“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.”— Pablo Picasso
Here’s why—for me—this is the truth (and I know, sometimes it is in the beholder’s eye; it’s how you see it from your own perspective):
I spent over three decades, from the time I was 18 years old, burying the child-artist in me. Pushing something I had shown a talent for (writing) deep under a uniform (Navy) or businessman’s suit (as manager and executive working for others and then as owner of my own businesses). It was who I thought I must be to provide for my family. My brain told me so.
I had success… and setbacks (adding seasoning to life) along the way. Enough success and reward for rationalizing that what I did was what I should do and to continue doing it even though it was sucking the life out of me. But all I have lived and learned has made me who I am today. [Undoubtedly, a better writer than I would be otherwise and one who can draw upon broad and deep experience.]
I wouldn’t erase the past. But back in 2008, it was the future that concerned me. At that time the present pressed hard because I felt my future, the vision I had for it, was fading. I was so dissatisfied, so mad at the business and professional life that controlled me instead of me governing it. And I changed from what I thought I had to do… to do what I wanted. That was tough because I wasn’t rich or wealthy. My wife and I’ve done well, but I–just like most people–had to earn a living. But if you want something enough, you can tough it out. You can take what is meaningful and significant and fit into your life or make it the purpose that drives you.
This, too, became a truth I attest to. But I had to plan and execute a transition.
The backstory for you:
I could read at five and have been an avid reader all my life. I enjoyed writing, but I was not one of those people who labored for years, scribbling and typing away, with unsold manuscripts or the next great American novel in their drawer or sitting on a dusty shelf. Over the years in my correspondence, in observations on life and even mundane business letters, staff reports, etc., many had commented how well I wrote. [My 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Goodwin, bless her soul, was the only teacher I had who saw something in me I wouldn’t discover in myself until 30 years after her class.] So, I enjoyed writing and the praise, but that did not trigger me to commit to writing as a pursuit or passion.
The summer of 1978, right after acceptance, enrollment and freshmen orientation at the University of Arkansas, I made a life-changing decision to drop out and joined the US Navy to become an Operations Specialist instead of going to college. Four years serving in the military taught me a lot and I had many great–and some not so pleasant–experiences and traveled far. [I’ve written on some of those adventures.]
Then for fourteen years, I was an employee/junior manager, then a manager/corporate-executive type.
Then a full-time investor, owner, and manager in challenging, often capital-intensive, stressful businesses.
From 18 to 48 I was all the above. Until I had had enough of doing what I had done for so many years; enduring crushing pressure, and little real joy in what I did day-in-day-out. And replaced what I was doing with what I wanted to do.
I was late to the game and to the realization that writing was my vocation. When I had my epiphany, I took advice from Kipling (excerpt follows from his poem IF, which I have carried in my wallet since 1992):
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
I decided writing was where my heart and soul was. And who can live long separate from the two? I couldn’t so I became who I am. A writer.
It was difficult. It took more than a year to come together. I filled all those unforgiving minutes with effort and wrote and published my first book when I was 48 years old.
Since 2008, I’ve written and ghostwritten over 30 nonfiction and fiction books (over 2,000,000 words published) and dozens of short stories and vignettes, hundreds of essays, posts, and articles and since 2009 (through my company Adducent), I’ve helped publish 50+authors and 73 titles (as of this writing). It’s been hard work because I had to figure things out and learn along the way. In all I’ve done, I’m self-taught–an autodidact–like Henry Miller, Truman Capote, Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner (some of my writing has been compared to his), Harlan Ellison, HP Lovecraft, Terry Pratchett, Louis L’Amour, Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, Alan Moore… and that’s just a dozen or so of the eminently successful self-taught writers. There are dozens more. Not to mention the hundreds–if not thousands–of artists, architects, actors, singers, entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs and other notables who also are autodidacts.
Over 32,000 words from readers and clients attest to what people think about my writing. And I’m still learning and getting better as both a writer and a publisher; that will never stop. My business life still has its stress—if you’re self-employed as I have been for 23+ years you can’t avoid or eliminate that—but I have control of and care about my work and what I create (or help clients create).
So, here’s the thing. The above is about me but now, what follows is for you.
Believe in your heart of hearts and work at what you want to even if it’s while everyone else is sleeping or playing.
Stand resolute before those that doubt you (whether they say it to your face or if you know they are thinking it).
Deal with self-doubts by doing the work, whatever it may be. Action can and will handle self-doubts. Make it happen.
Deal with criticism because it will come. When it happens, take anything you can learn to improve or get better, and discard the rest. Let it, the valueless husk, pass.
If you aren’t willing to do the work, to put in the time and deal with the grind, then don’t whine, worry or complain about your life and your future. Just surrender and take the easy way out, ceding control to others… to circumstances.
But if you want to control your destiny…
Do the work. Hone your craft. Learn what you need to, to take your life in the direction you want. If it’s important enough to you… you’ll find a way.
You can find that child in you, the one you thought was long gone. They’re there. Inside. Just sleeping… waiting for you to wake them. So, they can paint, draw, sing, write, invent, build, capture beauty with a camera… or just dance.
The child inside you can’t, and won’t, come out unless you are brave enough to let it.
I hope you are. I hope you do.
I’ll leave you with this thought from a writer and author much more famous than I…
“For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”–F. Scott Fitzgerald