Friday, December 29, 2006

Living the Dream

By Lisa Curry

At 16, I announced that my goal in life was to have fun. My parents, no doubt envisioning supporting me for the rest of my life while I pursued that lofty aspiration, looked aghast.

“If you think work is fun, you’re in for a rude awakening,” said my father, who loathed every minute of his job in the steel mill.

To my surprise, my mother, a registered nurse, agreed. “If you’re lucky, you’ll find a job you don’t hate that pays decently.”

With adolescent arrogance, I dismissed their pessimism. What did they know?

“What are you going to do for a living, anyway?” my dad asked. “Nobody’s going to pay you to sit around on your butt all day and read.”

Now he was getting on my nerves. “I don’t know yet. But it’s going to be fun!”

“We’ll see,” he said.

Fast forward four years. According to the school of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, somebody would pay me to sit around on my butt all day and write. Imagine that. Writing was even more fun than reading. (So there, Dad.) But it was all theoretical until I landed a paid internship in communications and community relations with a Fortune 100 corporation. Now we would see if I could write well enough to be paid for it.

My first assignment was a feature article for the newspaper published semimonthly for the facility’s 5,000 employees. I still remember how it felt to see my words and byline in print for the first time. Heady stuff for a 20-year-old. Even headier was the reaction of my coworkers.

“This is good,” a grizzled veteran writer said. “Really good.” The note of genuine surprise in his voice suggested perhaps the story wasn’t just good for a neophyte’s first effort but good even by higher standards.

I shivered. It was true. I could write, which was fun, and somebody would pay me to do it. I had to be the luckiest person on earth.

Fast forward a couple of years. Armed with my degree, I was hired as a copywriter by a PR firm. I had to write advertorial articles on software packages for a business-newspaper ad supplement. My favorite was on accounting software for advertising agencies. In what I considered a catchy first line, I referenced Leonardo DaVinci.

“That opening’s out there,” my boss said on her way out the door to meet with the client. “If I had more time, I’d have you rewrite it.”

Weeks later she got a call from the client. “Remember your DaVinci opening I didn’t like?” she said. “They sold more software from that article than any other. Go figure.”

Go figure. I could write, which was fun, and somebody would pay me to do it. AND I could persuade people to buy things with my writing. Heady stuff for a 22-year-old. I really was the luckiest person on earth.

Fast forward to the present. I work for a marketing communications agency. The client for whom I mostly write manufactures products electricians use — terminals, lugs, conduit fittings — items about which the average person knows nothing and cares less.

So I could easily tell you that that after 22 years as a writer and seeing my words in print hundreds — maybe thousands — of times, the thrill has worn off. That my parents were right, and at this point, writing’s no more fun than sweating in a steel mill or slinging bedpans in a hospital.

But I’d be lying. Yesterday morning, I walked into the office and found new samples of a product sheet. The printed piece was gorgeous, with larger-than-life photos, bold graphics, dazzling colors. Not to mention a headline and text written by yours truly. Seeing it, smelling the fresh ink, thinking of how many widgets the client might sell, all gave me a little shiver.

Heady stuff for a 43-year-old who happens to be the luckiest person on earth.

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Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
-- Confucius


Joyce said...

Nice blog, Lisa!

There's no better feeling than reading something you wrote and thinking, Wow, did I really write that? That's damn good!

Kristine said...

I know how you feel, Lisa. There's nothing better than seeing your name in print and getting paid for it, even if it is about conduit fittings.

Tory said...

Lisa, your blog is inspirational!

I do have to add a caveat that it can take a long time to figure out how to fit together all the pieces of your life and your interests and connect it with the world of work.

But it's SO worth it. The piece that has been missing for me that I finally figured out this year is I'm happiest doing BOTH research and clinical work, not one or the other.

And my new job gives me the week off between Xmas and New Year's. I feel like the luckiest person in the world!

Anonymous said...

Hey, while searching for widgets for my blog, I stumbled upon and wow! I found what I wanted. A cool news widget. My blog is now showing latest news with title, description and images. Took just few minutes to add. Awesome!