Aspen Princess: It’s never too late to start over
So, after working in journalism for the better part of 20 years, I think I’m ready for a career change.
Oh, don’t freak out. I’ll continue to write this column until someone tells me to stop. And even though I’ve spent the past few years thinking that might happen any day now, it hasn’t.
To be honest, it’s been my lifeline as writer. Without that weekly deadline, I think I’d just dry up. It’s the only thing that keeps me connected, and even though I might get one or two emails a month at best, that little bit of correspondence with my readers keeps me afloat. The affirmation I get from you guys is the fuel I’ve needed all these years to believe in myself as a writer.
But like most art forms, only a small percentage of people actually make a living at it. For a long time, I believed that would be me. I felt it in my bones that I would experience inevitable success. At one point, I had myself convinced that I would walk a red carpet before I walked down the aisle, but it didn’t turn out that way (thank God, because the man waiting for me at the end of the aisle was way better than any amount of money or success could ever be).
See, I thought for sure I’d write the next bestseller and that it would be made into a movie starring Kate Hudson. I had good reason to believe that. I had a lot of people in the business tell me I had a shot. And maybe I still do.
But as of now, I’ve spent years working on a book that hasn’t paid me a dime. If anything, I’ve spent quite a bit of my own money to pay professionals to read and edit it, to travel to writing workshops and to try to network with people in the biz. Mostly though, I’ve put a lot of time and heart into it.
I know there are a million stories about successful authors or successful people in general that involve a lot of failure. The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is, “The best way to measure success is how well you deal with failure.” It’s the people who don’t give up who eventually succeed.
My parents never really taught me that. My dad in particular went about success in a very prescribed way and looked at failure as something that was absolute. In his generation, success was a series of measured steps you took toward your ultimate goal. There were no missteps, no grades below an A, no test scores below average, no performance subpar. You got straight As in high school so you could get into a good college. You studied vocabulary flash cards so you could get a top score on the SATs. You got into a good college and studied hard to get into a good graduate school. Then you worked your ass off for the next 35 years and you make a good living. You provide for your children and then some. You spoil them rotten, coddle them to the point that they’ll never have nearly the same drive you do.
What my father never figured out was how to be a good businessman. He simply wasn’t willing to take the big risks for big gains. He came by his money honestly — many years of hard work. But he never made big money, the kind of money people can only make when they’re willing to roll the dice knowing that they might lose.
I was always an artist type. I never chose to be a writer. It’s something I’ve done since I was 10 years old, documenting every inane detail of my life in a series of blank books bound in fabric with preppy patterns on them. I still have them on a shelf in my bedroom. They have nothing to do with writing ability and everything to do with the need to write, to document everything, to reflect on the day-to-day and to obsess about boys (which started at a scary-early age).
I had a very fortunate career throughout my 20s and seemed to hit the jackpot upon my arrival in Aspen, writing about Aspen for major national publications.
Then I decided to focus on my book.
It’s not just that. I’ve seen my wages deteriorate to the point where making it as a freelance journalist is no longer feasible. There’s too much user-generated content, too many bloggers willing to do my job for free and too few opportunities to write for print. When I do get jobs, the rates are lower than they were in the late ’90s.
A teacher of mine once said, “It is never too late to start from scratch once again.” So, I have been looking into getting a master’s degree in social work online. My mom was a social worker and had a private practice with my dad for 35 years. I love the idea of carrying on her legacy, and it feels like a natural fit to do so. Listening to them prattle on about their patients every night, I have a lifetime of education in mental health.
I also like the idea of doing community-based work. Here we are one of the wealthiest communities on the planet, yet we seem to have a serious lack of mental-health resources in this valley. We have the highest suicide rate in the country and, let’s face it, addiction is a big problem here. There also is a lot of work to be done in the immigrant population. I know several organizations are working hard to make a change, and like a reader of mine recently suggested, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
What’s happening to me? I don’t know. Maybe I’m finally growing up.
The Aspen Princess would like to wish her beloved husband a very happy birthday. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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