28: Moments of Clarity

28: Moments of Clarity

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Moments of Clarity

Being miserable is a habit; being happy is a habit; and the choice is yours.

~Tom Hopkins

When I was twenty-two I realized I was on the fast track to nowhere. Life was a constant string of bar nights and alcohol-fueled parties funded by my part-time job as a grocery clerk. Pressure was building and since “bar star” wasn’t a legitimate career, I started to do some careful thinking about finding a real job and starting my life.

Lots of kids have that one thing they want to be when they grow up, and mine was always a writer. I pictured myself signing books for lines of adoring readers, going on book tours all over the country, having a shelf full of books with my name on the cover.

But everyone always told me the same thing: There’s no money in writing. Be realistic and get a real job. The writing will be a nice hobby on the side.

So I wracked my brain, trying to think of a “real” job that I would enjoy.

Maybe I could be an English teacher. Wait, that would mean I’d need to take courses in math, which was basically the bane of my existence. Could I open a bookstore? No. Bookstores were a dying breed, and not any more practical than being a writer. My ideas began to get wilder. I could move to Italy and breed dogs. Or ship myself off to sea and become a sailor.

Again I felt that sense of aimlessness. There was nothing I wanted to do.

One day my mother came back from the spa glowing with excitement. She’d talked to the esthetician doing her facial, who had raved about how much she loved her job. I did some research and discovered it would take ten months of school and then I could be out in the world and making money. There was no math involved, so how hard could it be?

I signed up and put myself through ten months of beauty classes. Before the year was out, I hit the streets looking for work. In less than a week, I found the ideal job at a swanky spa complete with tinkling waterfalls, massaging footbaths and moisturizers with French names I couldn’t pronounce.

I’d done it! I’d graduated from esthetics school with top grades and obtained the ultimate real job.

There was only one problem. I hated it.

I hated everything about it. From touching people’s smelly feet all day, to the eye-watering smell of nail polish, to the fussy rich ladies who made me feel that I couldn’t get anything right. I would drive to work every morning, stomach churning, feeling like I was about to throw up.

But I couldn’t quit. This was a real job, damn it, and I’d paid a lot of money to learn this stuff.

Over the next three years I tried other things — working for myself out of my basement suite, getting a job at a tiny hair salon where I waxed people’s legs in a cramped little back room. Often I would pause and stare at the sticky wax pot or the rows of colorful nail polish and think to myself, “What on earth am I doing here?”

All I could think about was how much I missed my writing. Between the salon and taking waxing clients in my basement, I had barely any time for it. I longed to sit down and write all the stories in my head.

One morning my boss at the salon pulled me aside and said, “We have to talk.”

What she said next shattered me. “I’m afraid I have to fire you.” I was devastated. Outraged. I’d never been fired before. How could she do that to me? I started to break down right there in the back room. My ex-boss gave me the world’s most awkward hug.

Then she said the words that would change my life. “Maybe this isn’t what you’re supposed to be doing. I don’t think you’re happy here.”

Lots of tears and self-pity followed, along with more chocolate than was either necessary or prudent. It wasn’t until later that I remembered her words, which along with my relentless urge to write again, were the only true moments of clarity I’d had in the last three years.

Weeks later I opened my secondhand laptop and began writing my first real novel, resolving that this time I would get serious. No more putting writing on the back burner, no more pretending it was a hobby instead of an all-consuming, burning passion.

I began querying literary agents, and it was like a fire had been stoked inside me. Rejections piled up, but I didn’t care. I was fiercely happy to be doing what I loved at last.

Four years later I’ve had my successes and failures. Ups and downs. I’ve had a story accepted and then watched the magazine go under. I’ve jumped out of bed at five in the morning shrieking my head off when I got “the call” from a literary agent.

I may not sell my first novel. I may end up in a drafty apartment eating ramen noodles and barely paying the rent. But I’m happy knowing that when those moments of clarity come, when I step back and ask myself, “What am I doing?”

The answer is always the same: Exactly what I’m supposed to.

~Erin Latimer

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