Hard to believe it's been a year already, but tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the day I walked away from a stable and promising career to pursue another bleaker, less certain one.
In that time I have authored something in the neighborhood of 500,000 words' worth of assignments, essays, query letters, short stories, option demands, failed submissions, and small-time publication credits. I have interviewed cops, firefighters, politicians, addicts, dealers, low-level criminal operatives, Congressmen, athletes, bartenders, club owners, musicians, building engineers, homeless people, historians, and witnesses to all manner of history.
While all of that has been interesting, the tough part is the constant reminder of the idea that I, at almost 28 years old, am at the bottom of my field. People younger than me are working jobs that I want. People with less education than I have the CV that I am gunning for. People I can refer to as "kids" are doing things I am jealous of.
But the funny part, the part that smacks almost of maturity and reeks just a little of being an adult, is knowing that it's possible to survive out there. That it's possible to go boldly and blindly in a new direction without losing everything. That some gambles absolutely must be made.
One year. Does that constitute success? Does that constitute making it? Hardly, but I've got my own yardsticks for those. All I know is that I had the good fortune to realize there were things I needed to be doing in life besides mapping out project plans and drawing up specs for new client implementations.
One of my best friends used to sell computing equipment for a very large company, but after six months on the job he walked away from what was most likely an extremely lucrative amount of money to be a firefighter.
I remember him saying things like "It's something I just have to do" and "This is what I was born to be." God damn if that wasn't an intense thing for one 23-year-old kid to say to another.
And for what seemed like the longest time, he was killing himself to make it. Working crappy jobs, training like a madman, facing impossible odds and rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter. But he kept with it.
What he knew was that we were behind him all the way. You only get one shot in this life and he was taking his, and there was no way any of us were going to dare try to stop him.
What he didn't know was how insanely jealous I was of him. Not because I wanted to be a firefighter, and not because I hated my job.
(Okay, maybe I did hate my job but that's beside the point.)
What I was jealous of was that he knew. He knew what he wanted to be. He knew what he had to do to get there. I wanted that to know those things too.
He's doing pretty good these days, working full-time for a mid-size city department and loving what he's doing - including, I suspect, the stories about the calls he hates going on. And how did he get there? Focus. Hard work. Eyes on the prize. Obviously there was a lesson here.
Three of my favorite movies are American Beauty, Fight Club, Office Space. Funny and smart, yes, but despite their stylistic differences the thesis of all three of them is essentially the same: what would you rather be doing with your life? For years I would ask myself this. I would go sit at work and write lengthy e-mails to friends about...whatever. I would go home and write about all the things going on in the world around me and in the worlds I tried to create inside my head and about how I wanted to figure it all out. I would sit on the train and write little sketches for stories I would author if only I had the time.
And after a while it hit me. I would rather be writing.
Writing was something I just had to do. A writer is what I was born to be.
From there it became a matter of figuring out what to do next. Throwing out ideas, doing a ton of financial planning, making mental milestones. Sometimes I would chuckle at how much this resembled the project management job I couldn't wait to abandon.
Some people laughed at me when I would tell them my little plan. That I was stupid. That I would never make it. That I should shut up and I had a good job and only an idiot would throw that away. A lot of these are the people who tell me now that they wish they could do what I'm doing.
But you know something? It sounds so good to say it. "My name is Andrew and I'm a small-time writer. I'm getting my Master's in journalism."
Still, for all that, what I'm absolutely proudest of writing is this:
May 24, 2006
I hereby announce my voluntary resignation from ________ __________. My last day of employment will be May 31st, 2006.
Andrew M. Reilly
My letter of resignation. Nineteen of the most important words I ever wrote right there. Nineteen of the hardest, too.
Very good year. A very good year, indeed.