The Twenty-year Artful Career AKA Hang in There


It was 2014, and I was sitting in on a high school scholarship award ceremony in Fort Riley, Kansas. I was enjoying the keynote speaker’s congratulatory address to the recipients, when she pulled out a picture of an arrow that, instead of taking a straight forty-five degree trajectory upward, segued left, curled upward, and veered right, then straightened, then over and around again.

She meant to encourage the students to keep at their chosen goals, to be open to change, and remind them of their need for flexibility. The arrow suggested that success wasn’t a straight line.

I sat up, the caricature a gut check.

That arrow was me. That arrow was many of the military spouses I knew.

I lived and am still living this truth. The trajectory of my own career up to that point was like a dot-to-dot picture, though all the while I chipped at my dream of becoming an author. By then, I was sixteen years into both my marriage and my husband’s military career. While he was marching up his generally straight arrow, I was navigating through a creative career that was barely marked and riddled with challenges such as PCS’s, deployments, temporary jobs, and single-parenting, where my guides were my instinct, hope, and my peers who inspired and mentored me along the way.

At this ceremony, I wondered how many more lefts, rights, and u-turns it would take to achieve my dream of publishing a book; if my daily 5am wake-ups were worth it, if saying no to other opportunities in lieu of writing was wise. Why was I putting time toward a dream that was seemingly unattainable and impractical?

Then, I flashed back to a conversation with a newfound mentor when I had asked her about the value of me going back to grad school, when she vehemently answered, “Of course you should. This is for you.” She had reminded me that the opportunity to better oneself mustn’t be dismissed. So, at that moment, I reaffirmed that being a published author was not only a dream for me. It was also my voice, my legacy.

Just as your artful dream is yours, friend, and you should pursue it.

I’m glad I listened, because the answer came three years later, three months after my husband achieved his twenty-year service milestone. My first book was published. My dream was just at its glorious beginning, sending the poignant evergreen message: It’s never too late.

It’s never too late to chase your creative passions, to make a career out of your creative life.

But I would add something to that message: It’s never too late unless you let go.

And to keep hanging on I believe you must claim, work, research, imagine, and relish your dream.

Claim the dream: For many years, I kept my writing to myself. I was an Army nurse, then a mother, then a civilian nurse, and so on and so forth. While I blogged and journaled, I denied this passion—I didn’t say I was a writer. Military life entailed putting others before myself; the needs of the community (whether it’s family or the unit) was paramount. Attempting to be a writer amidst the operational tempo and the real world conflict we lived in seemed a foolish endeavor. But I learned that power and fortitude follows intention and words, and by speaking your dream, by writing it, by putting it on paper gives it life. By taking it out of your head, you will give it the time it deserves. By declaring it to your network of loved ones, they will know exactly how to support you as you undertake the journey to achieve it.

Research the dream: Every industry has its niche information source, its own nationally or locally recognized organizations. Read everything about your industry and immerse yourself in communities of its professionals. This will enable for you to manage your expectations about timelines and industry standards, what can be expected in regards to salary and expenditures. Proper research can save you time and money in the future. Accessing these spaces could lead you to a mentor or a peer group who are in your stage in your creative career. And this you can do easily despite where you live. The internet provides a plethora of information, and social media connects like-minded creative people together.

Work for the dream: I say work for and not at because you must put in the time. There is no substitute for time, to learn through the minutes and hours spent on a task to be a subject matter expert, to hit roadblocks and learn to traverse them. For a writer it means writing and editing many words; a painter, to put brush to canvas. For me, it meant waking before the rest of the family to hit my word count, blocking my calendar to get writing time, and setting appropriate and distinct deadlines. It meant sometimes saying no to events, to some volunteerism. It meant prioritizing what important things in your community to commit to, but creating boundaries to make art.

Let your imagination fly: Set goals! Allow yourself to have a few wild lifetime goals. Let yourself dream of what you could be. Think big. Then, backtrack and dig deep into the realistic and log in goals: 3 months, 6 months, a year, five years, 10 years. For those like me who also like to make goals in relation to military time, create this statement: “While here, at this duty location, I will accomplish __ .” Finally, continue to reevaluate these goals regularly, and allow yourself the flexibility to change them in accordance with the eventual fires the spring up.

Relish in the journey: That’s right—because goals change, dreams flip over on its head and reveal more than what you had envisioned. So relish. Soak in the journey. Every piece of art has value, and all writing is good writing. The creative life yields unmeasurable gifts for your community and will reward you with satisfaction that even if the arrow twists and turns, you are still, inevitably, on your way.

So, in the words, of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

About the Author: A veteran Army Nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master of Public Administration, Tif Marcelo is a craft enthusiast, food-lover and the occasional half-marathon runner. As a military spouse, she has moved nine times, and this adventure shows in some of her free-spirited characters. Tif currently lives in the DC area with her own real life military hero and four children. Her new novel THE KEY TO HAPPILY EVER AFTER will be released on May 14, 2019.

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