What Happens to a Dream Abandoned?

This essay first appeared in Art of the Journey in June 2016.

As a kid, I was spontaneous, taking on “big” projects at my imagination’s whims. I was inspired by what I saw around me, and sought to imitate what I admired. At four, I set my sights on emulating the storybooks my parents read to me, sagas I eagerly memorized and devoured. Armed with a limited vocabulary and pink colored pencils, I made my first venture into the world of novel writing.

Three staples and seven pages later, I had compiled myself a novella with the only phrase I knew how to spell, written over and over across the loose-leaf pages: I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I showed the book to my parents, who laughed before showing me a few more words they figured I’d need: went. library. books.

Upon completion of my “book,” I made myself a promise: one day, I would author a “big, thick storybook” — just like the ones I saw on library shelves.

I’ve told this story before. The nifty little anecdotes lead one into another: the first day of Kindergarten, I asked my teacher point-blank when we were going to learn to write. When I was seven, I wrote a mock newspaper article and presented it to my class, out of sheer pride at having created something. When I was sixteen, I spent my Saturdays neglecting my SAT studies, opting for line breaks and poetry exercises instead. I worked in my high school’s writing center. I was Editor-in-Chief of a literary magazine. I won writing awards; I chased them.

If you were to typecast my high school biography, it would seem I perfectly fit the profile of an aspiring writer. I dreamt of Haruki Murakami and Harper Lee, the quiet glamour of authorship, replacing the nine-to-five with a 24/7 career filled with brainstorms whirring for ideas, churning out essays and stories.

But I stopped writing. I was seventeen when my path diverged: it was the season of college fever, in which SAT scores determined your academic echelon amongst classmates, best friendships soured over college acceptances, and everyone’s futures were seemingly set in stone by the colleges and majors they chose to pursue.

I originally planned to double major, with English as one concentration. Even then, I heard all about the lackluster benefits of pursuing a degree in English from my peers: Why would you do that? Journalism is dead, and teachers make nothing. It’s a useless major. And, even worse: I hear Starbucks is hiring.

I laughed along with the jabs at the time, confident in my career path choices. But the trivial remarks continued, mounting to a steady doubt that seared into my confidence. “All that poetry stuff you do,” one of my friends once said, “I bet if I had the spare time, I could do it, too.”

That year, my creativity stagnated. Disappointing results in writing competitions, coupled with a lack of interest in my Literature class (Fun fact: I barely graduated high school with a C- in Senior English) suggested my stint with writing was losing steam. After a while, disappointment became acceptance: I figured my abilities had peaked, and now the creative well was running dry. This was the end of the road for my writing career–I belonged elsewhere.

To be honest, it was my fear of failure that intimidated me. I was scared I couldn’t do better than I already had, that I would never become an established writer. Why continue?

Somewhere amid the dismal demand for rookie writers, the dread of being ridiculed by those in technical fields, and my vanishing muse, I quietly slipped out of the humanities and hightailed for security. I enrolled at my flagship state university’s business school as an accounting major. When people asked me about my writing, I told them, “I don’t do that anymore.” Cowardly, I abandoned my dreams of authorship and left my writing days behind.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love accounting. I’m a nerd for information, and I have a field day every time I’m asked to organize numbers or analyze their implications.

But I miss writing. I miss the long nights spent researching astronomy and folklore for metaphors to use in poetry. I miss the grueling process of piecing together analytical essays, the hours I poured into combing paragraphs for hidden meanings and rewriting sentences for brevity. And I miss the pride that comes with creation — the happy warmth of knowing that I produced something for others to read.

I came to this realization when I received an assignment to publicize a career services conference for my college. I had just begun my position as an assistant for a professional development newsletter. Because I was a recent student hire at my school’s Office of Career Services, my resume — which had detailed my writing experience — was fresh in my supervisor’s mind, who suggested I compose a write-up for the event.

The assignment was the most rewarding project I’d worked on all semester. I interwove dialogue with narrative, animating the day’s events as I reconstructed the conference on paper. The familiar act of writing feels like piecing together a vision, finishing a jigsaw without knowing the end result — but where words and clauses were meant to fit, the pieces undoubtedly slide into place. There I was, once again: pushing the boundaries of words, stretching the limits of what they were meant to say in order to say more.

So I think it follows that I have a deep-seated respect for English majors, journalists, freelancers, and anyone else who chooses to pursue a career devoted to writing. All of them are braver, more authentic, more passionate than I. Writing isn’t a field people choose because they weren’t talented enough to pursue anything else; rather, writing fosters the visualization of dreams and furthers our understanding of the human condition. English majors know it well: they teach it; they breathe it; they write. Most admirably, they knew the industry’s outlook, and yet, they chose it regardless.

I don’t think I’m a great writer. I’m lazy. I’m slow. I don’t read enough — and when I do, I process words at a snail’s pace. I couldn’t pen an effective short story to save my life. But I’ve never felt more alive doing any other work.

I think I’ve found a way to continue chasing my dream; after meeting biology majors who pursued technology consulting and marketing majors directing operations, I’ve quickly realized that a degree does not rigidly “lock” you into any career path, nor does it mean you can’t still be writing. I’ve already started — it’s finals week, and here I am, writing personal essays instead of term papers, emailing editors instead of studying cash flows. A dream abandoned has become a dream once deferred — but one now restored.

So here’s to venturing out into the thrilling mess of piecing together words and pitching stories, once again wading knees-deep in adjectives and synonyms, sifting for meaning. Here’s to beginning again.

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