As I enter a new season for publication submissions I am hit with regret.

Some time ago, I made the classic mistake – utterly classic mistake – of choosing the practical over the passion.

My passion was writing, always, and I talked myself out of it. I talked myself out of a life of passion.

Not many people are blessed with an early understanding of what they want to do with their lives. I had that early knowledge and I turned my back on it.

Instead of working towards a degree in writing, I chose psychology and counseling. The subject engaged me but ultimately did not sustain me. 

We’re taught not to trust our passion. What ignites us involves flame and flame is dangerous. Fire spreads, burning quickly, and snuffs out. That’s how we’re taught to view passion. Passion burns brightly…until it doesn’t.

But the practical, that’s safe. Right? The practical doesn’t hurt you. The practical, we’re told, is stable, reliable, safe, predictable.

I’ve learned something in that the practical decisions are the biggest tricksters of all. The practical robs you of precious time. Time, once spent, cannot be recovered. When I had to face the reality of my very practical life choice, I realized 10 years of my life had gone. It’s a fact I have to own. 10 years in a career where I was relatively comfortable, skilled, making reliable money, making advances in my professional goals only to feel tired and unhappy by the end of it.

The irony was realizing just how much of my time and resourcefulness went into a career I was more or less only a little happy to pursue. While in college, I worked full-time during the day, going to school at night, partaking in nearly two years of unpaid internships, renting a 425 sq ft studio apartment on the questionable side of town so I could have a shot at making ends meet…I wonder how far I would have made it as a writer had I made the same sacrifices to a field I was genuinely excited about. But no. I, like many before me, were told, “you can’t make a living out of that,” and “it’s not realistic, after you graduate you’ll have more bills to pay, working multiple jobs just so you can write at night?” and my favorite, “you ever heard of the starving artist?” And I let the well-intended and fear-based advice worm its way into my mind.

Should choosing passion burn you, at least it is done so quickly. If a passion is not meant for you, you learn sooner rather than later. Take the risk. At least you won’t wake up one day wondering how this thing you once worked so hard for took 10 years of your life, feeling more on the side of empty rather than full.

When the passion is right, it sustains. Healthy passion is sustaining because it is stabilizing in nature – healthy passion gives back what you put into it. No one told me that in the years I needed to hear it most, I don’t think it’s advice one hears generally. Not enough people are willing to take the chance to find out for themselves. What most people think (I believe) a life of passion looks like is one that is selfish, inevitably burning out at both ends. This is the unhealthy passion most are acquainted with. But I promise you, burning at both ends is as exhausting (mayhap less so) as choosing a decade of practical living, like I did.

But, a healthy passion gives back. That was my hard lesson learned. That’s why passion’s call is so damned potent and people yearn for it. Seems to me the promise of a lifelong, sustaining passion is worth a few burns. When you find a passion that sustains you there’s nothing like it. When I sit down to write, when I truly bury myself in words, I can recall thoughts and feelings I hadn’t experienced in years. I need to express those thoughts and feelings without caution or filters, without fear or influence. Where else but writing could I possibly do that?

I have a visual analogy for passion, Jessica Rabbit:

jessica rabbit1
“I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”

Jessica Rabbit is an excellent representation of that sort of standard, societal view of passion: too good to be true, the passion burns too bright, don’t trust it, it will hurt you in the end. Jessica Rabbit is surely too hot and talented to be married to that goofball Roger Rabbit. The thought, ‘He’s gonna get burned by that one and Roger Rabbit shoulda known better.’ Meanwhile Roger Rabbit is living life, happily married to that knockout.

Opting for the practical applies to many of life’s situations, of course it does. How else would any of us get anything done otherwise? I guess my point is not to stay stuck in that mode, not to stay stuck in either mode, really, as operating solely in one category is neither smart, safe, nor healthy. Balance is the key. When and how do you choose?

I’ve made the mistake of opting for the practical when my guts (and heart) have all but screamed the contrary. The times I’ve chosen healthy passion I was led to good things, sometimes great. The times I recall choosing unhealthy passion, I did, indeed, get burned.

In truth, I’ve chosen practical relationships and got burned there too. The difference when in comparing the practical and the passionate, at least in my mind, is that of damage: immediate versus long-term.

I suppose with every burn, you learn. You learn what healthy desire and healthy passion is and that this thing, this career, this person that captivates you, you understand now is worth the fight, the struggle, and having to put up with the endless two-cent contributions from the naysayers.

I still hear it from the naysayers, by the way, and will until the day my novel is published, and even then I wonder. Here’s a small sample of what I’ve heard in the past two years:

“Writing? Are you serious? Do you know what the odds of being published are?”

*Starts and maintains a blog, gets noticed by a publisher.*

*Gets two short stories published in three books.*

“Yeah, well, it’s not your book. I mean good job and all that but don’t get your hopes up.”

*Gets hired to write a couple of articles.*

“Great, all I’m saying is don’t get your hopes up. And it’s still not your novel so…”

*Gets more requests for story submissions.*

“Still not your novel…”

Perhaps regret is too strong a word, and yet the definition seems to fit. I do know I have a lot to learn about writing. I catch on fast enough but the experience I need to gain is daunting. I keep thinking about all the experience I could have accumulated as a writer by now had I dedicated myself to the work earlier. I can’t get back the time lost but I’m sure as hell not contributing to the waste of it. Not anymore. The clock’s been reset.

Struggle exists in all things – know what’s worth struggling for.

It’s never too late to restart the clock.

True passion is sustainable, I know that now. I hope you do too.

Go after your Jessica Rabbit.

Christina Schmidt, MA