Of Careers and Life Paths (But What Should I Be?)

When I was in sixth grade, I, like the rest of the students in my class, was sent to the guidance counselor’s office to take a computerized test to help decide what I might want to do with my life—what careers were a match for my personality, my likes and dislikes, my strengths and weaknesses. 

I clearly remember the anticipation of sitting down in front of the computer, of excitedly clicking answers to each question, practically bouncing in my seat as I imagined what magical career choice was my destiny. Then the test was over, and the dot-matrix printer screamed and screeched as it printed my results. Mr. Albright tore the sheets from the printer, looked them over, handed them to me, and sent me back to class. I accepted my results with near-trembling hands and reviewed them as I walked the halls to return to science class. This was it. A list of all the things I could do with my life, a piece of paper that would tell me how I would succeed in the future.

And then I read the words.

Sanitation worker? Sanitation worker? SANITATION WORKER? 

Before I go further, I’ll make a statement for the record. I have utmost respect for the sanitation workers in my life. I am so very grateful that there are people willing to do this job and that they work year-round in all sorts of weather to ensure my trash is removed from my property each week and that we live in clean and sanitary conditions in our little corner of the world. I cannot stress this enough. I am grateful.

But this is not what an eleven-year-old girl with an imagination the size of the Andromeda Galaxy wants to envision for her life. Of all the careers I’d ever imagined, sanitation worker was not one. Teacher? Sure. Every kid probably considers that one at one point or another. Teachers play such an important role in our early years. Doctor, veterinarian, marine biologist, archeologist, author, singer, actor? All of those were futures I dreamed of, careers I longed to follow. But sanitation worker?

I was nearly inconsolable, convinced that perhaps I wasn’t as smart as I previously thought, that my A’s and B’s didn’t really mean anything after all, that my talents were nonexistent, that I wasn’t really going to have a career in science or the arts.

Fast-forward twenty-eight years later and laugh with me. Laugh and laugh and laugh. Because that test was complete and utter bullshit. Rubbish through and through. I’m almost angry that a school administration would dare to crush a child’s dreams in such a manner. Is it worth guiding children toward careers they might enjoy and in which they would likely excel? Of course! But at what cost? A computer is a poor substitute for human interaction, and if I’d sat down and talked with a teacher or guidance counselor at that time instead, I’m willing to bet that sanitation worker would never have been brought up as a possibility. Anyone who knows me knows, while I enjoy routine to an extent, I utterly crave the new, the unfamiliar, maybe even the unattainable. I’m not wired for routine.

Ironic, since I cope with chronic anxiety when faced with change. But life enjoys nothing if not being ironic.

And so far in my life? So far I have been a marine biology graduate, a pharmaceutical microbiologist, a technical writer, an animal welfare administrator, and a marketing director. It seems it took me a while to decide what I should really “be.” (Or maybe I’m just intent on working through ALL of those careers I once hoped for?)

So I’m cautious when my own kids consider their futures. I’m careful to nurture their dreams and encourage them to dive deep into the things they love. No one should settle for doing what someone else says is right for them. I often wonder if I would have made author as a career sooner had I really, truly believed it was a viable option.

Make no mistake. I’m eternally grateful to have had the opportunities I had in my life. How many people can say they’ve worked on a wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphin project in college? How many can say they’ve spent a summer on a boat just feet from entire families of joyful, leaping marine mammals? That they could extend a hand outward and easily touch one? (I didn’t. That’s not legal. But I could have.) I cherish that experience, as I cherish so many others.

I still have that piece of paper—the results from the sixth-grade “aptitude test” to help me determine what I should be. I keep it as a reminder. No one in the world can tell me what I should be, or what I should do with my life, with my time on this earth.

I, alone, have that power.

So what about you? Are you doing what you dreamed you might? Are you helping others to reach the path that will take them where they want to go? Let’s have this conversation because, all too often, I fear we’re pushed into a path we’re never meant to be on—stuck in a circle, forever asking “But what should I be?”

