Back in 2010, I was working in health and dental insurance, and I was miserable. It was a career I sort of fell into after university, because my partner and I had bought a house, and we wanted kids, and I needed a job that would pay the bills.
Insurance was a shock to the system at first—I had an English degree and had just spent the last four or five years working as a bookseller at Woozles Children’s Bookstore (a dream job, by the way). Then, suddenly, I was spending my days delivering bad news and being berated by angry customers (they were often, but not always, justified). The job served its purpose—it paid the bills—but I was often anxious and angry, and I started to not feel like myself anymore.
So when I went on maternity leave with my youngest child, I decided it was time to make a change. Sometime I’ll elaborate more on this story—there’s lots to say–but for now, here’s one of the essays I wrote at the time.
Thinking About Why
It’s been a long day. It began at 3:30 this morning, accompanied by the fitful cries of my five month old, and now it’s winding down peacefully with this essay, a glass of wine, and some music. In the hours between though, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why I need to write.
It’s funny how when you let your mind wander, long-forgotten memories will sometimes surface so quickly. One of my earliest school memories is of my Grade One teacher announcing that we were going to learn to read. I still remember the flutters in my stomach that I felt at the news. My mother’s ability to read to herself always seemed like magic to my young self.
Another memory is of my lunch with A Real Author. In grade four, the teachers chose two students from each class to have lunch with Budge Wilson. The thrill I felt when A Real Author complimented my story is still almost palpable today. The ten years followed blend together in a wash of tests, fights with my younger brother, crushes, and making art.
Throughout it all, though, I could always escape into the comfort of a book or write in my journal. It didn’t matter what gossip or tests I had to worry about during my hormone-riddled adolescence, I always had that.
Those high school tests were only just ending when I had my interview with the career counsellor at MSVU. She asked me what I wanted to take. When I said I didn’t know, she asked me what I liked to do. Since my answer was “reading and writing”, she pointed me in the direction of an English degree. While I was there, I took on the Arts and Entertainment Editor position at the school newspaper. I loved everything about it. I loved the evenings spent writing and editing in the newsroom, the interviews, working with the writers and other editors, and the enormous Mac computer that was, inexplicably, christened “Buzz Lightyear.” No work I have done since has made me as thoroughly happy as that position.
After school, I tried to find work in editing. After many emails and phone calls, a promised interview that never materialized with one publisher, and a paid internship that I was narrowly passed over for by another, I got married and bought a house. Overwhelmed by how much real life costs, I left my job at Woozles Children’ Bookstore to work at an insurance company.
It’s hard to leave security and a good paycheque, but I’m finally ready to try again. Maternity leave has given me the space and time to think about what I really want to do with my life. I’ve realized that, as much as I’ve tried, I will never be happy in insurance. Although I’ve continued writing for myself here and there, I can’t imagine any career that would make me happier than writing professionally.
So after all the thinking I’ve done today about why I need to write, I finally have my answer.
Writing is what I’ve always loved. I will always do it, whether I am paid for it or not. Finally, raising my children has made me realize how quickly time and opportunity passes. I’m ready to seize this rare opportunity that I have while on leave to find a career that I love.
Looking back, it turned out pretty well. I’m grateful.