I’ve seen a couple of Twitter posts that have made me think – mainly about my youth. When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer. Not the technical writer I am today, but something more expressive. My dream job became to write for Rolling Stone magazine. I would’ve been good at it, too. Instead, I write technical documents no one reads. Have you ever read the owner’s manual in your car? Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff I write. I’ve put up with it over the years, but now, it’s starting to crush my soul.
The first that got me thinking was this tweet:
The second was a Facebook post:
On the surface, they don’t seem to be very related. For me, however, they go hand-in-hand. As I mentioned, I wanted to be a writer. As a kid, I’ll never forget spending hours upon hours reading whatever I could get my hands on. If it had writing on it, I was reading it. One morning, my mother asked me if I was OK. I had been staring blankly at the cereal box on the table. No, not blankly – I was reading the label on the side. Why? Just because the words were there. Then, in the ninth grade, I had an English teacher who encouraged me to start writing.
I was pretty good, for a kid. My poetry was unpolished, but it had potential. I was getting good feedback about my short stories, too. With the right education, I would be on the right track to become a damn good writer. So, I started thinking about college.
That’s when my parents started getting into my head. They started telling me to play it safe. They never told me I wasn’t good enough, but their so-called advice started to make me doubt my talent. I should get a job that paid well. I had to have health insurance. I had to be a responsible adult. All of this was good advice, but at the ages of 18-21, who seriously knows how to be a responsible adult? I sure didn’t, but I didn’t want to argue with them, so I just did what I was told.
That was stupid. Most kids don’t listen to their parents, do they? They argue, fight, and assert their independence. Why didn’t I? I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t want to upset them. Maybe I wanted them to be proud of me too much. Maybe I was afraid they wouldn’t love me if I didn’t listen to them. I can think of a plethora of irrational reasons why I didn’t rebel like any other kid would, but it doesn’t change the choices I made.
My first choice was to go to Penn State. I will never regret that. The classes I took and professors I had were amazing. They inspired me to read and write voraciously. My professors encouraged me to keep writing. My mind and my creativity were constantly stimulated. But I think I lacked focus and drive. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but for whom? What kind of writer? Did I want to write the next great novel? Did I want to be the next great journalist? What did I want to do with my life?
That’s when my parents really started to get in my head. Get a job when you graduate. Make sure you have a steady paycheck. Make sure you have health insurance. You can’t live here forever. We’re not always going to be there for you.
So that’s what I did. I got a technical job with a software company that paid well and offered health insurance. I played it safe. I did what I was told. I avoided the drama. And that set me on the path I’m on now.
What’s the one thing I wish I’d done that I didn’t? Sure, there are things I think about. I wish I’d asked Lori Rechtor to prom. I wish I’d spent more time with my Dad. But if you want one thing I wish I’d done, I wish I’d listened to myself more than I did other people. If I’d done that, I think everything else would have fallen into place for me. I wouldn’t have the soul-crushing job I have right now. I want to go back and tell this kid:
Your parents aren’t always going to be right. Although they want the best for you, what they want may not be what’s best for you. Let yourself fail. Let yourself mess up. It’s OK to fail as long as you learn from it. If you want to get everything you want, it’s going to take hard work and sacrifice. It’s not going to be handed to you. If you work hard for it and earn it, you’ll be the most successful person you know.
Then, there’s this kid:
I’d tell him to keep writing. I’d tell him to keep reading. I’d tell him to argue with his parents more often. I’d tell him to listen to himself more and them less. It’s OK to take risks. It’s OK to try. It doesn’t matter if you might fail; what matters more is that you might succeed. Now is your time. You have the opportunity to set the course for the rest of your life.
I’d also tell him to move to Southern California and start going to San Diego Comic-Con. It’s pretty awesome.
That’s my one regret. If we die today, my one regret will be not having enough faith in my own talent and abilities. To quote On the Waterfront, “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”
Is it too late? Is it too late for me to be somebody? Did I miss my chance?