Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Auntie Seraphic & The Big Dreamer

Preface: Ever since it became possible, smart women have had financial backup plans. My grandma got a teaching certificate in case she didn't get married. She told my mum her B.A. would be handy if she didn't get married. And I, born after 1970, went for an M.Div. instead of another M.A. in case I didn't succeed in academia.

One thing about being a Single woman or a Married Woman who might find herself a Widow tomorrow is that you simply have GOT to have a financial backup plan. Happy the woman who has an interesting and well-paying career that means she will never have to barter hours of her life in a boring job just to scrape by. The crowning irony about being Auntie Seraphic, writing happily all day, is that I wouldn't be able to do it if I weren't married to a man who encourages me to do it and pays almost all of the bills. Yes, that is a sobering thought. But that is reality, and I am all about reality.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

A friend just informed me about your blog, and I find it so overwhelmingly inspiring. I'm not your typical NCG that's dying to meet the man of her dreams so that she can finally be happy. I'm quite open to the religious life and have felt particularly called, but after visiting a few orders and spending time with some religious sisters, I'm not sure if that's right for me at this point. Hence, I'm not necessary in full pursuit of my vocation and looking to live my single life as long as God sees fit.

So, that brings me to the present time. I graduated from college with a degree in nursing in 20--. I spent the past year volunteering with a Catholic organization that ministers to X. This was an AMAZING experience and the best choice my life thus far. However, this was where the problems began.

I was never too excited about nursing, but I was good at math and science, family and friends were very supportive of my 'practical' life choice, and I thought I would find my nitch at some point, right? Well, I left my volunteer ministry position in order to pursue nursing. Yet, as every day passes and I apply for another job, I am reminded of just how much I really don't want to be a nurse. The thought of working as an RN even makes me nauseous at times.

I've had the past two months to simply reflect, and I discovered I have a great passion for writing music. I always knew that I loved music, but I didn't know I would love writing music this much. I feel like God is maybe asking me to pursue this music thing. Yet, I'm such an amateur. I have no idea what I'm doing. I love my music. It makes me feel so close to the Lord and maybe it could do the same for others.

I know with God, anything is possible. I feel like you're a strong advocate for pursuing one's dreams. I have a good amount of money in my bank account, my parents are allowing me to live with them for free right now, and all my loans are paid off. I guess I could go back to the volunteer ministry thing too, but I don't necessarily feel pulled in that direction. So tell me, what would you do in my situation? Should I just find a nursing job for the time being? Should I find a part-time job at Starbucks? Should I travel the world? The possibilities are endless...

Practical vs. Inspirational

Dear Practical vs Inspirational,

You have got the wrong blogger, honey, because I am not a strong advocate for pursuing one's dreams. One's dreams are often harmful and foolish. I ask young women to stop dreaming so darned much and to root their plans--marital or otherwise--in reality.

Incidentally, I am also not an advocate of young Catholic women calling other young Catholic women "typical." Wanting to get married to a good man is normal, natural, healthy and praiseworthy. The part I don't go for, and the part you have in common with the women to whom you feel superior, is "of her dreams."

Women should marry the men God sets in front of them and with whom they sincerely and sensibly fall in love. Women should also consider their actual concrete talents, education, training and opportunities before pursuing a career. And most women don't have careers. They have jobs so that they can eat and keep a roof over their heads. Countless thousands or millions of women toil in rice paddies or pick garbage just to stay alive.

Now, to give up beating up on you for a moment, congratulations on having such a marketable degree. If you are in the USA, you can command a hefty salary as an RN (not so much in Canada, believe me). It seems a great shame that now you hold nursing in so much abhorrence. All that work--for what?

However, there it is. You don't want to get a nursing job, and you have a passion for writing music. You say you are an amateur. I know many well-trained musicians--musicians with doctorates, musicians with masters degrees--and they barely scrape together a living. Some teach. Some have office jobs. Some wait tables. Very few artists make a living through their art. VERY few. Heaven knows I don't. Jeepers!

Of the trained musicians I know, two are also composers. The one who worked his butt off for two decades to become a biggish cheese in the opera world may have made money from the opera he wrote, but I doubt it. The other one, who writes liturgical music---. I don't want to think about it.

If I were you, I wouldn't quit my day job, so to speak. At least not yet. I'd take a nursing contract--just for a six months, say--and see how I liked it. I imagine that there must be many different KINDS of nursing, so I would pick the kind I liked best, e.g. pediatrics.

Of course, since you had a great time with the Catholic organization, you might want to explore how you could help another organization. The Jesuit Refugee Service, for example, might be looking for nurses. If what you can't stand about nursing is the standard Stateside system, then maybe leaving the system for a charitable organization is for you.

