When you choose a nebulous and seemingly impenetrable career path that’s entirely based on a subjective judging of one’s creative ability, such as writing, you do it knowing that you’re likely going to be scraping by for a long time and that failure is not only an option, but the most statistically likely outcome. You also tend to have half-baked ideas of what your fallback plan is in the event that everything falls apart and you wash out of the creative business. Some people in my position have real skills and experience that they can go back to if need be. I, on the other hand, am not quite so well-endowed, careerly speaking.
Once upon a time, becoming a teacher really only meant that you needed to have a college degree relevant to your chosen subject and pass one or two minor certifications. There’s a reason why so many of our history classes growing up were taught by coaches. Coaches don’t give a shit about history, but if they have to, they can memorize enough facts to pass themselves off as knowledgeable to a bunch of middle school idiots (my apologies to any coaches who are actually good teachers). Nowadays though, if you don’t have a degree in education, you’ll have to spend a significant amount of time and money on extra classes and certifications. And it’s not like you’re going to immediately get a good job, either. A moron like me would probably have to choose between a part-time, hourly gig at a good school or an inner-city school desperate for teachers just to get hired. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to teach at an inner city school. I just don’t think I’m as charming as Hilary Swank, is all.
2. Getting into politics
The best way to work your way into a job in a politician’s office is to have worked on his/her campaign. Their chiefs of staff will see hundreds of résumés with essentially equal qualifications, so they’re much more likely to go with a known quantity. In order to work for a campaign, however, you often have to either know someone high up enough that they can get you a decent staffing job or you just have to be okay with volunteering full time and hope you have enough savings to carry you through. Your degree in political science is useless. No one gives a shit about your nuanced opinion on the Federalist Papers or what the neo-realist state-actor view of the Monroe Doctrine was. All they care about is whether you can network, put in crushingly long hours, follow directions well enough to not fuck up, and keep your damn mouth shut. I’m not a fresh-faced summer intern and my expectation of compensation for putting in that kind of dedicated effort runs a little higher than free coffee and stale bagels.
3. Going to law school
I was damn close to going. I had the requisite LSAT score and everything was in place. I changed my mind after taking a hard look at myself and evaluating whether this profession which I was, at that point, only halfway interested in was worth digging into six figures worth of debt. Sure, by now I’d be out and have a solid corporate associate job or, at the very least, be making a decent average salary working in a DA’s office, both of which are a hell of a lot more than what I make now. But the loan situation hasn’t changed — in fact, they’re only increasing. Plus, I’m no spring chicken. If I started law school next year, which is the earliest I possibly could, I wouldn’t even pass the bar until I was 30. Who the fuck is going to hire a 30-year-old associate fresh out of law school when they can go with the younger, hungrier 25-year-old who doesn’t have any expectations for a standard of living or workload? I certainly wouldn’t.
First of all, it would be pretty dumb for the fallback job to your creative aspirations in a business that’s impossibly difficult to have success in is having creative aspirations in another business that’s impossibly difficult to have success in. Trading in written word for a guitar would be like deciding that being an astronaut is too hard and running for president instead. Like many white college guys with average musical skills, I had a period where I thought music was gonna be the way to go. I’ve started countless bands in my lifetime, although only a couple of them ever made it past the ‘get together, drink, and play a few riffs’ stage. In the last few years though, I’ve barely played guitar at all. It’s not that I’ve plateaued. In fact, I’ve actively gotten worse. I don’t even know if I could write a fucking song right now, even if Bob Dylan was standing in the room with a kitschy Civil War-era pistol to my head. So it’s not like I could just drop everything, grab a couple of friends, and book a gig at the Viper Room this weekend. And even if I could, we would have like two original songs with unfinished bridges and a whole bunch of acoustic covers of bad ‘80s pop songs. Which is basically the description of every shitty band in America.
5. Joining the military
There was a time when my only goal was to be accepted to the Air Force Academy. Hell, I even had my nomination from a congressman secured. I went a different route and times have changed. I’m not nearly as attractive on paper for a military service branch as I was back then. I was playing sports, in decent shape, had great grades, and could reference plenty of community service and leadership experience. Now I’m a broke, out of shape writer who drinks more whiskey than water and smokes like a Chinese grandmother at a backroom mahjong table. Sure, I could take a few months and get in decent enough shape to enlist and survive Basic Training, but I’m not sure being a grunt would be any better than living off of ramen and store brand toilet paper. In order to qualify for any branch’s OCS, I’d have to really get my shit together, and that window is closing faster than my blood pressure is rising. And if I look at the military, which is the only organization in the country that’s begging for new employees, and say “I’m not sure they’d even want me,” you know that doesn’t bode well for my prospects outside of this business. This whole writing thing better fucking work out.