Last night I was talking with Riley while he splashed around in the tub and I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“Hmmm,” he said, tilting his head to one side. “Let me think about it. Okay, I know. I want to drive a rocket.”

“Well, cool!” I said. “That sounds like an awesome job.”

“And what do YOU want to be when you grow up, Mommy?” he asked, looking at me while he trailed his hand through a pile of bubbles.

I didn’t stop to think about my answer. “A writer,” I said.


A while ago I was moaning about my career angst to JB and at one point he said, “But don’t you want to run a marketing department, and make all the decisions about how a company does its branding and all that stuff? Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?”

I opened my mouth to say something about how it depended on the job, the company, and a million other variables, and how it wasn’t that simple, and what actually came out of my mouth was No.

No, I don’t. I don’t want to be the decisionmaker about product positioning and messaging goals and PR outreach and ad budgets. I don’t want to spearhead the endless arguments over the myriad non-quantifiable areas of marketing. I don’t want to tell a designer how to do their job. I don’t want to decide if something is “on brand” or not. I want to offer my opinions when they’re asked for, but I don’t want it to be my job to hard-sell my opinions and shoulder-shove until I get my way.

Here’s what I really want to do: create good copy. That’s what I enjoy more than anything else. I am happiest when someone tells me what they’re looking for, I write some stuff, then they tell me if I did a good job or not. I’m interested by the entire marketing mix, but spinning words is what I’m best at, and it’s the aspect of every job I’ve ever had that’s been the most rewarding to me.

(Except for that horrible dotcom stint with the crazy pot-smoking husband and wife management team where the wife micro-managed every word I typed according to the whims of the rabid bats circling around the vast wasteland inside her skull.)

I’ve spent so many years trying to figure out how to make my career more meaningful to me, and I always thought I needed to take on more responsibilities and have a job with a better title and maybe some people reporting to me and a bigger paycheck in order to feel the measure of success I thought I should be striving for, and that moment when I told JB that no, I didn’t want to be some fancypants marketing director . . . somehow brought everything into view for me. I just want to write. Whether it’s about software, diapers, parenthood, makeup, computer keyboards, fitness, or sex pillows, I just want to make the words appear. That’s what I love to do.

If I refine it further, I want to write words that help me connect with people. I like corporate copywriting gigs because let’s be honest, they tend to pay the best, but the projects that really turn me on are the ones where I get to hear back from those who read them.

Since JB and I had that conversation I started a series of blog posts at Workplace that I’ve been really proud of. They’re about task management software, which, I know, right? Thrilling. Yet these articles have made me happier in my job than I’ve been in a long time. I enjoyed writing them and people seem to find value from them and they’re talking to me about them and jesus, why have I been naval-gazing all this time, because that is what it’s all about, right there.

The tiniest moment, an unexpected one-word answer, and it’s like I’m seeing my way clear of the inertia I’ve been struggling with for years. No. Instead of succumbing to the vague dissatisfaction and constant feelings of failure, I’m free to make a new path. To focus on the things at my job I find the most rewarding, and let the other stuff—the turf wars and responsibility-without-authority—be managed by other people. And at home, to make a true and honest effort to get a silly little book of poetry published (say, any agents out there looking for quirky parenting gift book titles?), and to plug away at something I’ve wanted to do all my life.


“A rider? Like a bus rider?” Riley asked, wrinkling his forehead.

“No, a writer. Like someone who writes words, and maybe even stories and books.”

“Oh. Well, I think you’d be a good bus rider, Mommy.”

“Thanks, sweetie. Do you think I’d be a good writer too?”

“Maybe like if you had a really good crayon.”

“I need to get one of those, huh?”

“Yeah! Let’s find one together. Then you be a rider and I’ll drive a rocket, okay?”


PS: Edited to add this fantastic diagram:


Borrowed from a brilliant post of Bud Caddell’s.


66 Responses to “A really good crayon”

  1. Lesley on June 5th, 2009 1:10 pm

    Like Dooce, you have a unique way of connecting with people through words, and there’s no reason you can’t be immensely successful, financially, writing on-line.

    Whether you are writing seriously or humorously, there’s always something inspiring in how you write. You articulate so well universal human experience and do so with great humility and compassion. I think you’re brilliant.

    Considering the number of people who follow you faithfully, staying true to yourself has paid off in spades. Keep that going and follow your dream, baby.

  2. Elizabeth Joy on June 5th, 2009 3:07 pm

    Long-time lurker here–I just had to speak up because I was in the same place as you awhile back, and came up with the same exact answer. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, had been longing to be a novelist ever since I was a kid, and so I did what I could to make it happen, to get to that Hooray intersection where I could get paid for doing what I do well and want to do.

    Well I’m there now and I’ll tell you, life as a writer is better than I ever dreamed it could be. Takes a hell of a lot of work and perseverence, but that work is so very worth it. So go for it, girl. It’s something you’ll never regret.

