. So I instead floundered about for several years before realizing (as a senior) that I wanted to work in the book world. Ah ha! Of course, it was too late to change my major – this was a private school, I literally couldn’t afford to extend my education.

After college, I moved back home to Wyoming, and eventually found a job working for a local museum and cultural center writing grants and publicity, and helping to coordinate events. I loved my work. I felt that I was part of a driving force behind an educational, recreational, and community-oriented organization; I was so proud of what I did. I knew that my interests definitely bent toward engaging others, and being highly active in every single program and project we pursued for the enrichment of the community. Ah ha! Of course, I didn’t factor in a serious long-term romantic relationship.

I ended up leaving this job and my beloved Wyoming to move to New York with my serious boyfriend. As happy as I was, the value of my relationship overrode a job where there was really no room for upward mobility. I thought moving to New York would be the perfect opportunity to marry my two previous ah ha moments by pursuing librarianship. Ah ha! Of course, I didn’t anticipate that the area I was moving to wouldn’t hire so much as a page (heck, won’t even take volunteers) without going through the lengthy and difficult Civil Service process.

It would take a certain amount of time as a resident before I could pursue the Civil Service route (then testing/waiting for results/waiting to be placed, etc.), and knowing that I wanted to pursue librarianship regardless, I decided to work toward obtaining my MLIS while finding a paraprofessional position to obtain experience. Ah ha! But then… I never found a paraprofessional position while I was in school, and now that I’ve graduated I’m in that awkward limbo of being both overqualified (employers don’t want to hire applicants with professional degrees for paraprofessional positions because it is seen as a stepping stone and they will likely have to replace that position in a few months) and under-qualified (I don’t have the active library experience of other MLIS applicants. Stuck.

Maybe this entire post seems as if I’m throwing one big pity party. In a way I am. I struggle with the idea that I may never find a job I’m passionate about every day. I have so much drive that just needs to be tapped. I know that I’m good at what I do. I’ve excelled at every job I’ve ever had, and I know when someone eventually gives me that chance they won’t regret it. But waking up every day and remaining hopeful and persistent in your pursuit of dreams–that’s tough work. I certainly don’t succeed at it every day, but I also know I’m not alone.

At the moment, I work two part-time jobs that are adjacent to things I love – knitting and books. Neither is a career, but both are helping me to broaden my mind-set and realize that there are more opportunities out there for me than I’d initially anticipated. I’m trying to make what experience I have work to get me to where I want to be. There are other venues for education, engagement, and creativity that I would love to be a part of – fields I could be passionate about that I never anticipated having access to. Sure, I lost all of my long-term social connections when I moved to New York, but I also entered an environment that holds so many more opportunities than I ever could have imagined back home.

The reality is, chasing dreams sucks. It’s brutally hard, full of emotional pitfalls and double-edged swords. Sometimes you’re going to have to perform triage on your life and determine what’s the highest priority. For me, that was my relationship. And while pursuing that has left me in a veritable drought career-wise, I don’t regret that decision for one minute. Is my life fulfilled by only that relationship? Unfortunately, no. I still have my heart set on a career as well. What I always assumed would be the easy part has been the most difficult aspect of my life so far. But I hope that someday I’ll be that person who has it all, the one who makes others scowl on Facebook. Until then, I’ll just keep plugging along for that next ah ha moment.

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Thank you, Heidi, for that insightful guest post. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will be able to relate to what you said. When I was younger, I thought I’d have figured things out by now. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. I do agree that chasing dreams and pursuing your passion is tough (if it were easy then we’d have all done it by now) but I remain hopeful for the future – for myself, for Heidi and for everyone else who is in the same boat.

Chasing Dreams: The Passion of Writing by Francisco Stork

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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.

To those who missed the introduction post for this new blog feature called Chasing Dreams, click here to check it out. For the first ever guest post for Chasing Dreams, I asked my good friend Francisco Stork to write about his own experience. I’ve gotten to know Francisco through email exchanges and during one of our conversations, we talked about how he writes on the side and has a day job as a lawyer. I was immediately curious about this set-up and I asked him what’s it like for him. For his guest post, I sent him this question:

How did you discover that writing was your passion and how did you actively pursue that career path?

Without further ado, please welcome Francisco Stork!

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Francisco Stork

Francisco’s photo from his website

I’ve been thinking about your question for a while now. I think the word “passion” threw me off. Is writing my passion? These days we tend to lift the word “passion” from the context of romantic love where it often means a kind of absorbing, exploding obsession, and apply it to other aspects of life. I’ve heard the word used with respect to golf, the stock market and rock climbing. But writing doesn’t quite feel like this kind of passion to me. There is another meaning to the word “passion” that is not much in use these days: suffering. Writing often resembles that kind of passion.

More than a passion, I like to think of my writing as a vocation – something that I am called to do. Whether you believe in a “caller” who is doing the calling or not, a vocation is, as one author said, the place where the gladness in your heart meets the world’s great need. Vocation happens when you discover your talent, something you are good at, and you find a way to make the world a little better place through the use of the talent.