When what we really should be asking is, “What do I want to be?”

So what do you want to be?

The BIG Announcement

A few months ago, I posted about two very exciting things. The first, I elaborated in my post—I got to see my name in print in the byline of an article on the front page. The second? Well, I kept the second a secret. But it’s been long enough and I’m ready to share. Without further ado, I give you…

…my release date.

Banner for A Thousand Years to Wait

My debut Young Adult Fantasy titled A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT is scheduled for publication in April. That’s right. On April 30th, 2019, you’ll be able to purchase a copy of my book.

And now we squeal. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkk!

Stay tuned for additional teasers, including reviews, excerpts, and cover art in the coming months!


Summary for A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT

Prophecies are meant to unfold on their own—they can’t be forced into fruition. Or can they? When a war-torn kingdom is on the cusp of falling to a usurping general, a young healer who doesn’t believe in magic is called upon to help a prophecy transpire. She must embrace the magic…or lose the ones she loves.

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A few years ago, a good friend got me this set of greeting cards. There is no more perfect a gift than this.

The Girl Who Fell

_MG_7483We just returned from our trip to Prince Edward Island and, friends, I have fallen. I have fallen deeply, madly in love.

All vacations are lovely, but none of them have ever left me with a desire to relocate my entire family as soon as humanly possible. I loved the Bahamas and Jamaica. England and Wales were beautiful. France was amazing. I’ve even been to Montreal, so it’s not like this was my first stop in Canada. And I’ve traveled eight-thousand miles across the U.S., stopping in 22 states along the way, so I’ve seen my fair share of our own beautiful country.

But the utterly breathtaking views of Prince Edward Island—the oceans, the dunes, the grasses, the fields—it was the first time in a very long time where I felt I could breathe, truly breathe.

I’ve never considered leaving the country before, not really. Yet I find myself perusing the real estate listings on PEI and researching jobs and weather. Who knows? If I’m lucky and I plan things just right, maybe PEI is in my future. I know it’s already in my heart.


(If I could just convince the world that I’m an author and that my books are worth buying…that would be something. When the day comes where I finally sell my books, the ‘PEI Relocation’ fund will officially be a thing in the Storms household. I vow it.)

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Where Dreams and Reality Collide

There’s a job opening in a microbiology laboratory where I used to work. I’ve said often to friends and family how much I missed working in the micro lab, how much fun the testing could be, how interesting the job. And yet…

I have no less than four headhunters who have emailed me about this position in the past 48 hours. It’s a contract position with the potential for permanent work. But do I want permanent work? Do I want to commit my hours to working for dollars instead of writing for none? Am I ready to give up on a dream of writing novels full-time to have the security and extra money a job outside the home would bring?

Before you comment, let me stop you. 1. I’ve heard all these arguments before, and 2. I’ve been having the same conversation with myself for days now. It’s not giving up on a dream to accept the reality of supporting your family and easing the financial burden by helping to bear the load. But there’s a lot to consider because taking a full time job outside of the house is more than just 40 hours a week. It’s also 7-10 hours of commute time. 

Beyond that, it’s giving up all the luxuries I currently have. No, not the financial luxuries. I’m talking about the school field trips I chaperone, the classrooms I assist in for fun activities, the holiday parties I can help plan for my kids. These are the things I can never get back, the things time won’t wait on. By going back to work full time, I’d be putting my kids and family second again – at least as far as time constraints go. (Certainly not in regards to feelings!)

So, while there’s a part of me that longs for the financial freedom a second household income would bring, and the knowledge that I’m helping my husband to bear the financial load a bit more, I think I’ll pass on the microbiology lab for now. The lab will be there in five years and in ten. My 8 and 12-year-olds will not. Time has a habit of stealing our youth and I intend to build as many memories with my kids as I can while they’re still young.

And writing? I will always have writing. Being home just allows me to pursue it more passionately.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have some faces to paint at the 6th grade school carnival in a half hour and rocks to paint in a 2nd grade classroom later today. Pharmaceutical microbiology and financial freedom can wait.

