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Monday, August 20, 2012

Chasing Dreams, Expectation Free

When I signed my first contract, I didn't tell my boss. It wasn't some top-secret "work must never know" sort of thing. I just didn't tell her.

I work as a volunteer coordinator for one of my favorite charities. My job consists of recruiting, training, and overseeing volunteers and our volunteer programs in between coordinating with the social work department of the hospital to find housing for families in medical crisis, taking care of the families in our House, listening to them when they need to talk, fielding phone calls from all sorts of people, and a myriad of other things that keep our House and our families up and running.

Our families are predominately parents of critical or terminal children, most of them premature infants or children with heart problems/cancer. And, sadly, some of our kids don't make it. We lost one unexpectedly this weekend. That's never easy.

You can probably imagine the stress that comes with the job, but despite that, I absolutely adore what I do. Every day, I get to see the impact one person and one organization can have on people who need it most. That's a big deal to me.

When I walk through the door, I leave my personal life behind. I'm not there to talk about what's going on with me or to vent about how things could be better. I'm there to help our families deal with the frightening things happening to their children and their families. They don't want to hear about how I just signed a contract to publish my first novel or how my husband forgot to take the trash out when they're not sure if their newborn will survive the day. They want someone to listen to them vent, offer them a hug, and pass the tissues.

And that's perfectly fine with me. I don't mind leaving my stuff at the door so I can be there for any of our families that need to vent, to cry, or to pour their hearts out. In fact, my co-workers and I encourage them to do so. After all, the most important part of our jobs is the families who walk through our doors.

Long story short, I didn't tell my boss about the contract. Not because I wasn't thrilled about it, but because I left the giddy excitement at the front door so I could do my job and do it well.

My boss didn't found out until about a month ago, and she found out in a roundabout way. My email alerts were going off one day as the B.E.E and I emailed back and forth, and she asked who I was emailing. I told her it was my editor.

She was shocked that she didn't know. She gave me the what-for about not telling her these things (for those of you who don't speak southern, that means she chewed me out), and immediately called everyone in the office to tell them the news. I think she may be as excited as I am over the entire process.

She's an amazing boss, and I just adore her. I felt bad that I didn't tell her, so when I got the cover for Fade, she was, literally, the first person I showed. We've talked about the publication process a lot since she found out, and a couple of days ago, she confessed that her biggest fear is that I'll make millions and quit.

That conversation struck a cord with me. I know a lot of authors dream of striking it rich, and never being required to go to a day job ever again. But that's not me. My job stresses me out sometimes, but I freaking love what I do way too much to quit. Plus, the odds of striking it rich as an author are low. That's fine with me. I don't write to get famous any more than I work at a charity to get rich.

Anyway, she asked me to suspend my disbelief for just a minute and imagine what I'd do in the event that I did make millions. I already knew the answer though. I think all authors, at some point or another, entertain that idea for just a moment before writing it off as preposterous. But I gave her my answer.

I told her that I'd tell her to stop paying me, and that I'd see her in the morning to start my first day as a full-time volunteer.

That's my dream. To eventually reach a point in my life where I can afford to be a full-time volunteer by day and a writer by night. I don't know if that will ever happen, but if I have one dream for my life, that's it.

She told me that's part of what makes me awesome, and that most people don't feel that way. She's right. Most don't. I don't think I'm as awesome as she gives me credit for, but it makes me a little sad to know I'm in the minority with my big dream. Most of us, writers or not, dream of striking it rich so we can spend our days shopping, jet-setting around the world, doing nothing, or doing one of the thousand things we've never been able to afford to do for ourselves.

I don't think this is because people are inherently selfish, but more because we've become so desensitized and jaded to the things happening around us we simply don't have the energy to look at the bigger picture. Most of us have been led to believe that one person can't make a real difference, so we don't try.

Or we get burned out on trying to do good when it never really seems to make a dent in all of the bad things going on, so we wonder why we bother. How can one person's efforts offset the greed, prejudice or horrible things a thousand others display or do at every turn? We get stuck in that pattern of thought, and we stop trying.

I've been guilty of that very thing, and that's sad to me. There is so much good waiting out there for us, but we get so overwhelmed by the bad, that we stop noticing it, stop striving toward it, and stop believing in it and in our potential to bring it out in ourselves and in others.

In Fade, Arionna asks how she and Dace are supposed to do this great thing when they can't even fix themselves. I think we all feel like that sometimes. How are we supposed to make a difference for the world, when we can't even juggle our own lives without something falling through the cracks? Or when our own problems overwhelm us?

I'd love to say there is an easy answer to that question, but in reality, there just isn't. Sometimes, we get overwhelmed, and we lose faith in ourselves and in others. We're human. No one expects us to be perfect, to have all the answers, or to single-handedly save the world. It would be silly to expect that from any one person. But we expect it of ourselves.

And that's where we fail. We expect too much of ourselves and others. We expect our efforts to change the world. When they don't, we quit because quitting is easier than fighting a battle we don't feel we can win. We get so tangled up in what we want to happen, that we forget the most important part of the dream.

We owe it to ourselves to chase the dream, and to prove ourselves wrong. To see how much good we can do as individuals (whether that means buying dinner for the homeless gentleman on the corner, spending a Saturday teaching new mom's yoga, writing the novel we've been thinking about, or something entirely different), and let that be enough to motivate us to keep going. We get so caught up in the minor details, in the frustrations and cynicism, that we forget that the most important thing we can do . . . is what we can do.

Our actions don't have to change the world. No one can do that alone. But we can change us. We can change the way we view things, and our expectations. We just have to have a little faith in ourselves, and in the power of good. As writers, we challenge our characters to do that every day. We give them these internal and external conflicts, and allow them to grow enough through the course of the story to change their lives, whether that's by letting love in, becoming comfortable with their sexuality, or fighting back in some way.

If our characters can do that, why can't we?   

Maybe that's a pipe dream and it's impossible for a person in the real world to ignore or set aside our expectations long enough to focus on the parts of the dream we can achieve, I don’t know. What I do know is that my discussion with my boss made me realize how fortunate I truly am.

I may never get to the point where I can justify becoming a full-time volunteer, but in the meantime, I have an amazing job that allows me to see how much good I can do, a network of phenomenal people at my side, and I have plenty of spare time to write toward my other goals. Every day, I have the opportunity to challenge my beliefs and perceptions about myself, people, and the world around me. I am already blessed. And I think that's a good start.


1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful post. You're one of the most admirable people I've met, and I can tell that just from reading this. It's rare to find a selfless jewel among the gravel! I struggle to leave my life behind when someone wants to talk to me about troubles they're facing, and I'm awful at it. I'm the most conceited person I know. This post is very inspirational. I hope someday I'll be able to help people as you do. (:


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