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Friday, April 10, 2015

My career advice: don't be like me!


Yesterday was one of those days when the hopes of optimistic college students eager to become career freelance writers were crushed when my most emphatic advice to college students eager to become freelance writers is to become plumbers.

I’ve been thinking for the last two months about writing a post headlined, “The Great Chris Rodell Life Experiment Fail.”

I’ve decided against that because it’s too depressing, in my heart I don’t believe it’s true and because it drives me nuts whenever headlines are too long to fit on one tidy line.

Yesterday I was back at Ohio University. Back in Athens, a place where so many of the characteristics that make me me — binge drinker, deadline shirker, chronic napper — were forged for my duration.

I revel in being back in Athens. I get roaring drunk with old friends, laugh too loud, and am renown for cranking out really huge farts at inappropriate times.

The people in charge of Athens know this so whenever they want me to talk to their students they insist I do it via Skype and far downwind.

And what I wrote about my feelings of failure is bullseye true. I’ve lately been at a really low ebb.

I do feel like a failure. My credit card bills are at an all-time high. I needed to buy lots of books at the end of the year in order to have lots of books to sell this year. I shelled out substantial bucks to join professional organizations that promise to help me land lucrative speaking gigs.

Those are not frivolous expenses. They are necessary.

What is frivolous and unnecessary is all the money I spend on cigars, bars, golf and baseball and right now all those soulful recreations are in jeopardy.

The last time I went a whole summer without any of those elements in my life it was the interim months between the 3rd and 4th grades.

The Stones are coming to Pittsburgh June 20. I’m deluged with questions from friends about my plans. Where will I stay? Do I have any ticket deals? How many cities will I see them in?

All are incredulous when I tell them I just can’t afford it.

I keep thinking I’m on the verge of some enormous professional breakthrough that will catapult me to real success.

I tell the students I’ve been saying that very same thing every morning since I quit my last real job way back in 1992.

The students are interested in the blog. They want to know how I make money on it.

I tell them I don’t. Friends urged me to put up a donation app and assured me support would pour in.

In fact, I say, in the four months the app’s been up, I’ve received exactly $102 in donations. One exuberant supporter — the one who urged me to put the dang thing up — bless his heart, gave $100. The other $2 came from when I snuck onto my wife’s computer and made a sneak transaction on her account to make sure the app was functioning.

“And she made me pay the $2 back!”

I’m nervous as the Skype session progresses. I feel like I’m in a race against the clock to see the class end before Val gets home and usurps the screen to rail against my many miserable failings.

I know most days she’d rather be married to a handsome plumber. 

I can’t blame her. Hell, there are days when I’D rather be married to a handsome plumber.

Any fresh household catastrophe could ruin us. Same goes for car trouble or if my 6-year-old MacBook Pro goes dark.

It never bothered me that freelance writing would be a career high wire act. I just never dreamed the wire would get so high.

What drives me mental, too, is all the people to whom I go to for advice say I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.

“You’re doing everything right,” said one successful writer. “You have no idea just how close you are to it all coming together for you. Just stick with it.”

Stick with what? Sleeplessness? Bouts of depression? Chronic feelings of failure?

I’ve long said it’s not surprising writers like me drink. What’s surprising is writers like me ever stop drinking.

What’s also insane is my persistent optimism that friends are correct. Meeting planners around the country are receptive to my pitches.

They believe my message — in essence, to cheerfully persist through every hardship — is one all their associates need to hear.

And financial stability is the only element missing from what is a truly wonderful life.

I was reminded of this when at the very end one of the students asked what my daughters think about what their Daddy does.

“They love it,” I say. “And they love me.”

It’s true. We have so many happy times together. Ages 14 and 8, they both have made expressions that they’re proud of me and the book. Josie says many of her friends have read copies their parents have bought and have told her they love it.

“I’d have missed out on a world of love if I’d have followed a different path and it’s cliche, but no one on their deathbed’s ever said they wished they’d have had more bylines in Golf Magazine.”

Of all the things I said, it’s the one thing I hope that sticks.

So today, the day after the 150th anniversary Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, I am once again Scarlett O’Hara saying, fiddle-dee-dee, I won’t think about even crushing defeat.

Tomorrow’s another day

I will yet again raise my middle finger to looming despair and believe in my heart that a better day is soon to dawn.

I may never enjoy the means and stability of a really fine plumber, but as God is my witness, I’ll one day be able to afford one.



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