Recently I had lunch with a fellow writer. Like me, she writes on digital publications. Like me, she’s closer to the beginning of her writing career than not.
She and I talked about how she always feels like everyone else is always doing better than her. Everyone seems to have more readers engaging, more Twitter followers, more Facebook fans, more opportunities; more of everything. In this way, Internet writing is not so different from being in many other industries during the time of instantaneous communication and social media: Everyone always looks like they are doing better than you.
Being an Internet writer is being part of a weird culture that few, in the grand scheme of things, are really privy to. It’s fast-paced, it’s thrilling, it’s exhausting and sometimes entirely consuming. In this field, you are the captain of your ship. People either relate to what you wrote or they don’t and sometimes you know it immediately.
Our careers, like everything else, is put in the spotlight. Some more than others. But being a 20-something during the age of “share, share, share,” can make us more anxious about many things, including our careers. You see your friends latest update on their move to a different company or they announce their promotion. Achievements are rarely kept private – they are usually on display.
And why shouldn’t they be? You worked hard for something – by all means, share. But when you’re on the outside looking in, it can sometimes make you pause and panic: When was my last promotion? Do I need to move to a new city? Should I start looking for another job? I need to keep up. We always need to keep up.
I think we forget at this age that we are the beginning of our careers. And many of us will probably change our career paths many times before we get to the age of retirement – and even that age will differ for many. It’s easy to look at the paths of others and their accomplishments and feel like we don’t measure up. It’s easy to feel left behind. But why are we measuring our paths against the paths of others?
People may tell you their accomplishments, but they don’t tell you what they have sacrificed to get them. If you’re lucky enough to hear those who are honest enough to tell you, the success of others doesn’t seem quite so shiny.
Work – any work that you do or want to do as a vocation is the effort of thousands of hours. Many days, many nights, many months and many years. Moreover, we all start at different places and we’re all probably going to end up at different places.
I had probably a year or two of writing experience on the writer I had lunch with. For full disclosure – I have been paid to write for about four years now – two of those years I spent in grad school. Three of those years, I was struggling. People think you get a byline on a publication with an audience and they assume it came out of thin air. Or they ask, “Wait, you get paid for that?” I almost prefer the latter.
People don’t see the years of endless pitching and trying and failing and crying into 99 cent cup of noodles on a Saturday night – which by the way is funny to think about now. But it wasn’t funny when it was happening. The sobering thought however, is there are many more years of trying and failing to come. Hopefully, I am past the 99 cent soup days. But hey, if I’ve done it once, I can do it again. Sacrifice is the one ingredient for success you cannot bypass.
So to my fellow twenty-somethings I say: focus on the work. Focus on doing good work. Don’t be distracted by things like “accolades” – they may or may not come.
A lot of work is thankless until you are successful and even after it, you’ll probably have a whole other set of problems. Have the courage to define success for yourself. And while you’re at it, define the sacrifices you are willing to make and the sacrifices you aren’t.
Above all, don’t forget that the work you do today is part of a long journey. Our work careers are marathons, not sprints. And take it from a girl who used to run 200s, slow and steady is not a bad pace at all.