Monday, February 23, 2009

Loving What You Do

In my day job I work for a veterinary association. Recently, I interviewed five recently retired vets who were about to receive recognition from the association for their long service. Between the five of them they have worked more than 165 years in their chosen profession, with one of vets practicing an outstanding 56 years.

As I talked to these truly wonderful people, I was struck by a couple of things. Many of the veterinarians knew from an early age that looking after animals was what they wanted to do with their lives. A couple of them mentioned they had been mentored by country vets they had known in their childhoods. One said that as an eight year old he tagged along with the vet as he made his rounds, and by the age of twelve announced to his parents that he was going to be a vet too.

They didn’t let anything stop them from pursuing their dreams. One of the veterinarians, a woman, applied 17 times to 5 different veterinary schools in the US before she was accepted. At her first interview for vet school in 1968, she was told she had nice credentials but that she should marry a vet instead of being one. When she finally did complete veterinary college she couldn’t find work. She applied for 92 positions before she finally got a job.

All of the vets loved their work. One of the vets, who must be in his seventies, said he’d still be working today if problems with his knees hadn’t slowed him down. The vet who worked for 56 years told me he got up every single morning looking forward to the day. He couldn’t understand how people who didn’t feel that way about their work survived, and he couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life.

It dawned on me that these veterinarians are very much like many writers I know. Many of us knew from an early age that we were writers. If like me, you never thought of yourself as a writer when you were a kid, you certainly thought of yourself as a reader. You loved language and words and storytelling. You still do.

Most writers face adversity. Not only do we face self-doubt and demons of our own making, our dreams are often blocked by the publishing industry itself. Sometimes critiques and reviews can be harsh. Only those who persevere will make their dreams come true.

And many of us cannot imagine doing anything else. No matter how difficult writing can be, nothing else gives us the satisfaction that writing the perfect description, or capturing an essence of an emotion can give us. And nothing is more satisfying than writing “The End” on a finished product.

I have to admit I have a love/hate relationship with my work. When the words flow, I love what I do, but when I’m stuck for the right phrase, or in the middle of never-ending edits, not so much. But I keep coming back to it.

Another of my goals for 2009 is to love the process more. I love the finished product but I want to love the journey of getting there a lot more. I want to be like the vet who woke up every morning eager to see what the day’s work would bring. But changing from a lifelong “the glass is half empty” person to a “the glass is half full” person will not an easy task for me.

Do you love what you do? What suggestions can you give me to help me love the journey to “The End” a little more?



Jana Richards said...

Hi everyone,
As I write this I am in warm and sunny San Antonio on vacation. I'm hoping the warmth will cure the nasty cold I brought with me! Unfortunately the mini laptop that we brought with us crashed last night so I'm in the lobby of the hotel. I'll do my best to respond to your comments but if I'm a little slow please bear with me and have a wonderful day.

Cheers from Jana

Karen said...

Excellent blog Jana. I can relate to how you're feeling as a writer and a parent. I've mentioned the fact I have a daughter with special needs and I love her dearly and would do anything for her but we do have stretches that are ... difficult. I find in those times I lose sight of enjoying the present because I'm so focussed on the resolution of a challenging behavior or the learning a new skill, what have you. Then I have to sit back and think of how to bring the joy back into the now.

I think you are doing a lot of positive, proactive things. You mentioned a course you were taking on motiviation. You're being honest with yourself and how you feel. You are connecting with others who can relate to those feelings. I think that's a very great start.

Enjoy your holiday. Have fun in the sun.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
I can only imagine the challenges you face. It is so easy to forget the joy when frustrated and overwhelmed and I am certainly guilty of that. Good luck to you with all your challenges, both writing and personal.

It really does help to have a writing community to turn to. It's funny, but writing this blog is turning into therapy for me. It has forced me to write and think about things related to my writing that I sometimes I don't want to think about. It's cheaper than hiring a shrink!

Thanks for the heartfelt comment, Karen.

Janet C. said...

Great post, Jana. And just a tad jealous of your location! Have a Mai Tai or Pina Colada for me, k?

I love writing. Love creating new characters and figuring out how to get them to their HEA. I'm not so fond of the writer's blocks or the doubt that creeps in about half way through - and usually the block is a direct result of that doubt.

