Thursday, April 12, 2012

The passion that keeps you going when it sucks

Besides being a romantic comedy novelist, I work part-time as the Communications & PR Manager for my city's tourism bureau. For two days, I've been job-shadowed by a high school student seeking a career in tourism marketing.

Let's all pause here and shudder at the thought of an underage student learning anything from me, in any capacity, ever.

I spent plentiful time with the young lass, discussing marketing strategies, explaining social media tactics, and convincing her my job involves more than getting paid to drink beer with journalists.

Toward the end of our first session, she pulled out a list of questions her teacher suggested she pose to the professionals she shadowed. I looked around for professionals, and finding none, agreed to be interviewed.

Several questions focused on my career path, and I explained my progression from underpaid journalist to understimulated tech writer to marketing geek. The latter is where I've spent the last thirteen years marketing everything from community healthcare to kids' photography franchises to translation & localization services for the life sciences industry (say that ten times fast and then drink two shots of vodka, because that's the only way to make it sound anything other than mind-numbingly dull).

I explained that the type of marketing I do boils down to being a glorified cheerleader for whatever product or service I'm paid to hawk. Over the years, I have gotten pretty decent with my pom-poms.

She politely refrained from commenting on my pom-poms as she posed another question:

What advice would you offer someone who's just starting out in this line of work?

I thought about it long and hard (and didn't even make the "long and hard" joke while I did so.) Finally, I settled on a reply.

"About eight years into my marketing career, I got cocky," I explained. "I was switching jobs at the time, and I remember thinking I'd be happy marketing just about any product, as long as I was well-paid."

I was wrong.

I learned that the hard way as I found myself failing to get fired up over photo studios and translation services. I reached a point where I thought I might just throw in the towel on the marketing thing and try being a circus clown instead.

"Then, this job came along," I explained. "I've lived in this town for 14 years, and I vacationed here as a kid. I know a hundred million reasons this is the coolest place on earth to be, and I get to spend my days sharing that with people. I'm passionate about the Bend Ale Trail. I get giddy thinking about floating the river or finding the city's best mac-and-cheese. There are days I know I'd do this job even if no one paid me. And that right there is what will keep you going when the job f**king sucks. Because make no mistake about it – there will be days your job f**king sucks."

I didn't say f**king, but I did infuse my monologue with enough passion to make the youngster sit up a little straighter in her chair.

The advice holds for just about any task you undertake. When I began writing fiction nine years ago, I started off writing women's action/adventure romances. I sold my first book to Harlequin Silhouette's Bombshell line, which was canceled a month before my scheduled debut.

I'm glad about that.

Because my heart wasn't in that kind of writing, and I damn well knew it. While I won't claim to be the best romantic comedy writer on earth, I can tell you I'm a lot more passionate about writing penis jokes than helicopter crashes.

And that's what makes a difference when I hit the inevitable low spots in my writing career. Having a passion for what I write is what keeps me going even when the well runs dry.

My high school shadow finished scrawling in her notebook and stood up. "Thank you," she said.

"No problem," I told her.

The next day, I checked back once she'd finished shadowing my four colleagues.

"So after all that," I asked, "which job do you think you'd most like to do someday?"

She thought about it a minute, then pointed at two of my co-workers. "His or hers," she said before looking back at me. "I don't think I have it in me to do yours."

I think it's best I didn't ask what she meant by that. It's also best I refrained from snickering over the phrase, have it in me.

Are you lucky enough to be passionate about your career or some other aspect of your life? Do you find it makes a difference? Please share!


Unknown said...

I found myself in your previous situation by thinking I can do any job as long as I have writing on the side to shine my days. I was wrong of course. But then I stumbled into a job as an administrator and found myself absolutely loving to put statistics together. Sometimes you can find stuff you not only do well but you also like doing even when you think it sounds like the dullest job ever.

On your questions - I don't think it makes a difference to be passionate UNLESS you're also skilled at whatever it is you're passionate about.

I love cooking, running and writing. I'm not any good at any of them. I have little sense for flavour, my body breaks down if I try to run for longer or faster, and I can't even get my friends and family to like my writing.

In inspirational speeches people often say you can get anywhere if you want it enough. I think it's an unfair statement - am I less passionate just because I'm not equally equipped? (feel free to giggle)

People don't get far without passion, but passion alone can only get you so far.

Skye said...

I agree that if you aren't passionate about what you do, it's going to be a long, hard slog (and not the good kind of long and hard). But it's also possible for passions to change. At one time, I loved being a tech writer and writing about anything computer-related even though a lot of what I wrote saw little or nor light of day.

Now I'm looking for my passion. It's still writing and editing, but what? I've started writing creatively again, but I'm going to have to find something that actually pays that I'm at least halfway passionate about. Otherwise, we're back to the long and hard and not in the good way.

Anonymous said...

I think having a day job is a must. I'm not saying my writing gets stale, I just mean that sometimes I need the non-fiction writing I do for the day job to balance things out.

When I'm first drafting I wish I didn't have a day job at all, and that I could just write all day and night. But when I'm novel editing I'm glad to have the day job work to keep my brain motivated.

-Suz xx

LM said...

I'm just LMAO at your blog. Which is a compliment in itself. Thanks for letting me enjoy life from another perspective!

Monique Liddle said...

Hi Tawna -
I have done several jobs over the course of my adult life and I finally thought, like you, that I could do any job because I am diligent and have a lot of enthusiasm. However, due my guy's job, we moved to the middle of nowhere in NC. I couldn't find anything. Therefore, when i got a job offer as a customer service rep for a printing company, I took the position. I hated it, but I tried to remain enthusiastic and worked my butt off. I quickly rose through the ranks to VP of inside sales. I quit 4 weeks later.
I recently started a website and blog with the goal of building community for people whose lives have had a massive turn due to health problems, death of a loved one, unwanted divorce by spouse, etc. This website is the result of my own 12 year battle w/MS and chronic nerve pain. I don't get paid other than my disability, but I love it. My health often interferes, but it sometimes drives certain posts to be more personal. So, I would have to completely agree with you. Do what you enjoy doing. And you'll be much happier!

Tammy J. Palmer said...

I have one of those not so fun day jobs. Fortunately, it doesn't require much brain power. My brain is always in a story. So if you see a grocery clerk smiling for no particular reason she may have just come up with a hilarious line for one of her characters. (Either that or you have lipstick on your teeth.)

Matthew MacNish said...

I haven't been here in forever.

I'm usually pretty passionate about being alive in general, but then I go to work, and it sucks it all out of me. I try to get it back, mostly by writing, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. I'm okay with it for now, but I'm hoping that if I keep at it, it will get better.