Monday, November 3, 2008

"I quit my job and launched my freelance career..."

Joy Perrino Choquette is a full-time freelance writer whose work has appeared in E/The Environmental Magazine, Listen Magazine, and Liberty Magazine. She has upcoming articles in Vermont Magazine and Grit Magazine. She also writes regularly for a number of regional publications. Joy is particuarly interested in writing about environmental, social and animal welfare issues and hopes to someday publish a book on one of these topics. In the meantime, Joy is working on a fictional young adult novel.

Many people grow up knowing just what it is they want to be when they get older: Be a doctor. Fly commercial airplanes. Work as an executive accountant. Be a stage actress.
I never knew what I wanted to do. When I was very young I wanted to be a wife and mother, or maybe a baker. When I got older I decided I wanted to be either a veterinarian or a photo/journalist for National Geographic magazine. I struggled enough in my freshman college year of biology to realize that a veterinary degree was going to be awfully hard to come by. I had also taken a year to work at a vet’s office after high school and realized that I would have to deal with people a lot more than their pets in a veterinary practice.
So, I ended up getting my degree in psychology. My intent was to continue my education and become a marriage counselor. Instead, I finished my bachelor’s while working full-time in human services. I stayed in that field for seven years. Seven loooooong years. I changed jobs so many times within the field that it was getting to be a joke among family and friends. People would ask me "So, where are you working now?" as soon as they saw me. I think I had something like 10 jobs within those seven years. I hated working in an office. I quickly burned out listening to so many horrible, sad, stories. I felt like I was constantly applying band-aids to gaping, gushing, wounds. There were the elderly people who were so lonely they never wanted me to leave. The mothers who were drug addicts and had lost their children to the foster care system. The men who were out of work and depressed. It was a very hard career and it was not a good fit for me. But each time I changed jobs, I thought "This will be it! This job will be the one. I will work here and tough it out no matter what." Six months later, I would be zipping around the employment websites, looking for a way out.
Finally, after losing my last job, I took a temporary position as a receptionist in a small, family owned company. I knew before accepting the temporary-to-permanent position that it was not going to be permanent for me. But I needed a place to rest, to gather my strength, and to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I was interested in graphic design and researched that for several months. However, there were parts of the work that seemed tedious to me, and other parts that seemed frightening (like finding and retaining all those clients on my own). There was also the investment in graphic design software and a new computer which would not be inexpensive.
I kept researching and kept my eyes and ears open. "Write." That’s what I kept hearing but I pushed it away. To be honest, I had heard that idea before but never pursued it. My oldest sister is "the writer" in our family. And in a family with four girls, you learn early to stay out of other sister’s territory. Still, the idea kept popping up. "Write." Write what? How could I write for a career? I didn’t have any experience or background. I had no idea what I was doing. But still the voice kept chiming in, "Just write." Finally, I said a prayer (okay, it was about 345 anguished prayers) and starting writing. First, I just wrote down my thoughts, like I had for all the years growing up when I kept a journal. Then, sort of by accident, I found a part-time job writing human interest stories for a local paper. Later, I found more writing work through a monthly business journal, then a local art publication and a national magazine.
Six month later, after socking away extra money and writing before and after my work day at the office, I quit my job and launched my freelance career. It’s been 11 months now, and even on the very worst days, I have not regretted my decision. Each time I feel tempted to give up and throw in the towel, ("I’ll never make enough money doing this!") something happens to keep me going. Sometimes it’s a check I forgot was coming, or a kind word from an editor. Other times it’s my writing friends telling me not to give up.
And finally, finally, I can say without a doubt, that I have found the career that I was called to. The work that I am meant to be doing. It’s taken me a lot of years, but it’s been worth the wait.