As a reward for six months of solid work, I would give myself a nice trip when my term was up. Meanwhile, I'd start asking experts in the field if I had great musical gifts and if it would be worthwhile to pursue a career in musical composition. Depending on the genre, I might try to join or form a band.

In short, get a decent contract that makes you independent of your parents and enjoy your hobby in your spare time. Talk to experts before you kneecap your ability to support yourself.

Meanwhile, you might want--in fairness--to bounce your idea off your parents. I can imagine that while many parents would be happy to financially support their children while they looked for a practical job, most would suddenly be reluctant if their children announced that they were just going to stay at home and write music instead. Of course, if they think you are the next Cole Porter, they will probably be delighted.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,


sciencegirl said...

My mom worked full time as an artist. She earned sometimes thousands of dollars a year, which financed her supplies and helped our family afford a few luxuries like vacations. My dad worked as a professional and earned the money to pay all our bills and for our food. Some of the best career/job advice I've heard is that not every passion or skill needs to be a full-time job. There are a lot of my fellow scientists who have artistic pursuits -- bands, painting, pottery -- outside of their jobs. They find them quite rewarding and even make a little money back for the hours they spend practicing. There are some people who are able to leave their day jobs eventually; you will soon be able to test this if you start trying to make money with music as a hobby first.

You are no longer a child, and you therefore have a responsibility to support yourself. If you really don't want to work as a nurse, then go ahead and look for a job at Starbucks or something like that. Waitressing on the weekend shift of a good restaurant will actually pay you more if you are good at it, though, and you could work a shorter week if you want. There's a reason a lot of aspiring actors and musicians work as restaurant servers: the hours are shorter and more flexible than in a 40-hr a week job. While I don't believe that The Dream is everything, I also don't believe that you MUST use the degree you decided to earn as a 19 year-old. If you would rather be a barista than a working nurse, I'm sure most hospital patients would prefer that as well, and there is no shame in knowing how to make a good mochaccino.

Adam's Rib said...

"Not every passion or skill needs to be a full-time job"

Good advice Science Girl! And good advice Seraphic!
I have been pondering these questions myself for a while, and have come to the conclusion that it is exactly because the "options are endless" that one must stay rooted in reality when considering your next step.

SoaringSoprano said...

There's some really great advice here, both from Seraphic and from Science Girl! Thank you!

I'm a working musician myself, currently finishing up my BA in Vocal Performance. I went back to school after getting an Associates degree in Gemology and working in the jewellery industry for 6 years. At the end of it all, I realised that I loved my music better than I loved my jewellery job, although I did like that as well. Jewellery just wasn't something I was passionate about like I was with my music.

However, I totally agree with Science Girl in regards to trying it as a hobby first. While I was working, I was involved heavily in the local arts/theatre scene and continued to takes lessons and did lots of gigs for free simply because I love singing for people. I didn't decide to take the plunge and go back to school until I'd gained a lot of experience and got lots of feedback from people in the music industry about my talents and if I had a genuine prospect of making a living from it. Thankfully, the answers were all a resounding "yes" (but, realistically, even that doesn't guarantee anything).

As of now, I'm in school and teaching private lessons full-time. The pay isn't the best, but I still love what I do, even if it means I go without cool vacations or Starbucks or frequent dinners out.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I believe in living your dream, if it's a truly viable option. And if you can't make a living at it, I say totally go ahead and make it your hobby! You'll learn a lot just getting involved with the local music scene, or even taking a basic music theory/composition class at your local university to try out if you'd really like it as a job.

Pray to St. Cecilia and St. Gregory the Great for guidance; they've helped me many times!

Good luck with everything! :)

Jam said...

Ohh, I know this feeling. The worst part is not feeling *called* to anything. Frankly, I do not think I know my vocation yet on the verge of 26. I can't look at anything in my life and say "I feel strongly called by God to serve Him in XYZ capacity," although in general the things I do are things I believe are good and worthwhile etc, and I do them because I think they do serve God. It's easy to look back then and say "I was never so excited about this..." But "following your dreams" is not the same as "following God's call" and I have concluded that you really can't force God's hand (oof, have I tried). Nothing to do then I suppose but to put what you have to good account and wait until you feel more sure.

(Commenter formerly known as Julie, now under my initials.)

BurgoFitzgerald said...

