I’m a writer and my friends get it
“You’re more than just a social worker though.”
His words hit me like a Wu-Tang album. They were hard, raw, and uncompromising. I let them dangle in ether, occupying the void between his end of the phone line and mine.
“You know what I mean?” he continued. “You’re a social worker, but you’re more than that. You will be more than that.”
The clarification simultaneously filled me with hope and a sense of obscurity.
Am I more than that or can I be?
I was 25. Three years removed from college and three months removed from graduate school. I was just starting my career in mental health, but I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this it? Is this me?”
I don’t often struggle with decisions. I’m the level-headed one; the one that quickly analyzes the situation, thinks through the available options and makes the best choice given the information at hand. That’s why my senior year of college wasn’t stressful. While my friends wondered what they’d do next, I had my job lined up six months before we were scheduled to walk across the graduation stage. I was precise and thorough; I had to be. Indecision kills me and hesitation feels like a thousand needles dragged across the skin. I watched Rocky IV far too many times and as a result, I don’t live with regrets. The iconic line spoken by Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, reverberates in my mind: “If he dies, he dies.” I say that so much before making a major decision, that my family has come to expect it. I’m often described as the “smartest and dumbest,” person that people know. But, I am decisive. So, why was deciding to go back to school so tough?
Working for pennies made it clear that I needed a change and while my employment was only temporary, my next steps weren’t exactly clear. I graduated with a degree in Human Development, and like ninety percent of bachelor’s degrees, it prepared me to either go back to school or work in fast food. I applied to McDonald’s and they rejected me for being “overly qualified.” That left me with graduate school. For four years, I focused mainly on mental health initiatives. I joined and eventually became the president of our mental health club, volunteered in the admissions office, and often spoke to Black and Brown kids about the emotional toll that college places on us. I even worked towards becoming a peer counselor. All roads led to either a degree in psychology or social work, but my heart was never fully in it. I wanted to be a therapist, but that wasn’t all.
Since the time that I can remember, I’ve been writing. My mom put a pen in my hand and her love of words became my own. Weekly trips to the library were my favorite outing and as soon as I was done with one story, I’d start to create stories of my own. Always reserved, my personality came out through the words on every page. The characters were rich, funny, and often evocative. Through the worlds that I shaped with a pen, my writing helped me see the world around me for it could be, rather than what it was. Then reality hit.
“You’ll never make any money in writing.”
“It’s not like your first book will be a bestseller.”
“There will never be another J.K. Rowling.”
I heard those and similar statements everywhere I turned. Nevertheless, I consulted a few of my writing professors and my favorite professor, who seemed to have the best of both worlds. He originally studied English and went on to become a psychologist later in life. His feedback and support were everything.
“Jayson, I’d be happy to read some of your work and give you some advice. Ultimately, it comes down to what you want to do and how you see the next few years. But, you’re right — it’s tough to support yourself as a writer.”
I knew the reality of it — still, the thought of my words reaching millions and being a New York Times Bestseller was tantalizing. But, thoughts don’t pay the bills. So, mental health it was.
And, I know what you’re thinking. “You expected to make money in social work?” Well, I might be the smartest and dumbest person that you know.
It’s been ten years since I decided not to pursue writing and not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought, “What if?” Thankfully, I never stopped writing. My google drive is filled with colorful stories just waiting for the right canvas, and there isn’t a notebook in my presence that doesn’t have scribbles of prose, openings, and poems. I’m a writer; I always have been and sometimes, I need some reminding. When my friend told me that I could be more, I wanted to believe him. I wanted to fill the void between our phone lines with descriptions of my wildest dreams, but I wasn’t ready. Not then.
I recently published a piece and like anything, I just put it out there. Aside from a few likes and comments, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Not until the same friend shared it on his social media accounts. Don’t get me wrong, he’s always been supportive. However, this time was different because this was a story that I wasn’t sure about. Immediately after sending it out, I thought “Is this too much? Am I sharing too much of myself? Was I clear?” Those thoughts dissipated when I saw my story on his page. I reached out to thank him and his reply was simple.
“No doubt man. Love your writing.”
Praise from strangers is great, but praise from the people that I love means everything.
I don’t know if he’ll ever see this or if any of my family or friends will. That’s okay — it’s not for them.
Whoever does read this, know that you can always be more.
I know that I will.