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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

A Dream in a Different Dress

Updated: Apr 25

Photo by Elias from Pixabay

One of the many blessings of having a strong life partner is the clarity he or she can bring in revealing truths about ourselves that we can’t see on our own.

I am fortunate to have such a partner with Rachael. From our first meeting (at a bar, of all places!) where we learned we had attended the same small Catholic high school and had both read A Course in Miracles, we knew we were a good match.

Our journey together hasn’t always been easy, but after nearly nine years together (how is that possible?), we know one another well enough that we are able to shine a light on all the messy inner “stuff” that manifests in our external realities.

The other day, for example, I was lamenting the fact that I have not achieved my childhood dream of being a novelist. Though I have published one non-fiction book and a bunch of short stories and poems in various journals, none of the novels I’ve written over my lifetime have made it, as yet, to the bookshelves.  

She reminded me that while this may be true, I have, in fact, made a living—a very good one—for myself and my family through my writing. That career started in journalism, writing sports and feature stories for weekly and daily newspapers, and then moved to the corporate world where I have written enough earnings and press releases, investor scripts, annual report letters, and executive speeches to fill a bookcase or two. 

Even today, two and a half years after I “retired” from the corporate world, I continue to do contract writing for Big Business. In fact, as I wrote about in HumbleDollar, I recently accepted a part-time gig as the lead writer for the CEO of a Fortune 200 technology company.

So, in a very real sense, I have achieved my dream of being a writer, albeit in a different dress than what I envisioned when I was a teenager sitting up in my room filling up notebook after notebook with my stories and poems. It was important, Rachael reminded me, that I acknowledge that reality, because otherwise I was shortchanging myself.

What she said made complete sense and allowed me to see my career in a different light. Childhood dreams are wonderful things to have and to hold onto. They are central to our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

But one must, in the end, make a living and dreams don’t always pay the bills—especially when one has a family. The fact is, it’s really, really, really hard to make a living, especially one that would support a family, as a full-time author. Stephen King has been able to do it, but he’s the exception, not the rule.

One of our most self-destructive habits as human beings is to exaggerate our failings while diminishing our accomplishments. All of us do it to some degree, but some of us are better at this kind of self-flagellation than others.

I’m one of them. I’ve always been tough on myself, especially when it comes to accomplishing things that are important to me and my sense of identity. From my earliest days, I set extremely high standards for myself and held my feet to the fire to account for them. It was not enough that I would become a writer; I had to become one of the best writers out there. It was not enough that I wrote stuff that people would read and find interesting and valuable; I had to write stories that would make the grade as fine literature.

It’s ridiculous, really. The ego is a harsh master. He demands of ourselves things that we would never demand of someone else. But all that is not real. It’s just stuff in our heads.

What’s real is the hard work of making a living in this world. Unless we’re lucky enough to be born into a wealthy family, we must make our own way in the world, and that means making the most of the gifts and talents we’ve been given.

It’s like the parable in the Bible where the master, before leaving on a trip, gives each of his servants a different set of talents and instructs them to do something with them. When he returns, he finds that two of the servants have multiplied their talents while the third, out of fear, has hidden his one talent away and done nothing with it.

In the end, the only failure is when we don’t try. I can’t say that I haven’t tried to achieve my childhood dream of being a novelist—if anything I’ve tried too hard—and I will continue to do so.

But now I’m approaching my dream in a more playful way, as a challenge to go after rather than as a whipping post to flog myself against. I’ve learned to do all kinds of writing in my life. Certainly, I can figure out the formula for novel-writing if I apply myself to it. It’s a way to keep learning, keep growing.

In the meantime, I’m celebrating what I have done in my career. While it hasn’t been the path I thought I would take when I set out forty years ago, I’ve done well. I’ve made a living from my skills, and there’s no guarantee of that in this life. Even the fact that my services are still in demand after I’m no longer gainfully employed speaks to the value I’ve delivered to the organizations I’ve worked for. What's wrong with acknowledging that?

What about you? How have you made use of your God-given gifts and talents to make a living? Are you giving yourself credit for those accomplishments?

I hope so. The worst kind of disappointment is disappointment in ourselves, and I’m done drinking that poison.

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