Oprah always says "Live your bliss." To which I always reply that if everyone was to live his or her bliss, lower-case Oprah probably wouldn't be screaming-capitals OPRAH today. To sustain Oprah's, and many of the wealthy and famous people who preach that pithy little phrase, life would be considerably different. All the people who clean up Harpo Studios? Are they living their bliss? The people in the factories making the junk that fills her "O"'s Favourite Things page in her magazine? Are they living their bliss? The problem is that people believe that from the moment we get up to the moment we put our heads down on our pillows we should feel bliss. How many times have you heard, "Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life." Well, I am doing what I love, and guess what? It is work and there are days when I hate it. I have read the original letter to Seraphic, and all I can get from it is that so many people want a) easy answers, b) guarantees, c) 24/7 of PERSONAL satisfaction/gratification, d) a "big" life. I am sorry for venting, but I am a college professor, and I cannot tell you how many times I hear from students, "I want a career so I won't have to work for a living." or "I don't want to have to do anything that is beneath me." I kid you not. Those are words I hear every semester from them. The designer, Karim Rashid, writes in his latest book, design your self, "We are not here to please others; we are here to do great things for ourselves." When you read his book, what he is actually saying is, "We are not here to help others or give to others; we are here to do great things for ourselves." I think so many people see fall into the letter writer's frame of mind: they don't see themselves as "typical" drones who have to actually dig a ditch, clean a bathroom, file papers, bathe a sick and elderly person, count the money, wash the dishes, or anything else that "sell outs" and people who have "settled" have to do. To quote a 26 year old student of mine who hasn't handed a single assignment in all year, "I feel that I meant for something greater than a 9 to 5 office job."

sciencegirl said...

Jobs that are beneath me and beneath everyone:

1. Prostitution/stripping/porn
2. Murder/Burglary/Drug-dealing
3. Human trafficking
4. Other crimes, misdemeanors and mortal sins I can't think of right now

What used to be called "honest work" is not beneath anyone. It may not use your degree or it may not use your best talents, but no decent job is "unworthy" of you. HAHA, I tried that line in high school when I didn't want to work at a fast food place to earn spending money, and I can still hear my parents' scornful lecture. The honest but dull work I did in high school actually made me 1) appreciate the chance to do something else 2) respect people who work customer service jobs and 3) appreciate how hard it is to earn money and how fast it goes away.

Burgo, stories like this actually make me want to be a professor even more, because it's clear the world and the children's parents have failed to instill in them a reality check and humility along with all the talk of dreams and self-esteem.

ceciliamschwartz said...

I think the advice that has been given thus far is excellent! It is important to recognize the gritty realistic aspect of pursuing one’s dreams.

I am currently ‘living my dream’ as a professional dancer in a big city. I supported myself as an admin in a law firm in my hometown for years so I could practice in the evenings and perform on weekends. Being over 30, I had long ago set aside my dream of being a professional dancer for a more practical life. And I was very happy with that life I had so long as I had an outlet to continue dancing.

Last year, I had an opportunity to pursue my dancing hobby/passion professionally, which would include a major relocation. It took weeks and weeks of prayer, discernment and counsel-seeking* before I determined that it was indeed God’s will for me to live my dream. Of course, my dancer salary only covers dance supplies (shoes, tights, performance needs, etc.) and my continuing dance education. I still have to work full-time as an office admin to put a roof over my head, but I would do almost anything to do what I love. (My list of what I wouldn’t do is very similar to sciencegirl’s.) I knew it wouldn’t be easy working full time and dancing part time. It is grueling, but that is what I love about it.

Jam said that ‘following your dreams is not the same as following God’s call’. And that is often true, but if we truly desire to do God’s will then our dreams will slowly morph into whatever that ‘call’ may be.** I was amazed to discover that my long-forgotten dream was indeed God’s plan for my life. Though in all honesty, the joy I have found in taking this opportunity is not so much about living my dream, but doing God’s will.

*I specifically sought counsel from several well-trusted, very wise people (including my spiritual director and parents) who would not tell me to ‘follow my dreams’ just for the sake of following my dreams, but would keep me rooted in reality throughout my discernment.

**This comes with much prayer, discernment and more counsel-seeking.

Seraphic said...

I am reading all of these comments with great interest. In the end Cecilia's comment inspired me to make another comment. Cecilia is living her dream to be a dancer after asking several wise people including her parents, and to be a dancer she works a 9-5 REAL job, an office admin job, not a minimum wage studenty Starbucks job.

I can imagine a scenario in which a nurse or orderly does the same thing: works full-time and then goes home and writes music and then some years later--only after being assured by people that she has REAL talent--leaving to go to Nashville (or wherever) to take up a job as a songwriter.

This reminds me: I know a woman who can't stand office admin work (and knows she can't stand it for she has done it for years), but is once again doing office admin because (A) in this economy, it's the only work going (B) she has to eat and pay her rent. Meanwhile, on weekends she works on her novel. Her dream is to make a living from her writing, but until she does (if she ever does), there is no way she can give up on 9-5.

