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?”

“Deal.”

PS: Edited to add this fantastic diagram:

3592960452_90656305a7

Borrowed from a brilliant post of Bud Caddell’s.

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Emily
13 years ago

I’m thrilled for you. Jealous as hell but THRILLED for you. To know what you really want to be when you grow up is what we all want. Or at least it’s what I want. Perhaps some day, I hope some day soon.

Good luck you Rider you!

samantha jo campen
13 years ago

That is just the best damn post I’ve read in a while. From start to finish.

I try not to be jealous of your writing, because jealousy is icky. So I change it to: you INSPIRE me to be a better writer. There, that sounds less depressing.

You can do it Linda. We’re here to support you.

Dawn
13 years ago

“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”

This is *such* an easy trap to fall into, especially in a corporate culture where everyone else is always striving to move up and take on more and all of that. I’m glad you were able to see your way out of it and figure out what you really want to be doing.

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

I’m totally saying go for it, you can do it Linda! I say that because I find you inspiring, and funny, and deep and everything in between. And so does everyone eles. And also? You make me want to do anything and everything I do better.

And that’s no bullshit either.

When I grow up I want to be a photographer. And damnit, I’m going to do just that. Good luck, we’ll be here to support you!

Michelle
Michelle
13 years ago

I’ve been following your blog for quite some time now (as in when Riley was still a tiny tot that couldn’t hold his head up) and one thing I’ve found with time is that I’ve always come back. No matter how great the time span was or how busy life seems to get, it’s like catching up with an old friend each time. You’re good at several different things, but at the end of the day what matters most is what you LOVE to do. Life, Marriage, Motherhood and Writing are very vivid passions of yours that directly translate into your words.

You’ve officially named your dreams to pursue, so GO! GO! GO!

Melissa
Melissa
13 years ago

Amen sister. Good luck and congrats. You’re are a fierce and wonderful woman!

Mary
13 years ago

I finally decided a couple of weeks ago to get out of management and go back to doing what I like best, and I’m a good bit older than you. Good for you for knowing what you want and going for it!

Alex
13 years ago

I would buy that poetry book for every mom I know. I LOVE those poems.

Excellent post, in every way.

Kathy
Kathy
13 years ago

You be a writer, I’ll be one of your readers, okay?

Leah
13 years ago

This makes me disproportionately happy considering that you are not my child. But, I’m sorry, I have to say it: I’m just so damn PROUD of you, Linda.

And I know what you mean about wanting to live outside the whole bigger/better/moremoremore ladder that society thinks should define a successful career path. In my job, the goal is supposed to be to move away from proofreading (that’s intern work) and onto copyediting (amateurs!) and then through developmental editing (suckers) until you’re at the pinnacle: managing editor, telling people what to publish and how and when and why but without ever actually laying a red pencil to a piece of paper to make a difference in how words are experienced by an audience. And then there’s me: give me a red pencil and a stack of paper and I’m happy as a clam. Everyone else can take their titles and responsibilitiees and endless meetings and managerial whatsits (and, unfortunately, higher paychecks) and shove it. I’m an editor. Just let me edit.

Leah
13 years ago

I love how there’s a typo in my comment. Where’s my red pencil?! :)

jenB
13 years ago

You are a great writer and your keyboard is a kick ass crayon. This made me smile.

Audubon Ron
13 years ago

Wow, you need to read my latest post to job or not to job and let’s compare notes.

I like to ask kids that question to get ideas about what I want to do when I grow up. It’s the growing up part I still need some work on.

“Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked. “No, we do not want any,” was the reply. “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?” Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off — that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed.” Henry David Thoreau

Bel
Bel
13 years ago

Hey Linda,

I’m so glad you have been lucky enough to figure out what you want to be when you grow up! I hope I can be that lucky one day too. Your point about more responsibility being interpreted as success really resonated with me.

You should pursue your writing dreams. Through reading your blog over the past few years, I feel like I’ve shared special moments with your family. Your writing really puts the reader in the moment. You inspired me to blog, and share one of my own personal moments on my blog: http://thentherewasbel.blogspot.com/2009/06/deceiving-appearances.html

Anyway, I hope you continue to reach for your new goal.

Bel

Alison (aka Cluck and Tweet)

You’re the real deal. Just stay away from Burnt Sienna in the crayola box. I never liked that one.

charissa
13 years ago

Yeah! I agree with Emily on the jealousy front — I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up, and it’s not for lack of noodling and dissecting what in my work makes me happy. Go you!

Bunny
13 years ago

Linda, in the world of blogs, you have stood out to me time and again as a different sort of writer-an actual writer, not just a blogger. I will follow you and read whatever you’re writing.

