Let’s be real: pursuing you passion is a luxury reserved for the privileged.
Like a lot of people fresh out of highschool, I went into college more out of reflex than with any specific intent.
I knew it was what you were supposed to do, so I flung myself at it with all the enthusiasm you might expect from an aimless young adult, before rather quickly figuring out I needed to find some ambition, fast.
I did find my ambition, but it was the opposite of fast – ten years later I found myself sitting in front of my computer penning an online article, pitching it, and having it published online. Other sources reached out to me and suddenly, I had a small stream of business. I nursed it as long as I could before the weight of it plus my day job as an office assistant and my return to college became too much to bear.
For the first time in my life, I considered quitting my steady office job to pursue my dream of being a writer.
‘Dream’ might be a less than honest word. I’d always loved writing; I’d been doing it since I was a child. My parents and family always encouraged me, always praised my writing, yet despite all of that I never considered it as a real career option. Writing doesn’t pay the bills, monotonous office jobs do. I may’ve been just another cog in the system, but I was a well paid cog that could pay her rent on time.
I agonized for months before finally pulling the cord. I put in my two weeks’ notice. I let my writing managers know I was available to take on new work. I started a novel, made business cards and updated my LinkedIn profile. I padded my savings as much as I could and was prepared to cash out my retirement account if I had to. Now all I had to do was work, do my best, and wait. Right?
Wrong. Quitting my full time job to pursue my dreams almost sent me bankrupt.
As nice as it was not to have to wake up at six in the morning to fight city traffic, I kind of missed being able to buy groceries without having to figure out if that meant I could also afford gas or bus fare.
Friends and relatives started to notice that I was losing serious weight and my clothes stopped fitting me – because I wasn’t eating. There were two months in 2015 where my weekly budget for food, transportation and anything else I might need, was $10. I will always be eternally grateful for the resourcefulness of my mother from when we were a young, poor family. A lot of her recipes and thrifty ways of thinking apparently filtered their way through me, and that kept me alive.
That’s only part of what kept me alive, though. A big part of it was privilege. I was raised by a mother who taught me life skills like cooking and living on a shoestring budget in large part because she was home all day in my younger years to teach me these things. I also am privileged to have a group of friends in my area willing to support me, be it taking me out to dinner when I’m dead broke or throwing food parties where we tie together the meager strands of our food budgets and turn them into a joint meal. And I have family members who are willing to have my back when I fall on lean times.
One of the bigger and often overlooked pieces of privilege I had in pursuing my dreams, is the fact that I’m white. It meant I had a more acceptable sounding name when people were looking at my business cards or profiles, it meant when I was networking in person the responses were just a touch warmer, along with a lot of other smaller things that have more to do with being poor than pursuing my dreams.
I could browse the aisles in grocery stores and make a meal out of free samples without getting the stink eye from employees. When I got free samples of things like soap from stores, employees expected I had money to spend and were a little more generous than they might’ve been with other people.
Allowing yourself the whimsy to follow your dreams is fantastic, but it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s important to remember that a lot of the time the weights are stacked unevenly for those of us fighting to make a name for ourselves in our industries of choice.
I’ve been freelancing for almost exactly a year now and I’m just now getting to a somewhat stable place with it. It’s hard. I’ve had to adjust all of my financial priorities, I’ve had to learn to say no to dinners out with friends, and I’ve had to learn how to ask for help when I really need it. In those ways it’s been genuinely rewarding, but I’m not one of those people who romanticizes suffering – suffering sucks. There’s nothing poetic about having ramen and hard boiled eggs for dinner for a week.
Does that mean you should give up on your dreams?
Of course not. But assess your situation realistically. What kind of support structure do you have? What are your back-up plans? If your freelance opportunities fall through in a year, what options do you have? Be practical before you take that leap. And above all, check in with yourself to get real about what kinds of privilege you may have before suggesting someone else follow in your footsteps.
Comment: Do you think racial ‘privilege’ plays a role in career success?