So many writers will tell you that they have wanted to write since they were little kids, and I am no exception. My mum still has some of my early attempts at short stories. Right through school, I told everyone that I was going to be a writer. Later, upon realising the chances of becoming a career novelist in Australia, I set my sights upon working in publishing, perhaps as an editor, while I wrote for pleasure on the side.
But instead I found myself, mid-twenties, stuck in a sales role. Writing didn’t figure into my day-to-day work life at all.
I had fallen into the trap that I think a lot of people do. You make a decision, probably while completing your degree, about the industry or field you want to work in. Opportunities aren’t exactly bountiful, so you take what you can get early on, counting on promotion or even a sideways move later to get you closer to where you want to be.
And then, somehow, you end up in the industry you wanted but doing a job you get no fulfilment from whatsoever.
For me, it was a string of decisions that seemed like good ones at the time because they were the ‘safe’ option. Taking the full-time role offered to me after my internship, because I knew and liked the publishing company I was working for. Moving later into an account management role, because that’s where all my experience was after working in the sales and marketing department for two years. And then taking on another sales position, because they were offering more money, more perks, and a better work-life balance.
There were incentives to stay in those comfortable positions. The money was one of them: editors at the same level in the publishing houses were making twenty grand less than me. And I was also good at sales. In my last account management job, I was the top performer in the state. I had great relationships with my clients. I knew the product better than anyone.
But I was also frustrated and unstimulated. Despite my good results, I knew I wasn’t right for this sort of work; I’d always identified as a creative person, not someone who is good with numbers and budget forecasting. I’d been freelancing as a writer since university, and I found I was spending more and more sales meetings staring into space and thinking about my next article, rather than focusing on revenue and sales targets. I had so many ideas, but with a client portfolio in the hundreds and spread over two states, I couldn’t get close to doing as much writing work as I wanted to.
I was desperate to give up sales and begin writing or editing full time, but no agency would take me on with such limited experience. My only option would be to go backwards and compete with new grads for entry level roles. I was furious with myself. I was four years out of a writing degree. I’d wasted all this time developing skills that were useless in the career I really wanted.
Then one day, an old publishing colleague popped up on my Facebook feed, announcing that she’d started her own communications consultancy company. I was so impressed, and admittedly a little jealous. On the off chance that she needed some writing support, I sent her a message saying I was happy to help out.
That casual overture soon turned into regular freelance work – not nearly enough to sustain me, but good extra money all the same. The problem was, I liked this little side hustle so much more than my real job. The days passed slowly as I waited for 5pm to roll around, just so I could stay at my desk and work on a completely different project.
A few months later, I decided to take the plunge. I quit my sales job, leaving my great salary, car allowance and yearly bonus behind. I didn’t have a new full-time role to go to. I knew I wasn’t going to be making as much money or have any of the perks of my old role. But I also knew I would be doing things I liked during my work day, and for me, that was worth more.
As it turned out, my contact with the old colleague grew into a part-time role. Those ‘useless’ skills in sales and account management became vital to an understanding of stakeholder management and engagement strategy. That experience in sales meetings trying to wrap my head around profit margins meant I was comfortable speaking with CEOs about their bottom line. And of course, all that freelance writing that had felt like it was for nothing but spare change had perfectly honed my communication skills.
With my new freedom, I found more freelance writing and editing work, opportunities to present at workshops, and began mentoring writing students. No one has a job that doesn’t include some hard or frustrating days – but since I started writing full time, I haven’t had many of them.
Of course giving up job stability and a good salary was hard. As we enter a recession and an increasingly competitive market, I know that I will need to work harder than ever to support myself. The goals of growth and prosperity may be replaced with the objective of just staying afloat over the next few years. But I also know that, finally, I am heading in the direction that I want to be. Whether I’m swimming quickly or treading water for now, at least I’m in the right lane.