People love to create. Some people are so good at creation that they earn the respect of experts in the field. After a heck of a lot of hard work and some lucky patronage, they make a name for themselves. Others are just not very good; they think they are good, but that is because they don't know very much about their art. Others teeter on the line between good and adequate.

Who will earn the money is an open question. J.K. Rowling is not as good a novelist as A.S. Byatt, but it is J.K. Rowling who is the zillionaire. Both, however, make a living from their work.

Bottom line: almost all of us have to work. To succeed in any profession takes blood, sweat, tears and talent. Some people are such artists that they would rather work their fingers to the bone at a 9-5 job and then work all night on their art. But others are not really artists but people who just like to have fun 24/7. (I myself enjoy having fun 24/7; this is a vice with which I have to struggle myself.)

I hate the idea of college students thinking they are above almost all jobs; I had that idea myself and I am ashamed of it now.

kozz said...

Couldn’t agree more with Burgo. There is tremendous falsity promulgated by Oprah and the rest of her new age cronies. It is as if becoming a success in your “field/job”, promises an unmitigated eternal supply of happiness and a guarantee of happily ever afters. It’s interesting to note that Oprah’s standard question to almost all celebs on her show are on the theme of manifestations of dreams, and how whatever they imagined somehow magically came true. I was quite amused that she didn’t ask the same question to a celeb porn star who appeared on her show.
As a personal disclosure, I really hate my job. It’s mundane and quite pointless. But it affords me some nice holidays and ability to monetarily help others, which compensates to some extent. I am looking at a career change, to something which would sustain me for longer. So, please keep me in your prayers. And G-d knows, I need tons of it.

theobromophile said...

I don't want to make "Practical" feel as if she's being piled on to, or otherwise made to feel badly about being young, but I have sort-of old person advice.

NEVER look at your job in a vacuum. Too many people are either trying to be their jobs, or make their jobs their life, or, as ScienceGirl says, turn every passion into a job. What people forget is that a job can bring you a lot of things that are extremely valuable that don't come from the satisfaction you get from the type of work you do.

To be very frank: I think that you are undervaluing - by a LOT - the value of a job that gives you a secure, middle-class lifestyle. No worrying about where the mortgage payment comes from. No avoiding going to the doctor when you're sick because you don't have insurance and can't afford it. No second job, third job to make ends meet. No working at age 75 because it's that or eating cat food, or worse.

I grew up with people who see money as security and freedom - and responsibility. As a personal value, I envy my parent's no-debt (not even mortgage debt!), retirement-fully-funded life. They are in their mid-50s, my stepmom is retired, and my dad could retire tomorrow and live comfortably until age 90.

But, as he says, "I didn't grow up thinking I would do X" (X is a very practical, but very non-sexy, non-earth-saving, non-enlightening job). But he could probably spend his retirement saving the world (or at least his corner of it), and let me tell you, it's a LOT easier to spend one's retirement in fulfilling ways than it is to do that during prime earning years and then work during one's seventies and eighties.

Ah, enlightenment and saving the world. I don't mean to bash vocations, but I think that young people take "vocation" to mean "I must find something glamourous or people-serving to make a career out of," as if - logical implication of that line of thinking - mail men, line cooks, and janitors do their jobs because they lack God's guidance towards something else. (Like mail delivers itself, or toilets clean themselves!)

What I seem to be hearing with "nurse," "liturgical music writer," and "youth ministry leader" is "save people!" not "find a job that I can handle that pays the bills, keeps me comfortable, and ensures that I'm not going to die of cancer because I couldn't afford decent health care, or eat cat food at age 80 for the same reason." Not that you should chase money, but the reality is that giving up a secure, middle-class life is not as easy breezy fun noble as you think it is.

As I said on Seraphic's other thread, the ONLY people who fill young people's heads with such nonsense and fluff are those with plenty of money themselves. One of the best lessons I learned, when deciding from whom to take advice, was to look at what that person does, not what he says to do. The BMW-driving country club folk will tell you to write music and "follow your passion" (well, some of them will), but no one living hand-to-mouth would tell you to give up nursing, because, believe it or not, the alternative might be a lot more miserable.

Now, if nursing is the wrong fit for you, that's one thing. Some people just don't fit in their jobs and need to find another one. Squeamish? Introverted? Use that math/science background for a job in hospital administration, finance, budgeting, or even biology. But for heaven's sake, find another steady job that you like.

Mary Higgins Clark, mystery writer and Catholic extraordinaire, wrote from 5 am to 7 am every morning, then got the kids ready for school, then worked a full-time, non-mystery-novel writing job. She's a great role model, IMHO.

(Sorry if that came off as a rant, but forgive the non-profit lawyer who works a second job at night for saying this.)