 

The Never Expected and Always Unthinkable

If you’ve been following me for a while, odds are good that you know the health crisis we’ve been through over the last year as my husband faced a scary pancreatic cancer diagnosis last spring. The kind of diagnosis you’re not supposed to get at 43.

It was awful. It was traumatic. And until this week, I’d kind of sort of managed to tuck it away in the deep recesses of my mind. Because let’s face it—you can’t think about this kind of thing every day or you’ll actually drive yourself out of your head with worry, the kind of worry that comes with anxious, nervous energy that keeps you up into the wee hours of the morning every night with no one but your miserable self to keep you company.

And then this week someone I know on Twitter (I can’t even call her a ‘friend’—we’ve never had a single personal conversation!), a Pitchwars mentor & writer whose debut book just came out this month, a woman who is living her dream—the same dream I have—just got word that her husband had been hit by a car and was in the ICU at the hospital. I don’t know the details. I know only what she has shared on Twitter.

But her story has hit me so hard this week. So hard. Because it seems like even when things are really good, they can still be really bad. Clarissa recently tweeted about how wonderful the doctors and nurses are, about how they’re making sure that she’s taking care of herself, too. And it brought the memories flooding back.

The day I couldn’t eat because I woke up with such severe anxiety three days after my husband’s surgery that my stomach had cramped into one big knot. The nurse on shift that day didn’t say anything right away, but by 3 p.m., she gave me a knowing expression with worried eyes that I swear could see right into my soul and she asked me, “Have you eaten anything today?” I hadn’t. I couldn’t. So when I finally managed to eat a banana at 7 p.m., I made sure to let her know. Nurses are amazing. They are incredible human beings who give so much more than I ever knew was humanly possible to give to perfect strangers.

And in one tweet, Clarissa sent me right back to those horrible moments after the big surgery, the ones I pushed aside for the last nine months. My heart goes out to Clarissa and her family. I know what she’s going through. I know the fear and the worry and the feeling that nothing will ever be the same—that your entire future is nothing more than one big question mark.

I hope that you’ll join me in supporting Clarissa Goenawan and her husband in the weeks and months of trials they’ll have ahead of them. The medical bills can add up so quickly that it takes your breath away when you stop to think about it. We spent over $10,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses last year. Without insurance, it would have been well over $300,000. Life can turn on a dime and moments like these are sharp reminders to hold our loved ones tight and appreciate all we have been given.

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 8.19.19 PMMany prayers for Clarissa and Choo and for a quick and complete recovery and a return to normal life.

And if you want to support a debut author in another most appreciated way, pick up a copy of her book, Rainbirds, released March 6th of this year.

 

Pitfalls and Mountain Climbing

As a writer, I find there are infinite pitfalls of self-doubt and whole periods of time where all I do is question whether or not my writing skills are worthy. Are they good enough for the books I so badly want to author? Do my words inspire others to jump into the lives of my characters and love the story so much that they want nothing more than to drown out the world around them as they race with reckless abandon to the last chapter? Is my prose moving without being ‘purple?’ And for the love of all that is holy, do I have any talent at all?!

pitfall
A different kind of Pitfall maybe, but the writing journey can feel about this treacherous.

It’s frustrating when you’ve been refining your craft for years and still have nothing tangible to show for it. I’ve been writing seriously for seven years, querying for three, and am currently drafting my fourth manuscript. I’ve gotten paid to ghostwrite blogs I’ll never get credit for. I’ve entered several online writing mentoring competitions like PitchWars and Sun vs. Snow and I’ve yet to be selected as a mentee. I’ve pitched in Twitter pitch contests like PitMad and SonOfAPitch. I’ve pitched in person to agents at the Write Angles Conference and at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. And in the midst of it all, I have made dozens of amazing writer friends* who have been there to support and cheer me on at every step of the game. (As I do for them as well! Writers make really good cheerleaders!)