This is a tough business - what other job do you do where there isn't an immediate reward (even if said reward is the bimonthly paycheque). Even parenting has its rewards - when times are tough or frustrating, you'll get something to make your heart swell with love/pride. But writing - where you could go years without some acknowledgement of your efforts/talent - its hard to keep at it. That's why writing groups/writing friends are so important.

Enjoy your holiday, Jana - I look forward to catching up when you get back to the wintery prairies :)


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana - you mean you're in warm, sunny, Texas? And Janet's just a tad jealous? I can honestly say I'm downright envious of you!

I love the creative aspect of writing. Not so much the revisions but I'm learning to work through that because like you said, putting that 'THE END' sign sure is satisfying.

Enjoy your vacation. Soak up the sun. And put it all down to research, eh. Maybe we'll see Texas setting in one of your upcoming books?

Suse said...

Hi Judy, Janet is not the only one who envies your location, although it is -7 degrees Celsius right now (almost balmy).

I really enjoyed your blog. Could you parlay these interviews into a human interest article for a suitable market?

We had our PD day today, and our guest speaker told us a story about a man (Maxy) who decided to study law at the age of 36. This is not unusual other than that it happened 25 years ago. He had 6 children at home, yet he felt strongly enough about studying law to return to school. After he received his degree, he articled then wrote his bar exam. His two oldest children (sons) were in high school at the time. He failed. He tried again when his boys went to university. They also studied law. His sons articled and passed their bar exams and opened their own law practice. Maxy had still not passed the bar exam himself. He now articled at his sons' law firm. After 147 attempts, he finally passed at the age of 61. Most people would have given up long before that. I can't remember his exact words when someone asked him what kept him trying, but he said something to the effect that if you want something bad enough, say you'll do it, then do it.

Like Janet mentioned, as writers we don't always see immediate rewards. As in Maxy's case, we too have to persevere to accomplish our dreams (if we really believe in them that strongly). Hopefully it doesn't take us 25 years though.

I'm not sure if I have good advice about loving the journey more, but I think if you take stock of what you've accomplished, you'll see that you've accomplished a lot already. And the best is yet to come.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I'm not much of a mai tai drinker Janet, but I'm having a beer as we speak. Will that do? And I hate to rub it in but it was a gorgeous day today. Tomorrow is supposed to be even warmer. But I'll be home soon enough.

I love writing too Janet, but I think I'm too impatient. I want to be finished quickly and move on to the next project that interests me and I get frustrated when that doesn't happen. I always expect so much of myself, that I kind beat myself up when I don't achieve what I think I should. And I don't always appreciate what I have achieved. I'm trying to learn to be kinder to myself.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

It's great to hear about another profession that expresses that passion for the work I so often hear about in creative fields. I've always felt the same way about work, I couldn't conceive of someone doing a job every day that they hated. Six months working in a government office gave me horrors enough to last a lifetime, and cost me every last minute of vacation/sick/personal time just to get through it before we moved. That atmosphere was *not* for me!

When I was little, I wanted to be a writer, right from that early early age. But then I thought "well, that's not really a job" as adults rank things, so I figured I should pick a job. I spent much of my pre-teen years wanting to become a vet, and did my grade 8 dayshadow at a veterinary office in Victoria. It was a great experience, but it also confirmed that I didn't really want to do that every day.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I'm not sure Texas will end up in any of my stories just yet. I'll have to do more research. Months and months of research. Preferably in January and February.

Yes, writing THE END is very satisfying. Sometimes getting there is tough and going through those revisions can be brutal. But I know they're worth it. That much I have learned. It does help me to know I'm not the only one who gets frustrated. It's great to have friends in the business.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Sue,
That is some story of perseverance. I'm not sure I'd be as able to hang in there. But stories like that give a person hope that what sometimes seems impossible is possible.

The stories I wrote for the awards ceremony will be in our newsletter along with some pictures taken at the ceremony, so they will get into print. And who knows maybe I could turn them into an article. There are a lot of magazines for older people out there.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Hayley,
I found talking to these people truly inspirational, because they all loved their work so. Most of the vets I've met got into the profession because of a genuine love of animals, not because they wanted to make big money. Well, most anyway.

I found it interesting that you went back to a career choice that interested you as a child. I think many of us have a sense of what we want to do with our lives as children, but we don't listen to that voice because we think it is impractical. And then we spend many years hating our jobs. Sometimes children know best.