Allison
13 years ago

Wow, what a great post! And I’m not just saying that because this post was all about writing, but hot damn! I really enjoyed that.

danielle
danielle
13 years ago

I love it when talent and desire converge together in one person. Not only is it amazing that you desire to do what you are gifted with but you are also aware of it. I admit that I am envious that you have insight into yourself to know what “it” is that you want to do for the rest of your life. Regardless, Congratulations!

Kristen
Kristen
13 years ago

just so you know, I truly get excited when I click on your webpage and see a new title to a post I haven’t read yet… that says a lot about you as a writer and a story teller. I think you have tremendous talent – don’t every doubt yourself.

Mel
Mel
13 years ago

Yeh!!! I’m so happy for you!

I was hoping you were getting there, getting closer to realizing what I see as your passion (outside of your family of course). From the outside looking in, to me anyway, I thought it was obvious. I could understand how you were in Marketing because it is a creative outlet, and that could make you happy on the surface but I just knew that if you were to throw yourself into writing you’d be there, in that place of satisfaction that makes your sole content.

Best of luck getting there and I’ll pre-order anything you publish!

Jessamyn
Jessamyn
13 years ago

I know what you mean when you say you want to be a writer – I know you have lots of writerly goals – your book of poetry, your book, and I’m sure other future projects, some of which you haven’t even thought of yet. And I think there is a wonderful, rewarding future as a writer lying ahead for you. I join the vast numbers of people who believe in you!

But I always just wanted to say that one huge reason why I know you can be a writer? Is because you already are.

Michelle
13 years ago

I think you’ve summed up exactly how I feel. I thought it was most important to move up quickly and have a title and be in management but now I’m so far away from what I ever wanted to be.
I love the conversation with Riley. Good luck finding that crayon!

Anne
Anne
13 years ago

I heard a commedian once (I don’t recall who it was) that said that the reason adults were always asking kids what they wanted to be when they grew up was because they were still looking for ideas themselves.

(And now I sort of want to drive a rocket. Or write about driving a rocket, one of the two.)

I commend you for accidentally saying something that lit a path for you – and I hope it takes you somewhere even better than where you thought you wanted to end up. Your blog is one of my favorites on this wide world web, and I can’t wait to find out where else you’re able to put your writing talents to use.

Frema
13 years ago

I’m making peace with my own career path. Kind of the opposite of you – I never wanted to have a high-level title or cornerstone office, and i never wanted to be that person who carries around a work cell phone or company laptop or make out-of-town business trips and so on and so on. And then Luke and I started having babies, and he paused his career to be with them while I became the sole breadwinner, and it gave me an extra oomph to be more competitive at the office. I still don’t want to rise above middle management, at least not for a long, long time, and like you, my favorite thing to do is just write and let other people take care of the branding stuff. But that’s not possible right now, so I multitask as best I can and hope our department eventually expands enough to allow my job to become more focused.

Good on you for figuring all of this out now!

Red
Red
13 years ago

You are a brilliant and amazing writer, and I look forward to every new thing you post. I am constantly relating your comments to friends and family.
Also? Great photographer!
I am extremely “INSPIRED” to figure out in my 39th year what it is I want to be when I grow up but alas don’t expect to have that crystaline moment any time soon….2 year molar inspired sleep deprivation isn’t helping.

Ter
Ter
13 years ago

Thank you for this! As soon as I can find a working printer (that isn’t a doorstop/extra shelf/non-XP-compatible piece of crap) I want to print it and tape it by my computer so it can remind me of why I love writing when I get down on myself. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Chiara
13 years ago

You are a writer, one of my absolute favorites, as you have been two thousand and [cough]. You just keep getting better and better, and I know you can write about anything you want, which is one of your many gifts I have always envied and admired.

Erica
Erica
13 years ago

You always seem to inspire me in some way, whether it is in my role as a mom, career or fitness. Thanks!

warcrygirl
13 years ago

Maybe you could be like that guy in the smart phone commercial who uses the bus to write words? I think you still need to bring your own crayon, though. I wish I could get the words in my head to come out, coherently, onto paper (or the internet, as it were) but my brain likes to juggle the words and I don’t want to admit I need ADD meds at my age plus I’d have to see a shrink to get them and I’m not that crazy.

Yet.

Claire
13 years ago

Nice work bookending this post with the Riley conversation. Go for it with the publishing. I only wish I had the impetus to get my work out there but I know for certain you have the talent to do it.

Cheryl S.
Cheryl S.
13 years ago

Here’s hoping that you find that really good crayon. Wonderful post. Good luck!

Amy
Amy
13 years ago

You ARE a writer! And a damn fine one at that. I don’t comment as often as I should, but I very much enjoy your storytelling voice. Keep it up!

