9 to 5 has never been for me.
I’m a natural night owl. I do my best — have the best writing sessions, get struck by the best ideas — when I’m still awake, alone, after others have gone to bed. So when I found myself sitting in morning traffic a few years ago, chugging an energy drink to supplement the four hours of sleep I’d gotten and wishing not-so-nice things to happen to the awful drivers who cause those traffic jams every morning, I decided that I’d had enough and that it was time to rethink my writing career before I lost my mind.
I was an Instructional Designer. It was nice to use my talents and education for a position that allowed me to write everyday, but I realized, sitting there on that caffeine-fueled, dead-stop morning, that training manuals and user guides weren’t for me, and that I was wasting time, and risking my sanity, spending hours on the road each day to do so.
I’d read plenty of articles and blog posts on freelance writing and I decided then and there, as I tossed the empty energy drink can onto the pile of other cans that had accumulated on the passenger-side floor, that I was going to work for myself from then on out. I was finished with the 9 to 5: that road trip is for people with different dreams.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer: a journalist, an author, or, as the internet gained popularity, even a blogger. I just wanted to make my living by my keyboard. As with many things in life, however, I had to get passed the only obstacle that blocks any road I may want to take: myself.
I didn’t have the wherewithall to admit to myself that it would take hard work and practice. So I drifted through life, still learning, still occasionally practicing, but mostly just waiting around for the day I would wake up as a writer. I moved around, went back to school for a Master’s Degree; I read books about writing, I would start writing projects; I fell in love and got married…yet none of these things turned me into the writer I was waiting to becoming.
All of the things that I did to trick myself into believing that I would one day be a writer — the jobs, the education, the pretty life I’d cultivated, the experiences of the last two decades — never helped me at all. But that awful morning traffic on the way to that 9 to 5 did.
In my traffic-fueled frustrations, I was honest with myself for the first time. I wasn’t a writer. And I never would be if I didn’t get down the business of writing; not just for others, but for myself as well.
In my head, I pressed down hard on the gas pedal that morning and knocked the cars in front of me out of my way, rolling through them like a train through powdery snow, speeding to the first exit and whipping around to head back home, blowing through red lights and stop signs with confidence, knowing that when I finally arrived, a new life would be waiting for me when I bashed in my front door, raging at the prospect of freedom.
In reality, I sat that traffic for that 9 to 5 and crawled to work. I finished my time and left professionally. I began to force myself to write everyday, no matter how I felt: short stories, blog posts, article sketches that I could sell, anything that put words on paper or screen. I found a position writing SEO content for a company on the internet. I plugged away, churning out article after article, 600 and counting. Through a friend, I was introduced to a local magazine, and published my first bylined article since that faraway traffic-filled morning. Through the magazine, I’ll have more published works in the future and I’ll meet more clients: one already wants me to create content for their website and social media. More gigs will come. More writing will be done. And so on and so forth until, hopefully, on some faraway morning, I can look back on my choice with pride and an affection for all that I’ve done.
All because of that 9 to 5 that forced me to examine what it was that I wanted out of life. I want the same as everyone else: love, happiness, laughter, friendship. For me, however, those things that make life worth living cannot be found waiting on the road along with everyone else waiting to limp into a job that never really suited them in the first place.
I chose a different road. Sure, I’m alone most of the time, but I’m not lonely. I have words to write and people who love me and friends that have made all of the difference in my life, from childhood through today, and on to tomorrow. The road I’ve chosen is wide, and there’s just as much room for success and confidence as there is for uncertainty and apprehension.
But at least there aren’t any traffic jams along the way.