I’m not exactly sure when I got the idea that I wanted to be a writer. Maybe it was when I was eight years old after I finished reading my first book and said I was going to write one too and my father gave me a typewriter. But there’s a difference between wanting to be a writer and wanting to write. I didn’t want to write until I was fifteen years old and I started keeping a daily journal. It was around that time that I first suffered an episode of depression and writing was the one thing that helped. I put everything in these journals: poems, thoughts, stories, rants of love and despair. I didn’t think too much about what or how I was writing. I simply wrote and the writing became a habit, the training ground that allowed me to write and publish a novel thirty or so years later.

I went to college and then to graduate school hoping to be a writer. But graduate school wanted scholars who wrote about an obscure area of literature that no one knew anything about, and that was not the kind of writing I wanted to do. So I went to law school thinking that I could practice law and write on the side. But the legal jobs I worked in were so demanding and time-consuming there was no time to write or even read books that were not legal books.

The Way of the JaguarI was about forty-five years old when I discovered that ignoring the call to be who you are meant to be will eventually lead to very devastating and painful personal results. If you don’t exercise a talent given to you, the energy behind that talent will explode in addictions or depression or in physical illness or in countless other painful ways. So, I took it upon myself to turn my daily habit of journal writing into the writing of a novel. I woke up at 4:00 A.M. and wrote for two hours before going to my legal job. After a year or so I had a draft that I sent out and after five years later after many rejections and many revisions later I found someone willing to publish it.

I am sixty now and my sixth novel will be published next year. I’ve written all my novels while working as a lawyer for a state agency that builds homes for low-income persons. I was fortunate enough to find a legal job that is less demanding and less stressful than those early jobs I took right out of law school. But it is still hard to find enough mental and emotional energy to do both the legal work and the creative work. I find a way to do it by realizing that it is a slow process that requires patience and persistence and lots of kindness to myself. I write because I’m somewhat good at it and the world needs us to do the things we’re good at.

But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that writing does not share any of the enthusiasm and fun that is associated with passion. There’s a joy that I find in writing that is deep and meaningful, a joy that, strange as this may sound, doesn’t always feel good, but is always worth having. If you ever find yourself doing the right thing, no matter how hard it is, you’ll know the joy I’m talking about.

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“The place where the gladness in your heart meets the world’s great need” is such a nice lovely way of describing vocation. Thank you, Francisco, for that beautiful post. It is truly inspiring how you managed to find your vocation. I would love to discover mine as well because it would be good to find fulfillment in doing something that I feel like the world needs me to do.

In Love With Reading

Yesterday, I witnessed a good friend of mine take his first set of vows to become a Jesuit priest. He still has a long way and several more years to go but whenever I remember my friend and his chosen vocation, I’m driven to think Deep and Profound thoughts. I asked before why he was choosing to become a priest because I don’t think he even considered the idea until our last year in college. And you know what he said? It was because he felt God calling him. So off he went, moving away from his comfort zone and chucking all his other plans, and I’ve always envied his certainty that he’s doing the right thing. He’s set for life; his decision to become a priest will guide everything else that he does. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, it’s just that he already found the path that he was meant to take and from what I’ve seen, he’s loving the whole experience.

In comparison, I feel like I’m headed nowhere, like I’m in a boat in the middle of a large body of water and I have no idea where I should steer so I just go along with the flow. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’ve talked to my other friends and I’ve told them how jealous I am of people who know where they’re going. So what do you do when you feel lost? Anchor yourself with what you know and rely on what you love to keep you steady. I think that for me, those will always be my family, my friends and my books. Yes, you read that right, as cheesy as it may sound, I love my books and I love reading and I don’t think that will ever change. I may read less than I want to from time to time when life gets busy but I’ll always come back to it. I know for a fact that I would be a very lonely person if I didn’t read books. What would I do with all the hours that I put into reading and blogging?

I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that I’m passionate about reading, this blog is a testament to that. I’m not exactly sure how reading defines me as a person but I know that I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for the books that I read. I look for so many things between the pages that I read: for situations and emotions that I could relate to, for characters to love and sympathize with, for instances when I feel like a scene in a book aptly describes whatever I’m feeling in a way that I could never do, for made-up places that I want to explore, for happy endings even if they’re just in fiction. I could go on and on with this but I think you get the point. And when you think about it, books call out to us too. It may not be as momentous as being called to do a certain profession but it does happen whenever you feel urged to read a certain book. Books beckon readers to turn the pages, promising so much in words printed on ink (or showing up on the screen of an e-reader). Maybe I’m just comforting myself because at the end of the day, I’m still clueless, still trying to figure out what to do with my life. But one thing I can be sure of is that books are a significant part of who I am. Who knows, maybe someone out there is envious of my passion for books the same way that I envy my friend’s conviction in his vocation.

Photo from Tumblr

I think it would be fitting to end with a quote from another Jesuit priest, Fr. Pedro Arrupe:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”