"When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn." -Harriet Beecher Stowe
"Do what you love" may be the most overused advice in the career-improvement world. A blog post on the complexity of this directive went viral on Jacobin last year. It was shared 57,000 times on Facebook and riffed about in the New York Times Opinionator by Gordon Marino.
I know all this firsthand. Once upon a time, I turned my back on a half-finished MBA and a corporate job with its maddening pace and rigid hierarchy. The fact that my boss gave my job to her newly-unemployed husband didn't help. I escaped to do what I loved. In my case, the passion was writing.
The act of quitting made me subversive. And that alone fueled creative expression. I mapped out chapters, the content. Figured I'd have the manuscript written in six months, employ an editor, find an agent, become a bestseller, Oprah would call, the whole bit.
Four years later, I found myself gazing into my monitor not knowing whether to put a period at the end of the sentence or keep going with a comma. I'd lost my home in foreclosure, gone bankrupt, written 300,000 words, revised the body of work four times. And while I was slurping away at my second or maybe 87th Cosmo, I understood what I was really missing -- a mentor. A guide. A coach. Someone who'd gone before, knew how to shape art into something saleable and would come along with a tribe of like-minded people with whom I could collaborate. I didn't want to go back to school. What I was looking for was beyond the confines of academia. I needed someone to touch what the poet Mary Oliver called the "wild silky" part of myself and, finally, make it palatable to the world.
Mentors are necessary. Hemingway had Stein, Beethoven had Neefe. The true challenge once you know the secret lies in finding a mentor is how to find that coach who can make your passion work in the world. This is like how to find a raindrop in a rainstorm. There are thousands of coaches out there. They're like doctors and lawyers. But here's what I learned (the hard way): Some coaches are competent, some are lousy -- even soul crushers. I dropped coins in wishing well after wishing well. One wore a floral patterned dress that matched her bonnet and tried to make me into a mystery writer; another one was always throwing theories at me I couldn't apply; one promised me the stars, took my money and then never contacted me again.
How do you find your coach? Here are five helpful hints for the girl or gal who wants to (or maybe has) dropped everything to do what she loves:
- Go with the gut. Have a bad feeling even though her website's copy seems like a projection of everything lying dormant in your heart? That's your intuit talking. Run. There are too many fantastic coaches out there who have integrity and know how to move you forward.
Since working with my coach I've been shortlisted for prizes, published in the top online media outlets and have been picked up by prestigious lit journals, but more than that? I understand that often those who fail at doing what they loved just didn't have the guidance they needed to learn how to soar.