by Robin Spano
Question of the Week: If you weren't a writer, what would you be professionally?
Answer: I think I would still be floundering.
As a student, my career ambition changed with the weather—a subway driver, a politcian, the owner of the New York Yankees. In the background, I always wanted to be a novelist. But it didn't feel realistic. Writing books for a living felt like a pie in the sky pipe dream, a profession reserved for a lofty few. To actually aspire to it felt as realistic as saying I wanted to grow up to be a princess.
In university, I majored in physics. I enjoyed the logical problem solving, I really liked the combination of established principles and open minded thinking that each experiment or exam question required. But when I started to contemplate a career with a physics degree, I realized that I wasn't all that passionate to change the world through research. After a couple of years, I lost motivation to continue with my degree.
So I dropped out, bought a motorcycle, and traveled from town to town, waitressing and doing other odd jobs in Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver, and Muskoka. During this time, I was poking away at a novel, but I still didn't really believe that I could be a writer.
I wrote a sample LSAT, did well enough that I thought seriously about applying to law school. But when I imagined a career as a lawyer, it was an even worse idea than physics. To work 16-hour days in a cutthroat job that's all about besting others for the sake of your own or your clients' gain—I felt like I'd be devoting way too big a chunk of my life to a side of human nature I find abhorrent. I can be competitive when I have to, but I'm much happier in a world where we can all share knowledge, contacts, and ideas in order to help each other thrive.
I contemplated becoming a motorcycle mechanic. I did minor repairs to my own bike and enjoyed the hands-on challenge as I tried to cultivate a Zen approach to troubleshooting. But I quickly realized that while, yes, with lots of learning and focus, I could probably one day become a competent mechanic, I would never be a gifted one. I seriously admire people who have that spatial kinesthetic intelligence that makes them good at trades. I'm just not one of them.
So I kept waitressing, bartending, shift supervising at bars, restaurants and diners, from fancy to very plain. I enjoyed it—waitressing is like a sport, both physical and mental. And it was good for me—it helped me out of my shy, people-fearing shell. But something was missing. Plenty of people make an excellent career in the service industry. But it wasn't for me, not long term.
Eventually, I took a summer workshop at Humber College that made writing for a living feel like an attainable goal. So I wrote, took a couple more courses, and ended up finishing a novel and landing a publishing deal.
Which is great—I now feel like I'm in the right field. (I mean, of course not every day is career bliss, but you know...) But if I hadn't taken that course, if I hadn't finished that manuscript and landed that publishing deal, I think I would still be searching vaguely. Doing odd jobs. Disconnected from myself.