Writing is not my hobby.
Every time I’m asked, "What do you do?" I want to hide in a corner. I avert my eyes and stumble through my answer.
The problem isn't the actual question.
"What do you do?" is very general. I do lots of things. The list goes on and on, but that's not what people mean when they ask.
They're really asking, "What do you do for a job?" More specifically, "What do you do to make money?"
At a very young age, I wanted to be a famous actress. Or a famous cartoonist.
By high school, I still wanted that, but I didn’t think going to school for acting was a thing, so I had one criteria for a job: I would enjoy it.
I didn’t care how much money I made. What I absolutely did not want was to wake up every morning and dread going to work, to work for the weekend, to hate my job and constantly think about that next vacation.
After graduating college, I got my first real job covering high school sports for the local newspaper. “Sportswriter” was a badass job title. My parents were so proud. (Even my grandparents bragged about me to all their friends, and they barely talked to me.)
"What do you do?"
“I'm a sportswriter.” Boom.
What was so great about being a sportswriter?
- I never had to wake up early: my days started at 3pm and ended at midnight.
- I worked with a bunch of dudes who were hilarious, protective of the one female on staff, and went out drinking with me every Thursday night.
- I had a byline in the newspaper. People in the community read what I wrote.
- And for my very first assignment, I covered the Philadelphia Phillies home opener.
But I wasn’t passionate about it. I was constantly being told to keep my opinions out of the articles. Facts only. I lived for a feature, but they were few and far between.
I wasn’t a writer, anyway. I wanted to act.
After a year and a half, I quit the only “real” full-time job I ever had and moved to New York City to pursue acting. I saved $13,000 while living at home - I was basically rich. When I asked Mom if $13,000 was enough to move to New York, she said yes. (She might have just shrugged because she really had no idea, but I took it as a yes.) Unfortunately, with $25,000 of student loans, I didn’t realize my net worth was actually negative.
And so began the next six years of pursuing acting while living in New York, then taking the next natural step in my acting career by driving cross country to live in Los Angeles, all the while working in restaurants.
Here, when people asked, "What do you do?" I was a walking cliche.
"I'm an actress in LA, but I don't make money doing it. Can I take your order?"
It was in LA that I found my people. I surrounded myself with creatives and was told that I was, in fact, a writer. Slowly, I transitioned from acting to writing, and found my groove writing short films and features.
But I told everyone that I was an actor. That I moved to LA to be an actor. But I was not that anymore, which made me a quitter, a failure, a hack.
Deep down, I knew it was okay to change paths and I was happy about the decision, but I was so concerned with judgment from other people. I cared so much about what other people thought of me.
At a family reunion, the topic of jobs came up, and I said that I was a writer. My older sister - a teacher - had her own opinion.
“You can’t call yourself a writer. If you don't make money doing it, then it's just a hobby.”
This thought became ingrained in my head and is what will be in the back of my mind every time anyone asks me what I do: my sister's asshole voice, telling me I can't call myself a writer, even though I know it's what I am, to my core.
After six years in California, I moved back to the east coast to live in North Carolina with my future husband, Sam. I continued writing and waitressing, but also got back to coaching field hockey - something I was sorely missing on the west coast.
After we got engaged, Sam encouraged me to give up waitressing to focus on writing. He was my most supportive fan. I decided to go for it, even though I felt guilty for not continuing to "work" and "make money" and constantly thought about what my sister (and the rest of the world) might think of me.
But if I could be very honest, this is what I would like to say in answer to the question, "So, what do you do?"
"Every morning, I wake up to kisses and cuddles from my husband. I smile and look forward to the day. I read and write and take notes voraciously. And sometimes, I'm unmotivated and uninspired, so I pour my energy into something else that will make me happy: a bikram or barre class, cooking a challenging recipe, learning about all things parenting because I'm pregnant with my first child, re-reading the Harry Potter series for the fourth, fifth, or sixth time because I love them so much. Depending on the time of year, I will be fully immersed in coaching high school field hockey, which is the hardest and most gratifying job I've ever experienced. If I'm not doing any of these things, I will be following my curiosities and obsessions in some other way. And then, I end the day with kisses and cuddles from my husband."
But no one wants to hear all that. And that's not what they're asking me, anyway.
So how do I answer this question, so that the person asking it feels like I'm answering what they're really asking? How do I answer this question with confidence and let go of my sister's voice in my head, telling me that I'm an imposter? How do I answer this question on my terms, without interpreting it to mean, "How do you make money?"
"What do you do?"
"I'm a writer, a student, a wife, a (future) mom, and a field hockey coach. I write about personal growth and self-awareness in a transparent and relatable way. I love learning about all my curiosities and obsessions. I can't wait to be a parent. And coaching high school students is the most difficult and most gratifying job I've ever had.” Boom.