Work of Heart.


“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
~Confucius

Today’s post is brought to you courtesy of my dentist appointment this afternoon. Yes, you read that correctly, and no, I don’t plan to write about green toothpaste (ick), cracked fillings (booooo) or electric toothbrushes (cool!). Nope, this post is about the dental hygienist who said something that will stay with me for a very long time.

My regular hygienist switched to another office (again, boooo … she’s so sweet and I always genuinely enjoyed our conversations), so it was somebody different today. And, as is usually the case with any meeting like that, one of the first things she asked is what I do for a living. “I write,” I told her, then proceeded to expand about freelancing and trying to get my novels published. Most people have a polite reaction to something like that. I, for one, am always interested in people’s passions and how they’re pursuing them. This woman’s response?

“You know, some people would say that’s not really working.”

To be honest, I just sat there a moment, caught so off-guard by her remark that I was stunned into silence. A wave of surprise rose in my chest and quickly turned choppy. Because, no matter how she meant it – and I’m pretty certain that I interpreted it correctly, judging by the manner in which it was said – it was offensive. It was hurtful. It was insulting. Now, I know this is a stereotype and a pre-conceived notion that many, many writers encounter. Ask an author if someone’s thought something similar about them, and the answer’s likely a resounding y-e-s. But to say it so matter-of-factly to my face? It felt like a slap. I will admit to silently stewing over it for the next half hour, until my dentist came in and immediately asked me how the books are going and whether an agent’s signed me yet. He even remembered which book I’m querying, and was all too eager to hear the details. As I brought him up to speed, our chat so animated that you’d never have guessed it was taking place in a dentist’s office, I had to resist the urge to turn around to the hygienist and say something to the effect of “see, it really is hard work.”

The assumption by some people that writing is as easy as 1-2-3 has never really bothered me. I know how much time, effort, and dedication it takes. You have to love that manuscript like it’s your baby and those characters like they’re your family. Books are not written in days or weeks. They’re brainstormed, outlined, and crafted with care. They’re edited, revised, and edited again. Is being a writer the same as being a teacher, doctor, or CEO of an investment firm? Of course not. Each job has its own guidelines, its own products, its own effects, its own frustrations and its own pure joys. Who are we to imply that one is better than another? That one is more work, more disciplined, just … more?

Driving home, the idea continued to weave its way through my thought-waves. We are lucky, so lucky, to live in a world where we have the freedom to pursue our dreams. To follow our hearts. To listen to that little voice inside our heads that won’t take no for an answer. We are all unique, all diverse, and I truly believe it makes us stronger. Shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that we have different talents? Variety is the spice of life, after all.

You know, though, maybe she was right, even if not in the way she intended. Because if we’re lucky enough to find the inspiration that lives within us, to find a job so joyous that it feels like a gift, then maybe it’s not work at all. Maybe it’s just a beautiful work of heart.

Have you ever gotten similar commentary from someone? How did you handle it?

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14 thoughts on “Work of Heart.

  1. Wow, you just put the most positive spin on something that probably would have pissed me off for days, lol. That is precisely why I love you, Shari!

    Fortunately I’ve never had someone say something like that to my face. If they did, I’m sure I would either be too shocked to respond, or else I would get defensive and immediately say something regretful.

    “We are lucky, so lucky, to live in a world where we have the freedom to pursue our dreams.”

    So, so true. (Only, not everyone in our world is as lucky. I so consider us an even luckier subset of the lucky.)

    • Well, in all fairness, I ranted about it for a good hour or so before posting this ;-) Two days later, and I still find myself thinking about what she said and wishing that I’d have responded differently. She just caught me so entirely off-guard that, like you said, I was too shocked to say anything of substance. If I had a redo, I’d tell her exactly how and why it’s absolutely hard work. Ah well. At least it provided an opportunity to reflect on how lucky we are (agreed – we are the luckier subset of the lucky, for sure!) to have the chance to pursue this writing love of ours!

  2. Wow, isn’t she just a cup of tea. I hate when people put others down for no reason. I wish to one day have a job that I won’t consider a job because it’s something I genuinely love doing it. Isn’t that what everyone wants?
    It’s great that you can be so positive about it though. I agree with Kristan, I’d be replaying the convo in my head for days and thinking of snarky come backs I could’ve used.
    This makes me think of one of my favorite sayings. Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. I hope you never work a day in your life. :)

    • I am in complete agreement — what on earth possesses someone to put others down for absolutely no reason? I truly do not understand it. She didn’t mean any harm by it, but still … how do you insult someone’s career when they clearly love it? Ugh.

      You’re so right — having a job that you adore so much it doesn’t feel like work is a gift. We should all be so lucky to have that chance. That quote you mentioned is so beautifully true. Here’s hoping we all get that!

      (And HI! Thanks for stopping by!)

  3. Some people really have a lot of nerve! I don’t understand how some people will say anything and not even care about what they say! So rude! I’m sorry that she made a comment like that to you. She is ignorant. I think you are amazing for being so positive! I admire you for that. I am so bad at thinking of comebacks when people made rude comments at me. I always think of them way after the moment happened.

    You are such a wonderful person! I like that you are so positive :)

    • Aww, thank you … that means a lot! Right back at you! :-)

      It’s truly unfathomable to me how people just spew out rude comments without even stopping to think about how insulting it might be. I don’t think she meant to come off as offensive, but really, did she think I wasn’t going to be hurt that she was dismissing the work I devote my heart and soul to every day? Sigh. I’m awful at thinking of what to say in the moment, too. I so wish I’d have fired back with a detailed description of exactly all that goes into writing. Hindsight’s 20/20, huh?

