Jun 07

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Why be a Writer* When You Could be an Electrical Engineer?**

* stands for the job of your dreams, the one that you would do if you only didn’t have to worry about minor details, like bringing food to the table and such.

** stands for whatever you’ll end up doing, the secure job that comes with a monthly paycheck, a protruding belly and weekly visits to a therapist, trying to figure out why you are not “happy” even after all that money, the smart phone that allows you to video chat with your dog and all those other superfluous gadgets that you don’t really need, but that you could never live without.


The truth is that, as much as I would love to be able to say that I would rather be a homeless writer than a rich electrical engineer, I know it’s false.  Wally said it all too well in My Dinner With Andre:

When I was young and rich all I thought about was art and music. Now I’m 36, and all I think about is money.”

I am not 36  and becoming rich is certainly not among my priorities, but I am painfully aware of the fact that I’ve been steering clear of creative writing as if it were an infectuous disease.

This is part of the reason I created Write-A-Holic: so that I would have an excuse for doing what I love. But I wonder – why is it so hard to choose to be a writer, or an artist, in general? And why should we keep trying? I think I might have the answer to both questions, so here I go:

Two reasons why many creative people don’t end up following their passion:

1. You might end up being poor

Ok, fair enough. But you have to at least give it a try. Otherwise you will never know whether you could have actually ended up making it. In his book The Art of The Start, venture capitalist Kawasaki says that, for a successful entrepreneur, ignorance is bliss. What he means is that people who achieve impossible feats aren’t necessarily the ones with more experience or talent. They are the ones who didn’t know or care that what they wanted to do was almost impossible… and so they made it.

I am sure that, in your life, you have heard many people tell you not to do something, that it was “impossible.” I heard the same refrain conutless times and, so far, I have always enjoyed proving everyone wrong. The funny thing is that, every time I decide to do something “impossible,” people look at me like I’m this crazy person, and tell me “Vale, do you know what you are doing?” And my answer, of course, is invariably “Yes!” But the truth is that I almost never know what I am doing, or if I am actually going to be able to do it. But I try nevertheless…and, somehow, I make it through.

2. But what if I try and fail?

Sure, that’s a possibility. And yo are not alone. I think one of the main reasons that I always find excuses to procrastinate on my creative writing is that I am secretly terrified – well, now not so secretly – of giving it my all and realizing that I’m a horribe writer and that half of my readers never get past the first sentence. But, what happens if I don’t try? I will surely never be a writer. And so I try, and I don’t just try half-heartedly – I give it my all. And when I get scared, which happens at least thrice a day, I think about Chuck Palahniuk, who says: “find out what you are afraid of and go live there.” And he is right, because usually, it’s doing what scares us the most that ends up giving us the greatest satisfaction in the end.

And, by the way, you will fail. I have been rejected many times. Just like anyone else. But I kept going, and you should, too.

Two ways to help you keep going:

1. Have a short memory

Or, in other words, keep trying. I have a funny story about this too. So, I don’t know if you are familiar with Color Labs Inc, the social network startup that got $41 million in funding this March. Bill Nguyen, the entrepreneur behind the company, shocked the Stanford crowd by telling us that the reason for his success was his short term memory: he conveniently forgets every time he gets rejected and keeps trying until, finally, he succeeds. Nguyen pointed out that many people get discouraged once they start failing, and stop trying. The problem is that it’s easy to get discouraged. But you shouldn’t really. I mean let’s just take an example from my life: when I was seventeen, I got rejected from a mediocre Italian university. I cried the whole night, but  my cat was there to lick my tears and his warm, fluffy body pressed against my cheek helped me to realize that I could still make something good out of my life. And now, five years later, I am about to become a Stanford alumni. Ironically, if I had gotten into that Italian university, I would have probably never even ended up applying to Stanford… which goes to prove that trying hard and failing can be a more valuable experience than suceeding at something that is easy and clearly possible. Ultimately, if you do fail, take it as an incentive to try even harder next time.

2. Be surrounded by positive people

That one night, my cat was there for me. Similarly, I will always be greateful for my ex, who encouraged me to apply to Stanford. I thought I wouldn’t get in, my dad believed that applying was just going to be a waste of money and time, and I would never have submitted that application if he hadn’t insisted so adamantly, telling me that he was convinced that I could get in. And here I am. This is why surrounding yourselves with positive people is key. Because life is tough, following your dreams is scary, and failing on the way will require someone to help you pick up the pieces whenever you are too weak to do it yourself. If somebody tells you that you can’t do something, chances are that it has nothing to do with you. Usually, people who are negative are like that with everyone, particularly with themselves.  happens to them? Well, they might not fail as often as you will, but they might also not succeed as often, and they may never end up becoming the person they would truly long to be. Leave their fear of life to them. Instead, seek out people who support you. And forgive me for offering you one more quote from Goethe, one of my favorite writers: “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

What are you waiting for? Go out and do it, right now!

We all tend to put off what scares us. But we shouldn’t. I don’t know much about the other arts (unfortunately) but I do know a little about writing, and I can tell you that, the more you write, the better you will become, and that you should start now. So pick up your pen (or usb stick) and go do it! There are many websites that pay you to write, incluing us – but, honestly, we aren’t the only ones. In fact, here is a comprehensive list of many websites that pay you to do what you love the most.

Best of luck, and come back for more whenever you feel discouraged: we are happy to cheer for you from the sidelines, and hope you will be able to achieve your dreams.

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  1. burt

    Hey be so quick to dismiss electrical engineers, they are a varied and interesting lot. I have met electrical engineers who are poets, keen outdoorsmen, farmers, and crackpots, who build tesla coils in their garages, rig lighting for plays, and do the plumbing for their mothers. You should get to know some, like you said in another post, one should take an interest in all people. People are not boring, give them a chance.

    1. Valentina Nesci

      Dear Burt, thank you so much for your comment – it allows me to explain myself further, and to clear up a possible misunderstanding. I don’t think engineers of any kind are boring or uncreative! I know many and, just like you said, they are musicians, writers, poets, painters… BUT this is exactly my point. For instance, one of the electrical engineers I know loves music. He plays the piano, the drums… etc. Unfortunately, however, being an engineer doesn’t give him enough time to practice the piano and create art, and this bothers him.

      There comes a time in which people need to make the choice to either invest everything into art or put it on the back burner. Too often, especially for those who could be successful in more conventional professions (electrical engineering is just an example) it is hard to gamble everything and choose to be an artist instead. And this is what was the post was about: the struggle that many people who ache to do art but could also be successful doing something else face as they need to decide how much time and energy to dedicate to creative expression. It’s a tough choice and, often, I wish it were an easier one to make.

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