Shadow Careers, Hybrid Careers, and our Deepest Calling

In the shadow life, we live in denial.

We pursue callings that take us nowhere and permit ourselves to be controlled by compulsions that we cannot understand (or are not aware of) and whose outcomes serve only to keep us caged, unconscious and going nowhere.

~Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro

I've known my path as a writer since I was about nine years old. However, I allowed a lot of life to get in the way before I got right with it.

For a number of years I distracted myself with education: attending college and then medical school. I had glimpses of my path in those years but convinced myself that the path I was on at the time held the greater reward and was for the greater good. But it wasn't.

After a brief time in private practice, I accepted a teaching job in order to get closer to my path and, for a while, I got very close to being a writer. I wrote exams and course outlines; I wrote speeches and articles for trade publications.

Then for a while, I wrote accreditation studies for colleges and universities. It was writing, but it wasn't the same as being a writer. It was a shadow career. I mimicked being a writer without ever becoming one.

Another chance came my way. When my second marriage ended in a rather messy manner and I obtained primary custody of my youngest son, I once again found myself at the crossroads at the intersection of my true calling and the shadow career that held more security.

When faced with the hard choices as well as my current circumstances, I opted for the shadows. I was soon working again in higher education as a college administrator.

This time I was a Dean at a two-year college in Salinas, California. In the position, I enjoyed a lot of contact with students (that part I loved) and a lot of contact with the instructional staff (that part I loved less), but mostly the job involved a lot of computer work.

Later still, I got a job writing technical proposals for a large construction company. Over about eight years, I grew into that position and before I was laid off in 2013, I was a Senior Proposal Manager with a team of five very talented staff members. We achieved some truly great outcomes.

The outcomes were great for our employer but did little for us. Certainly, none of us were getting rich. 

Personally, I knew I wasn't any closer to the path I was called to walk. I was once again distracting myself with a shadow career I'd created to keep me caged and going nowhere.

Everything changed overnight on December 13, 2013. Following the sudden and unforeseen dissolution of my team via an overnight corporate reorganization, I decided never to accept another traditional job, however, close it might be to being a writer. 

Because I had contacts and skills, I was soon contacted by several construction firms wanting to hire me, but I turned each offer down in favor of remaining somewhat independent as a consultant (I called it consulting but it was really freelancing).

It was what I knew and it paid well.  For a few years, I accepted these consulting opportunities and still do occasionally when asked by people I know. Just like before, it was a shadow career and not one I wanted to stay within.

The longer we cleave to this life, the farther we drift from our trudgen's purpose, and the harder it becomes for us the rally the courage to get back."    ~Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro

These days I finally feel as if I'm turning pro. Except, not in the way I thought I would. 

I've realized that I'm a creative hybrid; I'm not content to be wholly self-employed. I like the comfort of predictable income but at the same time, I need to experiment, create, and publish. 

Like Pressfield makes abundantly clear in his book, I define turning pro as no longer living like an amateur.

Turning pro also means knowing that the path you walk is the simplest expression of the calling you feel deep within. Although I'm 60 and have lived a life most would call extraordinary, I feel like I'm just beginning to get close to what it feels like to turn pro.


Update: August 26, 2018 - As of October 23, 2017, I once again became a corporate employee. During 2017, I was the primary caretaker for my dying father and, as a result of my diminished capacity to accept freelance gigs, I didn't work very much. I have zero regrets about being there for my father because he was there for me for my entire life.

However, the choice I was accompanied by the consequences of diminished financial solvency. By the time I had wrapped up my father's estate issues and set in place the support mechanisms for my surviving mother, I was nearly broke. I was offered a position in southern California doing the same work I mention above and I took it. 

Now that I'm on the other side of this decision by nearly a year, I daily confront the same thoughts I wrote about above. It's easy to talk the talk at times when times are good, but walking the walk when times are more challenging can sometimes become difficult. 

My situation may change in the future, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I felt this update was in order.