Are You the Author of Your Story or a Character in It?

I was fired from my first job a week before I started.

A junior copywriting role with a small, digital marketing agency. At the time, I was an intern, but in just one week, I would graduate from college and walk right into my first full-time position. The envy of zillions of other recent grads.

I walked into the office that morning and tried to log into my email, but the system kept telling me it didn’t recognize my username and password combination. My desk buddy was having a similar issue. We were both called into the conference room where we joined the eight other employees.

I assumed we were about to get some information regarding our email issues. Instead, the owner took a deep breath and matter-of-factly told everyone there was no more money in the account. With tears in his eyes, the VP asked everyone to pack up their stuff and go home.

There was complete silence. Loud silence. My ears were ringing. I assume this is what it sounds like a few minutes after a bomb has exploded. 11 people sat stunned with no idea what they should do. One guy had just started that Monday. Another had turned down a more lucrative job offer the month before. Many had families to support. They were all in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As for me, I wasn’t even supposed to be there. I wasn’t even supposed to be a copywriter.

I was supposed to be in Paris.

***

Eight months before I started working at the agency, I had accepted an internship with the US Embassy in Paris, France. Except the State Department forgot to send my security paperwork, and when I asked about the documents, they informed me that it was already too late — that I’d have to cancel the trip because there wasn’t enough time to secure government clearance.

As I scrambled to find a replacement internship, my friend and future desk buddy had just started working at a small digital marketing agency, and they were looking for a writing intern. He said I had always been a good writer and that I should apply.

Being young and naive, I didn’t know enough to know how inexperienced I truly was. I walked into the interview with a few school papers, a short story I’d written, and no advertising experience whatsoever.

I got the job.

I learned everything I could about copywriting during the following eight months, and weeks before the company collapsed, I was offered a full-time role upon graduation.

A role I would never step into.

***

I thought it was time to go back to the drawing board, but the owner made a few calls on my behalf and connected me with a freelancer-turned-creative director who was looking for a young writer. On the back of my internship experience, I was offered a new job. From there, I jumped to another agency, and then another to where I work now.

People always ask me how they can break into advertising, and for the most part, I just shrug. I have a few tips from the inside, but the way I get in was completely abnormal. No one could (or should) try to replicate my path. It was a mystery cocktail of luck, hard work, talent, and timing. A total accident. The right place at the right time.

But ask around and you’ll find that taking the “typical path” isn’t even all that typical.

In the past two weeks alone, I’ve met a grade school music teacher who quit to become a freelance writer, a medical supply salesman who directs TV commercials, and a self-taught computer programer. It’s increasingly rare to find someone who gets their degree, finds a related job, and stays there for 40 years before retiring to Florida.

I majored in Western European History in college. I had dreams of becoming a tenured professor. I didn’t even know “copywriter” was a job title when I chose my major. All I knew about advertisements was that you were supposed to hit “fast-forward” when they came on the Tivo.

But here I am.

Looking back on it, it seems like such a grand accident — randomly falling into things, making choices that sparked chain reactions I could never predict or foresee.

***

Am I doing life right? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?

I have no idea.

I keep making choices, and I keep moving forward, because there are no “right” or “wrong” answers when it comes to your life. There will always be big, important questions and there will always be paths not taken. There will always be “what ifs.” There will always be sacrifices. But that’s life.

When you worry to much about making the “right choices,” when you stall too long and think too hard, you’ll find that, in the end, you won’t be the one calling the shots. Someone else will write your story for you.

It’s much easier to be the character in someone else’s story than the author of your own.

When you let someone else make your choices for you, you may feel more secure, like you’re walking down “the right path.” Like you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. But you won’t be happy because it’s not what you want deep down. It’s what someone else thinks you should want. And it’s a guaranteed path toward frustration and regret.

You are the writer of your own story, the author of your own life. And your path shouldn’t be typical. It shouldn’t feel like anyone else’s. It should feel like you just “fell into something,” that you aren’t really sure what you’re doing, that it’s all been a crazy accident. That you’re making it up as you go because spoiler alert: that’s how we all feel.

When you make the hard and scary choices, the story you start will have an uncertain end — because it’s totally unique and no one has ever written it like you have. And that’s OK.

That’s what it feels like to be alive.

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