Picture this, if you will.
A teenage Jim walks into the kitchen one morning carrying a stuffed frog. He proceeds to dance the frog around while singing a song in a silly voice, pretending that the frog is putting on a show for his mother. And when he finishes, he looks at his mother and says, "I'm going to dedicate my life to doing this."
What do you think she said? How did she react?
Now put yourself in that position. However, change the dancing frog to whatever your passion may be. Playing guitar, writing books, dancing, acting, painting, wrestling - whatever you enjoy doing. You enter a room of family and friends and proceed to perform your chosen interest. For the sake of this example, let's say you've written a short story and you want to read it to them. When you're finished, you say to them, "I'm going to dedicate my life to doing this."
What do you think they'd say? How would they react?
Perhaps they'll cheer you on. Perhaps they'll throw their full support behind your dream. I've been lucky enough to have some supporters of my own goals. But from my experience, there may be others who don't have as much faith in you. There may be skepticism. Criticism. Flat-out discouragement. After all: "It's nearly impossible to break into that field." And: "You'll have to fight against all the competition out there. Professional competition." Or the cliche response: "You'll never make any money doing that."
Or worse yet, as someone close to me once said, "You'll never get published."
How would you react to that? What would you do?
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Jim's mother says something like that in response to his dancing frog routine. And Jim listens. Instead of pursuing a career as a puppeteer, Jim decides to start a business career, and years later, he gets a high-level executive job. The pay is good. The benefits are good. Life is good. But Jim is miserable. He's stuck in a corporate suit promoting someone else's product and contributing nothing of his own interests and creations to society. And worse yet, the world has been deprived of a piece of entertainment history that would've captivated the hearts of children and adults for decades to come.
The world has been deprived of The Muppets.
Now, as a disclaimer, let me just say that I have no idea how Jim Henson first told his parents of his interest in being a puppeteer nor do I know how they reacted. I used the above scenario as an example to illustrate the potential consequences of allowing naysayers to stop us from pursuing our goal.
I realize the fact that for every one person deemed a commercial success, there are thousands, tens of thousands, and even millions who fail to reach that level. I get that. I don't expect to be a millionaire author (though I'm not opposed to it!) and I'm not counting on it. But that doesn't mean I'm going to give up doing what I love. It doesn't mean I'm going to abandon all hope and get a job I don't want just because it's a rough road. I only get to live once, and I'll be damned if I'm going to find myself lying on my deathbed one day going, "What if I'd just tried harder?"
I can tell you this: I can't imagine a scenario where I'd be lying on my deathbed saying, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office."
But let me make it clear: If working in the business environment is your thing, more power to you. If that's what makes you happy, if that's what fulfills your need to contribute something of yourself to the world, and if that's what you truly have a passion for, then pursue that path and never look back. The things I say about the business world and the "corporate suit" apply to me and only me. It's not my thing, and I won't be motivated to do something when my heart isn't in it.
So how about the rest of you? What do you have to contribute to the world that is you and only you? Do you like to sing? Tell stories? Have you come up with an invention? Do you have a talent for sculpting things out of glass? Stone? Do you love a sport? Are you passionate about government and leadership?
Whatever it is, whatever your dreams, whatever your passions, I urge you: Do NOT let anyone or anything stop you from pursuing them. Even with zero support from others, if you feel the overpowering and relentless need to create, go out there and do it. Everyone must choose their own path in life. We can't let others dictate our roles in the world or what contributions we can or cannot make to society. Every piece of the puzzle is important. Everyone from carpenters to comedians have their place, and each serves a purpose whether it be to put a roof over someone's head or put joy into their heart. It will be tough; I'm not saying that it won't. It will require dedication, sacrifice, struggle, heartache, perseverance, and above all else, passion. But if the need to create is there, the rest will come so long as you don't allow anyone or anything to stand in your way.
If Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird had allowed anyone to dissuade them
from self-publishing their comic book (originally a parody of Marvel
Comic's The New Mutants), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may
have never existed. If NBC told Jerry Seinfeld that a show with no
character development or "moral moments" wouldn't succeed, the hit
sitcom Seinfeld may have never existed.
If Jim Henson had spent his life working with puppets and was never a commercial success, do you think he'd wish he had gotten the corporate job? I don't know the answer for sure, but I have to ask myself this: Is it better to fail doing something you love or succeed doing something you hate?
I don't know if I'll ever be a "commercial" success. But then again, I don't know that I need to be. Of course, like most writers, I'd love to be able to pay my bills with my writing alone - and I'm going to continue to work toward that goal. But writing is what makes me happy regardless of whether or not I'm the next J.K. Rowling. It satisfies that endless need to create, that overflowing fountain of imagination that just cannot be contained within the confines of my own head. I do this because I love it, because it's fulfilling, and because it's the unique thing that I have to contribute to the world. My imagination, my emotions, my characters, my stories - they are what I have to give that no one else can. And that mere fact provides a sense of completion and fulfillment that a corporate suit can never give me.
Maybe the business world works for some people. If it does, that's great. But not me. I'll forever drift amongst the stars within my own imagination, and it's a place I never want to leave. I may never be a J.K. Rowling or Robert Jordan, and I'm OK with that. That's not to say that it wouldn't be cool to walk into Toys R' Us and see a section of Fourth Dimension action figures, but as long as I can continue to share my work with you and explore the distant corners of the galaxies in my head, I'll be happy.
After all, I'd rather fail doing something I love than succeed doing something I hate.
Tear down the walls. Follow your dreams.
"Life's like a movie. Write your own ending." - Kermit the Frog