I used to work in medical publishing. If I say so myself, I was pretty good at it. I made decent money, and got a merit-based promotion and raise every year without fail for 10 years. Even the year I got laid off because the company I was working for at the time was tanking, I found another job at a higher salary right away.
But I was never happy. I got an English degree because I loved fiction, and then got a job editing science. There is plenty of fiction in medical publishing, of course, like the clever ways they use to downplay treatment side-effects and overstate efficacy, but while I was editing fiction in science, what I really wanted was to be writing science fiction. I think that more than anything drove me to keep writing, even when I felt I had no free time and didn’t think anything would ever come of it professionally and the writing was hard.
But my hard work and perseverance paid off. When I sold The Painted Man and its sequels, I decided to try writing full time, despite a nagging sense of dread that I would fail and have to go back to a job and industry where I was miserable and unfulfilled. I kept all my business contacts, just in case. Vendors I worked with. People who owed me favors. Head hunters.
It’s been two years now, and I still feel sometimes that there is a Sword of Damocles hanging over me. That this new career doing something I love is too good to be true, more than I deserve, and that it will end in failure and abject humiliation as some future book of mine is universally panned and I’ll have to go back to the cubicle farm to make sure Cassie can afford college.
When I first graduated college in 1995, I had NO IDEA what to do with my life. I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t kidding myself into thinking I was qualified for that, and I’d never had a “real” job. Just retail and my time with Parks & Recreation. While I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I got a job managing a now-defunct comic book store in the Westchester Mall called, get this, COMIC ATTITUDES.
It wasn’t as fun a job as it sounds. Yeah, I got to be around comics all day and read books for free, but the owner was a very driven businessman, and wanted his staff to be actively selling at all times. This was a problem, because most comic readers (and his employees) were all introverts. The customers didn’t like to be harassed about how they should buy into the latest BS Marvel or DC crossover event, and the sales staff (me included) hated and felt phony doing it.
As a result, I never really got along with the owner, but there is one thing he said to me that I will always remember and be thankful for. We were unloading boxes and talking about how the comics industry was tanking and how it was affecting the business (the guy owned 4 CA stores at the time). He lamented the loss of the good old days from a few years before, when comics were booming. I asked him if he regretted opening the 4th store. He looked at me and said, “Peat, I’ve had a lot of failures in my life, and if I can offer you one piece of advice from my experience, it’s this: Look ahead. Looking back and second-guessing your decisions doesn’t change them. You need to keep your eyes on tomorrow.”
It was REALLY good advice.
I may never shake that sense of dread that I’ll one day lose this new career, but there is one thing I know now. I am never going back to medical publishing. That chapter of my life is over, and I am looking ahead. If I change careers again, it will be something different, even if it means my resume doesn’t apply and I need to start at the bottom of the totem pole.
So with that in mind, I just deleted a decade’s worth of business contacts from my Outlook address book. I’m working without a net from now on.
I feel lighter already.