Thursday, June 3, 2010

On Chasing Dreams

Last week, I had the privilege of doing a phone interview with Diana Levine, a celebrity photographer based in New York City and fellow Clarkie. She worked for Boston Magazine before going freelance and enjoying what I see as quite a bit of success: she's shot the likes of Alicia Keys, Kim Kardashian, 50 Cent, New Kids on the Block, and Barack Obama, to name a few, as well as worked with artists such as some guys named Justin Bieber and P. Diddy (no big, you know). It's sort've just dawning on me as I've started trying to put together my profile on her for Pulse that I've gotten the chance to speak to someone, well, pretty darn important in the creative field. She was super sweet and soft-spoken and completely humble; when I mentioned that I felt it was amazing she'd gotten to successful so quickly, she giggled, said "thank you," and said that she'd never thought of it that way.

After we completed the actual interview, we talked a bit off the record about the creative field, breaking in, and what it feels like to dream big in a world where people often doubt you. Out of respect and to keep my promise, I won't relay the actual story, but talking to Diana got me thinking about my own forays into being a Professional Creative Type so far.

When I first told my mother I didn't want to go to medical school anymore and that I wanted to write instead, she was very disappointed. Though she's always known I was into writing, she never saw it as a legitimate career-- and I think there are plenty of people who really don't see it that way, either. I remember I was sitting at my desk in my Freshman dorm room trying so hard not to cry (but I did, hysterically) as I explained that this was what I needed to do. For my grades, for my sanity, for everything I felt deep down that I needed. Really, truly needed.

Becoming a professional writer-- and not just a "writer," because no matter what, if writing is what's nestled into your heart, you are a writer, no matter what you do for a living-- had been on my mind since that summer when I'd started to doubt the idea of medical school being where I belonged. It clicked one day when I talked to a friend's father about it.

"Imagine," he said, "you've won the lottery-- so much money you'll never need to work again. What would you do? Whatever your answer is, that's what you really want."

It wasn't being a medical examiner, no matter how fascinated I was (and am) by death and corpses and solving mysteries. I wanted to write.

When I tried to explain to my mother, she didn't understand. She was sure a choice like this would land me under a bridge somewhere with nothing to eat and no clothes on my back, or at best living paycheck to paycheck in a cheap apartment. She was sad for me. She was angry, even, angry that someone "so smart" would do something like this, like write, like work a job for peanuts. She tried to explain that what I was doing wasn't practical and that was why it made her sad. I asked her why she wanted me to be miserable, because that's what science made me: miserable, utterly. She said I would regret my decision to write.

It was hard to accept her disappointment. Even for someone who is very independent and has never felt very attached to her parents' opinions of her, this was a low blow. The next day, I got several messages expressing worry on the phone. I ignored them.

The first couple of years after my announcement were the hardest. My mother has gotten used to it by now, and has opted not to be confrontational about it even though her worries still linger for my future. I don't let it bother me. Because me? For better or worse, I'm the kind of person who will do whatever I want no matter what anyone says. And I'd be lying if I said the doubts of others don't fuel my competitive, stubborn nature and make me want things even more.

I suppose the point of is simply this: believe in your dreams. It's corny, but do it anyway. Realize what it is you want and go for it, no matter what anyone says. Because you might fail, sure, but I think that risk is always worth it: I would rather know than live with what ifs. Here's the thing: you're smart and capable and amazing and if you follow a passion that you really do have a knack for, if you're doing something special and noteworthy, you will succeed. My favorite writing professor, a former reporter/newspaper columnist, told me that the worst thing you can do when trying to succeed is give yourself an ultimatum or a time limit. He said it's the people that don't let naysayers, or the rejection, or the negativity, or the anything tell them "no" who make it in the creative field. Or really, any field. I know you're not all aspiring professional writers or artists or musicians, but the same goes for anything. If you want to do it, make it happen, no matter what anyone says. There will always be a way as long as you push hard enough. Don't give up if you believe in what you're doing, really and truly.

And just think of how good it will feel when you, maybe the one person who knew you'd make it all along, get to say "I told you so."

You might even get to meet Justin Bieber.


Jem said...

My parents were the exact same way for awhile when I first told them I wanted to be a journalist, they didn't see it as a very successful career choice. However they should have expected that I would pick creative career seeing as when I was younger I wanted to be a fashion designer. So as you can see I've never wanted to be a teacher or something. I love what your friends dad told you, this has always been my philosophy as well... as long as I am doing something I love then I have all I need. :)

Vanessa said...

Jem: " long as I am doing something I love then I have all I need." So. True.

tywo said...

I'm doing engineering, and I have two years left. Honestly, I'm doing this for my parents. I really want to be a writer or a photographer. I want to feel life.
I believe in my dreams, I just don't know how to tell my parents.
Right now, I'm taking lots of pictures, and studying engineering, but I would like to go to a photography school for a couple of years.
I wish I was brave like you.


Vanessa said...

Tywo: Wow, I totally feel your story. I hope you like engineering at least a little-- it's really impressive that you're doing it. I think it's great that you're going to maybe try doing a little photography school. Maybe you can work something out with it in the future. I hope so :)

Zmaga said...

I agree with you. I am studying journalism and dealing with naysayers all the time! It's frustrating, really. What should you say when a person tells you "You know, my son is working as a journalist and it's hard, hard job with not a lot of money" - I was told that last week and I was left speechless. What do you want me to do - just drop it because YOUR SON didn't make it? Become a lawyer because that is practical? Well, no, I plan on doing it anyway, doing my very best to be successful. Thankfully, my parents never said a word about my career option and my sister has always been supportive in my times of doubt.
This is a sore subject for me, sorry for leaving such a long comment.

Vanessa said...

Let it all out, girl! It's good to talk about the things that get us all twisted up in knots like this. I've heard that same spiel, and I totally agree it IS a hard job-- and so are a lot of jobs. I mean, so is being a lawyer or a lot of other jobs that pay really great money. I think the difference with being a writer is that a lot of times SUCCESS means making "okay" money. I think, though, speaking as one writer to another, it's not really about the money for us, for better or worse.


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