The Writing Advice Deb Sarah Got Saved Her From Careers She Would Have Hated

Can you imagine me as a biologist? Nope, didn’t think so. Neither can I. But somehow in the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I got distracted and lost, and even though my lifelong dream had been to pursue writing, I had concocted some strange plan to go into medicine. I’d hightailed it from the journalism building to the biology labs one quarter, and after one particularly grueling lab, I was walking back to my dorm on campus when I ran into a beloved journalism professor who set me straight.

Pete Steffens was his name, a wise old journalism professor on the verge of retirement and beloved by all baby journalists at Western Washington University, and I still remember his kind but firm words that set me back on the career path that was right for me:

Pete: “Sarah, we’ve missed you this quarter in the journalism department.”

Me: “Oh, yeah, about that. Um, well, you see, I’m a biology major now.”

Pete, shaking his head: “Well that’s a waste of a perfectly great writer’s brain. Come back. We miss you.”

Me (feeling emotional): “I miss you too. And to be honest, I hate biology.”

And that’s how Sarah got her groove back.

There have been several more times in my life when I needed someone to help me set the reset button back to writing–like the time I thought about opening a clothing boutique (oh boy), or making lampshades for a living (don’t ask), or inventing some fantastic new gizmo to sell. I suppose its one of the curses of having a creative mind–creativity can lead you elsewhere. But, I’m thankful that each time a friend, a family member, or my wise husband has reminded me of where my gifts lie, and ahem, where they don’t.

Takeaway: If you know someone–a college student or mid-level professional, even–who is struggling with finding her path and realizing that this path is actually right in front of her nose, set her straight, please?

It’s OK to have other career aspirations and dreams, but I’ve learned over the years that writing is where my heart is and where I need to be. So I’ve stayed put, and I’m so glad I have.

Have you ever had a career flip-flopping moment where, looking back, you are now so glad you didn’t take the plunge or change your path?

xo, Sarah

12 Replies to “The Writing Advice Deb Sarah Got Saved Her From Careers She Would Have Hated”

  1. Mentors matter. I prefer the smell of ink to formaldehyde too, though I loved bio classes. That said, I met a girl who is getting her MFA in poetry and I thought to myself, “Oh, in this world of ours, will she ever find a job?” But as the saying goes, follow your heart and the money will follow. At least that’s what we hope. Well, off to Goodwill! LOL! 🙂

  2. That sounds like one of those times where the universe just put the exact right person in your way at the exact right time.

    I think the closest I ever got to someone getting in my way over a career choice was when I told an old mentor and her husband that I was just going to focus on being happy, and they said, “You don’t have any control over your happiness.” I think most of my life choices since then have been about proving them wrong.

  3. Eleanor, good on you. We certainly DO have control over our happiness. Hell, my entire book is based on that premise. Happy comes from the inside, not the outside. (Can I say hell on Deb ball, BTW?)

  4. Thanks Sarah.
    In the early 80’s I was a spent my summers as a lifeguard on Maui and my winters
    racing skiis on Mammoth Mountain. I was having a fantastic time going nowhere. Then Ken Blanchard,
    the author of The One Minute Manager, changed the direction of my life. In passing I had mentioned
    the possibility of going to college. At a dinner, full of people well above my station, he made a toast, “Here’s to Greg who’s going back to college. I know he’s going to do great!” Everyone toasted me and that evening carried me through my incredible college experience. He’s still my greatest mentor on the planet and I thank God our paths crossed. I only hope that in my life I can
    inspire someone like he inspires me.

  5. Eleanor, loved what you said. It was amazing fate that he was there at the right time. If he had chosen to walk across campus any later or earlier, I may have missed him and missed this career entirely! xo

  6. Greg, I totally got Goosebumps when reading your comment. It’s a reminder to us all to encourage the younger generation. Even a passing comment can carry so much weight/importance! xo

  7. Amazing story, Greg.
    I’ve always wanted to be a writer, except for when “LA Law” began to air and I briefly decided to become a lawyer. The women all wore cute outfits and spent most of their time dazzling juries and flirting with hot men. It seemed like the perfect job choice!

  8. I had a very brief period where I thought I might like to be a teacher. Then I woke up one morning with the realization that my late nights working on the student newspaper would make it tough to get to those early morning teacher classes, and my general dislike for children would make me a lousy teacher. Go figure.


  9. LOL re: Kim’s comment.

    I changed my mind three times, ending up w/ a double major and minor in college and then two grad school tours. This is written in all modesty because everything I learned has been applied in my life. Always knew my direction but wanted more information. I’m curious!

  10. Career-wise, except for that ill-conceived foray into acting (I won’t link again to my California Dreams episode, but I might one day post my cooking show audition, in which I all but make out with a raw chicken breast. Not pleasant.), I’ve always been writing or trying to write.

    In college, however, I tried to make my parents happy by being a double major, theatre and economics. It all went well until I did a Money and Banking report complete with giant posters festooned with Sesame Street characters spouting economic theory in thought bubbles.

    The professor was not amused. I dropped the course shortly thereafter.

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