You might not know this about me, but DIY MFA was not my first choice as a career. In fact, I was forced to walk away from my dream job, but founded DIY MFA and created a career of a lifetime. Let me tell you the story.
From when I was in elementary school until my late-twenties, I had a singular career goal: I wanted to be a toy designer. Every class I took, every extracurricular activity I participated in, everything was with that clear goal in mind. I studied developmental psychology in college and in grad school. I took countless courses in product and graphic design. And each of these was a calculated, strategic choice designed to bring me one step closer to my dream job.
Then, in my late twenties, everything changed.
I thought I had made it. I was newly married and living in New York, my favorite city. I had also finally landed the job I always wanted. I was a product manager in a leading specialty toy company, supervising over 100 different products. It looked like things were really going my way.
Here’s the thing with life: occasionally chance rears its ugly head and throws a wrench into even the best laid plans. In my case, the thing that ultimately wreaked havoc on my life was biology.
You see, while everything on the outside seemed to be going perfectly, on the inside I was a complete mess. My bipolar disorder—a disease I’d lived with since my early teens—was out of control and I could not be medicated because it rendered me incapable of commuting safely to work. Driving a car, something that most people take for granted, was impossible (and unsafe) when I was on medication, which meant I had to make a difficult choice: stay at work and forgo treatment or walk away from the career I had spent my life building toward.
I wish I could say I made the right choice from the outset, but for over a year I opted to stay unmedicated just so I could keep my career on track. And telling anyone at work about my dilemma was a nonstarter. At the time, the stigma against bipolar disorder was so bad that there was no way I felt I could tell any of my colleagues about my situation, let alone my boss. So for a year I struggled through until I hit my breaking point and realized I had to walk away from that dream career.
Why am I sharing this?
Because for a long time, I was angry at my bipolar, angry that it derailed my career and made so many aspects of my life complicated. Then I realized something: without the bipolar, I would have stayed on that career path and I never would have started DIY MFA. If it weren’t for having bipolar, DIY MFA would not exist and I would have missed out on a career of a lifetime.
For so many of us, life doesn’t go as planned. It doesn’t work out the way we would like, and we get caught up in “what if” thinking. What if such-and-such part of my life were different? What if I were different? What if I had made a different choice?
What we don’t realize is that sometimes those life detours aren’t actually detours, they’re the right path all along, it just took us a while to get there.
DIY MFA was part of me long before I even had the idea of it. How do I know this? Because even as a little kid, I knew I wanted to be a writer and a teacher.
I discovered my literary drive in first grade when I ran out of books to read and had a meltdown in the school library. My teacher came up with an activity where we could write our own stories, then bind them together like real books and read them to our classmates. In that moment, I realized that I would never again run out of stories to read because if I did, I could always write new ones. (In my first grade brain, this logic somehow made sense.) That was the day I realized that writing was something I could do as a job. The seed was planted in my mind so that years later when I walked away from my toy design career, the first place I turned was to writing.
As for teaching, I knew I wanted to teach from a young age as well, but I was always very clear that I didn’t want to do it in a traditional classroom. At first, I thought toy design would get me there, that I could design educational toys and become a teacher of sorts in a roundabout way. DIY MFA simply connected the dots more directly, allowing me to be in a classroom, but an untraditional one, one that stretches the limits of what “classroom” really means.
Looking back, I realize that DIY MFA checks all the boxes. All the things I wanted to be when I “grew up” are interwoven at DIY MFA, from writing, to teaching, and even toy design. In fact, not a day goes by without using some aspect of my product management knowledge or design skills. So even though I am no longer working in the toy design field, I’ve managed to bring elements of it into my current work.
This reminds me of something a DIY MFA student once said: “Nothing is ever wasted in writing.” This student meant that even when some piece of writing doesn’t make it to publication, it doesn’t mean that writing was wasted. It was still valuable in getting you, the writer, to the place where you could produce your next work, and the one after that.
I’d like to amend this student’s insight slightly and say: Nothing is ever wasted in life. Sometimes it feels like nothing makes sense and we’re spinning our wheels or starting from scratch. Even if the dots don’t neatly connect, remember that nothing is ever wasted. Everything that has happened in the past has brought you to this precise moment and you are exactly where you need to be, in your writing and in life. Those life detours are not detours at all, but the road you are meant to take.
Most people who come to DIY MFA approach writing as a second or even third career. Maybe you have a day job that consumes most of your time, and you squeeze the writing in those off-hours around it. Or maybe you are a stay-at-home parent whose youngest has just started kindergarten and you suddenly have some breathing room in your life to try out writing. Or perhaps parenting is your full-time gig and you fit writing in during naptime or other brief respites. You might even be newly retired and have chosen to take up writing as part of your next chapter.
My point is, whatever your circumstances, it’s okay if writing was not your first career choice. It wasn’t mine either. But who says second choice is such a bad thing? Whether we’re adding writing to our lives alongside all our other commitments or we’re pivoting to it from another career, we’re making this “second choice” with all the knowledge and experience that came from our life leading up to it.
Writing connects the dots in our lives. It allows us to look back and create meaning from what might seem like unrelated, random events. This article is a perfect example. When I sat down to write it, I had a vague idea that the events of my past were somehow interconnected, but I wasn’t sure what it all meant. It was the very act of writing that allowed me to sort through it all and find the deeper meaning.
Whether you are new to writing or have been working at it your whole life, remember that this is important work. When we write, we take ink squiggles on a page or ones and zeros in a computer and turn those concrete elements into ideas. We then plant those ideas in another person. This is magic and we have the honor of wielding this incredible power. Our stories have the power to change the hearts and the minds of others. And when we do that, we come one step closer to changing the world for the better.
Writing is nothing short of heroic. Never forget that.
Until next time, keep writing and keep being awesome!
P.S. For more info on Gabriela Pereira, the founder and instigator of DIY MFA, check out her profile page.