And yet all of this ‘failure’ on the professional end of things takes a toll on a writer’s ego. (Yes, I know it’s not real failure. It’s *experience.*) One might say it’s all about leveling up. Lots of XP for me!

level up

The fact remains that I couldn’t not write even if I wanted to. So it means the world to me when people around me are supportive of my decision to pursue my passion, even when the going gets rough. Support is everything. I made the decision a few weeks ago to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this year. The location alone makes it a pricey conference, but the WDC is one of the bigger conferences with tons of relevant industry info and it offers a great opportunity to participate in PitchSlam—a sort of speed dating for writers hoping to find agents who will represent them and agents looking for writers to represent.

About a week ago, I lamented to my husband about the price of the workshop, feeling guilty about spending so much on myself. (Because until I’m actually making some sort of professional progress, it still feels like a frivolous expense—the same as a pedicure might…only about ten times the cost.) He reassured me that he wanted me to go and that he was going to make sure we could afford it, even if he had to do some eBaying to make it work out.

Fast-forward a day or so and I had a repeat of the same conversation with my mother, only she didn’t offer to eBay anything off for me. No, she waited a couple of days, conferred with my father, then texted me this:

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How do you argue with that?

If you don’t come from an Italian-American household, let me fill you in.

You don’t. You can’t argue. It’s like trying to bulldoze a mountain.

And so I’ll take them up on their offer not because I really have a choice, but because I know it’s not about the money. It’s about having a family who supports my dream unconditionally. It’s about the support they want to provide to me in the way that they can. I’m lucky. Luckier than most.

So, I’ll go to the Writer’s Digest Conference this summer and maybe I’ll reach the summit of this mountain.

Or at least base camp.

Yeah, I could be content with base camp.

 

 

* Seriously, NEVER underestimate the power of amazing writer friends! Xoxoxo!

Who’s Who?

I follow an eclectic mix of people on Twitter, but by far my Twitter feed skews toward the literary. From querying writers to veteran authors to agents to editors, I tend to follow it all. And in my honest opinion, if you’re not following these folks, you’re missing out!

(I think I’ll need to make this a semi-regular segment in my blog, so if you haven’t made this list, don’t worry. I’ll have lots more to share in the future!)

In no particular order:

Michelle Hauck (@Michelle4Laughs)—For up to date information on amazing writing contests, Michelle is one to follow. She’s a smart and fun-to-follow author who writes SFF and gives back to the writing community in abundance! Also, don’t miss her blog!


Dr. Uwe Stender (@UweStenderPhD)—Not all literary agents are created equal. In my years of stalking…er…following literary agents on Twitter for the sole purpose of gaining industry knowledge, I have found that some agents are quick to provide a helping hand to those who are just starting on their journeys. I highly recommend following Uwe Stender. Why? Because his literary advice is real and good and his #askagent sessions are the best. (Bonus: His nutcase files can’t be beat!)


Lakshmi (@Lakshgiri)—Because her writing is lyrical and moving and her cooking photos make my mouth water, Lakshmi gets two thumbs up in my book. Her blog is filled with poignant stories about parenting and motherhood, and her open adoption story is unlike any I’ve known. She faces parenting challenges with grace and her raw, emotional writing resonates.


Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) & Sam Sykes (@SamSykesSwears)—These guys are a 2-for-1. Why? Because of interactions like this (read this aaalllllllll the way through):

They’ll provide your daily dose of crazy with a side of smiles. Follow them. (And maybe Sam will release another hostage.)


A.S.H (@MizWriter)—Because I agree with everything she posts and she’s basically my spirit animal even if we’ve never met. Dogs and cats and posts about writing. Wait. Maybe she’s actually *me* in another dimension.


Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) – Because you need a dose of astrophysics & feminism. Bonus: She pipes up in occasional bouts with Chuck & Sam, making my day, week, and even month. And it’s really fun to watch her stop mansplaining in its tracks. Even J.K. Rowling agrees.


Who are your Twitter favorites? Give them a holler in the comments section so I can show them some love with a follow!