All of us want a paycheque. We would like to earn money so that we can afford things like food, clothing, shelter, and that thing you saw in the window of that store you walked by on your way to work. This is normal — we're raised to work hard for that paycheque. But what we are not raised to do is, well, for lack of a less Hallmark-like phrase, "follow your dreams."
I grew up in a town where my high school guidance counsellor stressed the importance of making money. She discouraged me from doing anything but going into college (not even university — because I couldn't go right into the work force that way), and she worked hard to ensure I'd arrive alive in the co-op friendly post-secondary education gateway to employment. Considering I was failing high school at the time (for the second time), she really was doing her best. But when I told her I wanted to write and work in TV, well… that wasn't realistic, she said.
I understand where she was coming from. I also understand why my Grandpa only now — after almost five years of me writing — has accepted that I won't be returning to the bank I quit in 2008. I understand now why my Dad has also only now stopped asking if I'd ever "make it" as a writer (note: I still don't know what "making it" means, but I paid all my bills and fines on time for the first time in four years, so I think that counts for something?), and I understand why for a long time, my family worried: because it's scary. Watching someone take the road less travelled isn't easy — particularly if the person travelling made some questionable choices along the way (hi). You want to see the people you care about succeed. You want to see them earn a paycheque. But you forget that sometimes money and happiness are not synonymous, and no matter how much that paycheque might be, it might make them feel crazy to receive it.
Within the span of about six years, I pursued five fields: I wanted to be a journalist, a teacher, a nurse, a doctor, a filmmaker, and a writer, and finally, the last one stuck. I dropped out of school twice, I worked jobs in retail and banking (I was the worst banker in the world, you guys), and all I wanted was to be happy. In the summer of 2009, I finally got close: I started sketch writing and also writing about music, and eventually, the latter won out. I interviewed bands, I reviewed albums, and I saw endless shows; I made best friends I still have today, and I met people I hope I never run into again. But the happiness soon wore off: music writing wasn't enough. When I was a kid, I never said "I'd like to write about music" — I used to cry every time I had piano lessons. When I was a kid, I wanted to make people laugh, and once again, I felt like I was letting myself down.
In June 2011, I began taking steps away from music journalism, and vowed to make progress with writing comedy. I still liked music, and I still liked writing about fashion and style (which is why I'm still here — hi, everybody!), so I figured I could make my rent/groceries/bills through those while trying to make progress with comedy, too. However, here's the thing about that: you need a lot of money to live in Toronto, and by February 2012 I was broke. I was sick constantly from eating nothing but noodles, I was screwing up my credit from not paying any bills and getting more and more in debt, and I was becoming sadder and sadder thanks to what felt like my inability to be a functioning human adult. So I moved home (because I basically lost my apartment), and I watched Bridesmaids a lot, and by autumn, I finally started getting my act together.
However, during "the sad time," I still worked. I still pitched and wrote and tried to pull myself out of the ditch I created (and what a ditch it was!). Yes, I cried in my car regularly, but I used that desperation to stare my dream in the face and refuse to lose sight of it. Because honestly, if I just let it go, it'd be just like the bank and the school and the retail and the music journalism all over again; I'd feel …wrong — plus also broke. I've been the poorest of poor, I've been uninspired, I've been sad, and I've been sick, sad, and alcohol and sleep-aid dependent. But now, I've been happy. And now even the seemingly smallest victories make the challenges and struggles and pitfalls seem worth it — and also huge. Now, knowing I'm slowly but steadily working towards what I want to achieve, it's less about competition or comparisons; it's literally about saying, "I have always wanted to do this thing, and now I am going to work towards doing this thing."
Your own narrative doesn't have to be as dramatic (obviously — in fact, avoid making it that way, trust me). But even if you keep what you want in mind and work towards it while working another job, or doing another thing, you'll feel less like you're going to combust because you're not doing exactly what you want to be doing right this minute. Dreams can feel like they'll take forever to reach, but that doesn't mean getting there needs to be some painful saga. Nothing is linear — and it will all work out. When has it not? Even when I had collectors calling me and had to dodge my landlord and couldn't afford vegetables or real food and had to move home, it was still fine in the end. Am I 100% where I want to be? Of course not: but who is? We should always aspire to challenge ourselves and progress and learn, and as soon as we stop doing those things, there's a real problem.
But as for dreams, just go for them. Be smart, yes (if you have a home and/or a family and/or responsibilities, maybe begin pursuing your dream on the side, then go from there), but don't let them sit there on the shelf. The worst that can happen is that you tried and realized you liked something else better — and then you do that.