  3. Jennifer on June 5th, 2009 3:39 pm

    Your convo with Riley reminds me of the song lyric mistake that I made for years. I always thought it was “Ghost WRITERS in the Sky.” Ha!

    I think it’s really cool that your family supports you in the ongoing brainstorming and growing process. And Riley’s turning into a good sounding board too, huh?

  4. Carrot Cake on June 5th, 2009 3:58 pm

    When I grow up I want to be an artist. Well, I already am one since I have the ability, but what I mean is, an artist with a body of work that can be shown in galleries or online and get paid for them. Problem: I didn’t figure this out until after I had my son, and now I don’t have the time or money to dive in and develop this. I’m 31 and we’re thinking of adding another child, but kids are such little time sucks that I’m afraid I won’t get a chance to explore my talents until they’re grown. Are there any successful women artists who are also moms? Is it possible to be a good parent and still pursue your dreams. Please, God, let it be so!

  5. sundry on June 5th, 2009 4:04 pm

    Carrot cake: of COURSE it’s possible! Time/money constraints aren’t only applicable to artistry (however loosely we define that), yet all manner of parents manage to explore their dreams while raising tiny adorable time-and-energy-sucks. Work on your art while they’re sleeping, when you’d rather be resting or think you should be cleaning. Work in stolen moments, work because you love it. Work because it’s a priority and parenthood doesn’t have to mean putting your own goals aside.

  6. Courtney on June 5th, 2009 4:04 pm

    Nice! It’s so startling to arrive at such a monumentous realization during a casual conversation (lke when Riley the Rocketship driver is in the bathtub). I’ve done some soul searching myself lately and realized that while I love the team I work with, I don’t totally love my job. It was kind of scary to face the fact that I’ll have to make a change in the future!

    Also fabulous that Riley doesn’t see you as a grown up!

  7. Carrot Cake on June 5th, 2009 6:02 pm

    Thanks, Sundry. :) Sending creative hugs your way. Btw, I’d TOTALLY buy any book you wrote. Seems we both need a little push?

  8. Susan on June 5th, 2009 7:07 pm

    My husband is a VP of marketing at a tech company, and he had me convinced for a long time that I would get “bored” with writing brochures and web copy. But then I realized that I NEVER got jazzed about reading InformationWeek or CIO magazines, but I would pore over Writer’s Digest. Articles about how to craft better interview questions, how to price freelance work, etc. totally held my attention. That was my wake-up call. I’ve been full-time freelance since January 1, 2006. Never looked back. Love it. Love it. Love it.

  9. Donna on June 6th, 2009 6:40 am

    Dude, you already are a writer.*
    You just need to get a publisher.

    *And a damned good one!

  10. Marieka on June 6th, 2009 11:46 am

    “If I refine it further, I want to write words that help me connect with people.”

    You do. That’s why I check your site daily, and sometimes even go through your archives.

    I second Leslie’s comment, and Toni’s as well.

    You already have a great crayon. :)

  11. sooboo on June 6th, 2009 2:09 pm

    When JB made his comment about you wanting to be a marketing person, I honestly thought he was being sarcastic. I mean, I’m sure there are people out whose dream it is to do that, I just always thought it was a given that you wanted to be/are a writer. Funny how that comes across really strongly in your writing even though it might not have been 100% conscious until now.

  12. Cookie on June 7th, 2009 6:07 am

    Congrats on figuring out what you want to do, not only on a personal satisfaction level, but also at a work satisfaction level. It’s great that you have the ability to do things at work that make you happy. Good luck with your writing. I will look forward to reading your first book and the many that will hopefully follow.

  13. Rachael on June 7th, 2009 7:56 pm

    Like you Linda I desperately want to be a writer. It is something that I have had in my mind for as long as I can remember. Instead though I ended up an IT Manager. I did follow the title, the pay and the career but I can honestly say that a large part of my day is spent thinking ‘I should be at home writing, I want to be at home writing, let me go home and write!!!’

    The small consoladation is that I get to write proposals and strategies. That’s when I LOVE my job. In fact the writing part of my job makes me so happy that I have even taken from my staff the job of manual and training material writing. They just never say it quite right and the words are there in my head ready to fly out.

    I will be super green if you do embrace your dream and get that book written but I will also be super proud of you and duly inspired. I can’t wait to hear that you’ve done it. I will be a buyer for sure.

  14. Rachael on June 7th, 2009 7:58 pm

    But alas my writing rights will now be revoked given I can’t spell. Mind the error. Apologies.

  15. Mindful Momma on June 9th, 2009 12:19 pm

    Just found your blog – and this post spoke volumes to me. I too have struggled with thinking that I ‘should’ have a big, fancy marketing job. But I really love writing. And I really don’t give a hoot about managing a whole bunch of people or being in charge. And my blog eventually led me to a book deal…so I say…follow your heart, you’ll like where it leads you!!

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