Samantha
13 years ago

I totally hear ya. I’m also in the ‘branding’ business and there was a time when I wanted to be the big wig, but the more I look at it, I just want people to tell me what they want and for me to give it to them and have them like it. That’s what I’m good at, I don’t like coming up with concepts, but if someone gets me started on something I can usually run with it.
Great post Linda, as always!

Mary
Mary
13 years ago

Your post sounds so familiar–I was in MarCom for a corporation, too, and had the same epiphany. It took several months to prepare to take the leap, and I left to write full time about a year ago.

My former employer, by the way, is one of my biggest clients. Only I work a fraction of the hours for several times as much money.

It took about a year to get business stabilized, and I just recently started poetry workshops with my former professor. My days are a mix of corporate writing that pays for the work I love a bit more (art reviews, essays, poetry, eventually a BOOK). Even having a fraction of creative writing formally in my life again–with people counting on me to show up and read and demonstrate progress–makes such a big difference in work/life satisfaction.

I want to say “go for it” but it sounds like you already are starting to, whether you realize it or not. :)

KB
KB
13 years ago

Ah, a Jerry McGuire moment!

I was encouraged yesterday to apply for the job that I always thought that I wanted that is currently open and available to me. I decided not to. I love what I’m doing now and just can’t mess with a good thing just for a better retirement plan.

dorrie
dorrie
13 years ago

Man, I kind of want to be like *you* when I grow up.

Niki
Niki
13 years ago

I have been in banking for 15 years now and it’s not what I want to be when I grow up. I love the customers, I love my coworkers but the work itself sometimes is less than rewarding.
I an envious of your NO.

Amy
Amy
13 years ago

Great post – and being a writer is obviously the perfect choice for you! Children see things so clearly sometimes.

Niki
Niki
13 years ago

I AM envious. (apparently I am not a detail person!)

crisitunity
13 years ago

I am with you about the not wanting to be the boss. I work as a paralegal, and a couple of the lawyers I worked for (and my parents, of course) have asked me when I’m going to go to law school already, because I’m plenty smart enough to be a lawyer, according to them. I realized a while ago that I really prefer administrative support work. It’s so much less abstract, and you have fewer decisions to make that affect the lives and happiness of other people. I may not make six figures a year, but I’ll be able to leave work at work and go home to what I really love.

BellyGirl
13 years ago

Check out elance.com if you are looking for freelance work. Good luck, you’ve obviously got the chops to make it…

Gleemonex
13 years ago

DUDE. I don’t want to be management, I could not give one shit about moving “up” — I just want to get raises for continuing to do the work I do! I write, I edit — why must I stop doing those things — the things at which I’m talented, the things I love — to get more money? There ARE people who desire to be the boss, and would be much better at it than I would. LET THEM.

PS: Anne: it’s Paula Poundstone. I quoted her in my HS graduation speech. (Class of 1992 represent!)

shriek house
13 years ago

I just want to know if the phrase “sex pillow” is part of your SEO strategy?

Srsly, good job figuring out what you want professionally, it’s a great start towards getting there. Saying “no” to a managerial path can feel counter-intuitive in this “ladders” culture, but if it’s not for you, it’s not for you.

And I hear you on wanting meaningful work that connects you to readers. One thing I’ve made my goal for this year is to bring in non-profit sector work (I mainly do corporate & marketing) with companies I believe are doing good in the world.

Angella
13 years ago

How you do not have a book (or three) published already is beyond me.

Run with it.

Dynamita
13 years ago

Your post gave me goosebumps. Thank you for sharing this.

My husband is a copywriter and he is the kind of person who loves his job so much, that he does it even for free. He comes home from work mostly with a happy smile on his face, and he also gets so enthralled in what he is doing, that he doesn’t notice that 5 hours have gone by. You can do it too.

Leslie
13 years ago

Linda -I read your blog almost daily because frankly I think you’re the bomb. I like the way you view the world around you and love your sense of humor. I agree with Anglea’s comment and can’t believe how you haven’t already published stuff – you’re an amazing writer! Anyway, congrats on finding some professional perspective – God knows I need a good dose myself!

Toni
Toni
13 years ago

Most of the time I want to cry when I read your posts, they are so real and genuine

Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com

Go for it! People here love your writing; there’s no reason to believe that a larger audience would do anything but love your writing too =)

Noemi
13 years ago

This is slightly unrelated, but I wanted to say a hearty “thank you” to those of you who don’t want to climb to the top of the corporate ladder- I thought I was the only one, and it made me feel ambition-less. Turns out, I’m just happiest doing my own experiments, not directing the experiments of others (I work for a pharma company).

And Linda, good on ya, and good luck!