Joss Whedon was quoted over at a Screenwriting blog* after having been at a screenwriter’s conference, and he gave ten pieces of advice to writers. All of them are excellent, but I am especially in love with number 10:
DON’T SELL OUT
The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie: if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are: that’s called whoring.”
I worked my way through my undergraduate degree, most of that time spent being a receptionist/administrative assistant/front desk worker depending on where I was working. I put in forty hours a week, every week, because that’s what paid for my apartment, my car, my bills, my food, and everything else while I was fighting my way through school.
When I left my last admin job, I knew I didn’t want to do it anymore. Being in any front office situation is tough. If you’ve been there, you know. Front office people are the first line of defense, and it doesn’t matter if the people coming at you are angry or exasperated or sad or happy or absolutely disinterested; you still have to smile and give some level of a damn about what they want. I had excellent supervisors and learned a great deal of tact, but when I left, I swore I’d never go back.
Cue the move across the country, an entirely new city, and the need for a part-time job to flush out the student aid that’s getting me through grad school. A job was needed, something that paid decent and wouldn’t wear me out mentally before I got home and had to do homework. I scoured the ads, zooming in on all the admin work. My husband noticed, too:
HIM: “There’s a job posting here for a part-time administrative assistant. 20 hours a week. Good pay.”
ME: “I won’t do that again. All that admin stuff was to get me to my degree. I want to use my degree, now.”
It took a month of searching, but I found it. My title right now is “Publication Specialist,” and I work in my field. 15 hours a week I go to an office, I sit down, and I edit. I fact-check. I have impromptu meetings with my supervisor to discuss language. I collaborate with the people around me to make sure that all the departments I’m working with like how I’m wording what they do. I’m a technical communicator; not just in theory, but in wonderful fact.
If what you want to do is what you want to do, don’t take a job that might get you there. Could I have gotten to tech comm from administrative work? Sort of. Business letters, after all, are technical communication. As are memos. But that’s not the tech comm I wanted. I wanted something I could point at and say, “That. I learned that because of my degree program. That. I learned that because I found a career I wanted without even knowing it. That. I can do that because I’m worked in my field.” I couldn’t say that if I’d stayed in admin work. I’d have had the theory, the giant portfolios, and a head full of information that I loved and desperately wanted to use, but I wouldn’t have the joy of going to work. I wouldn’t get up on the days I go to my part-time, grad school job and be thrilled to be going. I wouldn’t come home and gleefully dissect my day for my husband.
So, listen to Whedon (and maybe even to me). Save up. Work hard. Do everything you can not to take a job that isn’t what you want. You can build an entire career on wanting to do things. I’m doing it right now. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.
*Hatip to Diana Dru Botsford for retweeting the link to the post.