  4. Ooh, that makes me SO MAD! What right does she have to judge? Has she been a writer? Does she know what it’s like? After working in several different jobs, I’ve learned not to judge until I’ve actually done something, because it usually looks so different from the inside. I got similar comments when I was teaching. People tried to tell me that teachers are overpaid because they only have to work from 9-2 each day, plus they get summers and all their holidays off. NOT TRUE! If only I could have gone in at nine each day and gotten off at two! If only I hadn’t had meetings to attend and papers to grade and bulletin boards to put up and lessons to plan and all those hundreds of other things teachers have to do. As for summers? I spent the beginning of each summer finishing up from the year before, the middle of the summer planning the next school year, and the end of the summer prepping my classroom for the year. And it wasn’t a leisurely three months off like those people claimed. Oh, and when I was a school librarian and buried under work – work I loved, but still! – and one of my friends asked me, “So when you finish your stuff do you get to read for the rest of the day?” I don’t think he had any idea how insulting he was. And don’t even get me started on all the people who say with a smirk, “Must be nice to be a stay-at-home mom and have all that free time.”

    Whew! Rant over. As for thinking up a good comeback, I’ve learned that nothing I say in response to such ignorant statements ever really changes the person’s opinion. They want to believe what they want to believe, and setting them straight just makes me sound like a whiner. That’s one of the good things about writing – I have time to think of the perfect comebacks for my characters, and I can make them make a difference.

    • I can only imagine what kind of comments you must have gotten as a teacher. Even just with the major in college, I remember people remarking about how easy it must be. Until you have walked a day (or a week … or a month …) in someone else’s shoes, you have no idea what the path is like. I’m guessing it must be very much the same for the stay-at-home mom vs. working-away-from-home mom debate. All that matters, though, is that we’re happy with what we’re doing.

      Love, love, love the way you incorporate it into your writing. Isn’t it the best feeling ever to help your characters make a difference? :-)

  5. Oh, OH MAN. I would have been so angry. How rude of her – and how uncalled for. Just…that was so, so rude. Why exactly did she feel the need to offer an opinion about your career, when she knows nothing about you? Ugh.

    I’ve never had this reaction from someone, but honestly, I sort of change my wording around because the truth is if I share that I’m a (unpublished) writer first, I EXPECT people will react the way your hygienist did. So I usually open with, “Oh, I’m an aide for a school and I’m applying for grad school for Social Work, and, oh, I wrote a book and I’m trying to get it published.” People are just so quick to assume what we do…it’s like they think it’s not a real job. That baffles me. How can being a writer not be considered real? Words make up so much of our lives. How can anyone argue that what we do isn’t important?

    Sigh. I guess the good thing is that we can always ignore the people who think what we do is easy and not so important. They’ll never understand how much it takes to write and finish a novel. And of course the other good thing is knowing that we have a job that, even though it requires a lot of work, is fun. :)

    • Ugh, I know. We’d met five minutes earlier, ten tops, so what exactly compelled her to offer an opinion on someone who was basically a complete stranger? If it had been someone I’d known for a long time – well, I would still have been hurt, but at least it wouldn’t have felt so darn judgmental. Four days later, and it STILL makes me angry. I’m kicking myself for not responding better instead of just sitting there in shock.

      It makes me sad that we have to change around wording and sort of downplay the writing in order to avoid these kinds of reactions. I used to do it, too, not because I loved it any less, but because, like you said, some people are so quick to assume. It’s just … hurtful.

      I’ll never understand how someone couldn’t consider it real. Words do more than tell stories … they tell about lives, about our lives. What about that isn’t important? When it comes down to it, though, as long as we know what it involves, what it takes, and what it makes us to be … that’s what matters most :-)

      (My crazily editing self may disagree about the fun aspect, LOL, but I’m sure I’ll be back to agreeing as soon as I dive into writing again!)

  6. Oh, Shari. If I had a dollar for every time someone asks me when I am going to get a real job or use my degree, I would be the richest woman in the world! Every time I tell someone I am a Nanny, I either get a look that screams judgement or some sort of ignorant question that says something about it not being a “real” job.

    Sometimes, it frustrates me so much I could smack the person. Other times I just smile and tell them that they are entitled to their opinion but that I am doing work I love and I don’t regret a single second of it. Other times, I respond with a dig about how I work a hell of a lot harder than them at their stupid desk job that they sit on their butt for 8 hours wishing for the weekend. Oh, did I just admit that? Because almost every time, that’s what I WANT to say, but rarely do I :)

    I think that it is a gift immeasurable to be blessed with the opportunity to do something with your life that you love. I think that it is a blessing many, many people will never experience to wake up each day and do something with your life that brings you joy and fulfillment. And I think that to be yourself and do what you love in a world that will do everything in its power to stop you from that is the greatest thing that you could ever do. So keep doing it and “don’t let the bastards get you down” ;)

    Sorry for this rant. It hit a nerve ;)

    • No apologies necessary … it hit a nerve with me, too, and I definitely did some ranting of my own before calming down and pulling something positive from the experience.

      It truly baffles (and saddens) me how some people can be so downright judgmental and inconsiderate to others. Just because our jobs fall outside the realm of traditional doesn’t make them less. If they make our hearts happy and we’re lucky enough to do something with our lives that we love and are passionate about … that makes them more.

      I’m so sorry you’ve gotten such insulting comments about your work. Enriching the lives of children is one of the greatest, most lasting things anybody can do. You make an impact and have an influence every day, and it’s a beautiful thing. Don’t let anyone get you down – just look at all the kids whose lives you have changed, and focus on that!

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