My husband was at dinner the other night, sitting next to a couple in their late twenties/early thirties. “I just feel lost” the guy said “and I think that’s really good. I think everyone should just be lost sometimes. It’s ok not to know what you’re doing or where you’re going. You should just do nothing sometimes. Everyone just needs to be lost for a while.” I laughed when he recounted this story, but it honestly made me sad. Because I feel like that’s a pervasive feeling among a lot of folks around my age and in their twenties.
At 33 I’m technically a millennial. So I feel that I have an opening to speak here. Perhaps not, but I’m going to try to share what I’ve learned over the past 15 years of living on my own.
I left home at 18, the day I got married. I know. He was only 2 weeks past his 19th birthday. I know.
The older I get the more I realize how absolutely crazy this was.
But we were determined to make it work. We loved each other and immaturity made us want to prove the nay-sayers wrong. We were going to make it. We were going to not just survive, but thrive. And we have. But it didn’t happen overnight.
My husband didn’t have a clear picture of what he wanted to do for a living at 19, so he worked some odd jobs and then went to College. For Petroleum Engineering. Because we were living in a small oil town in West Texas and that’s what you do when you live in West Texas. It was 2 years into his program when he came home (to our tiny, outdated rental) to tell me that he could become an engineer (he was on a full-scholarship at Texas Tech Univ., on the President’s List, and had a 3.8 GPA) but that he would be miserable if he did. We were, I would point out, only 2 short years away from making a decent living. At that point in time I had been supporting us for about 3 or 4 years. I wasn’t making much money at all, but I was a hard worker, determined to pay our bills every month, and sometimes picked up a second job in the evenings after my full-time job. I had been working since I was 14, full time since 17, so hard work didn’t scare me, but I was ready to share the load with him. And I knew we wanted children and my desire was to stay home with them.
But I told myself that I would never be the reason He didn’t do what God put him on this earth to do. So, we left Lubbock, TX, and moved to Dallas so he could pursue his dream of becoming a musician.
Crazy. Nearly everyone told us that we were crazy. Less than 1% of people who set out to do music are able to support their family that way. But college had taught Hank a lot about the world. It taught him how to work really hard at something you don’t enjoy. It taught him how to function really well on no sleep. It taught him how to interact with and appreciate people who were very different than him. It taught him that, if you work hard and are good to people, you will be successful.
So, 12 years later, here we are: living in Nashville, TN, and he’s fully supporting our family doing only music. He defied the odds. We have been able to buy a home and I’m able to be a stay-at-home mom to our four children. Right after our first son was born we lost my income, as I decided to stay home, and Hank lost almost all of his guitar jobs. He bought and sold gear online and took any job he could find to make ends meet for about 3 months until he got his first legitimate tour as a guitarist.
He never sat around, hoping someone would notice his genius. There were a lot of years where coffee shops, cable TV, cars that ran consistently, new clothes, vacations, and medical care were the stuff of dreams. We still have some thrift store shirts from that time and they’re a good reminder of the hard work we’ve put in. He actually wore one to an awards ceremony last year and afterwards I was like “I think you can let that one go now…” He had paid 25 cents for it 15 years ago and wore it to an awards show, where he was nominated for a songwriting award! I still laugh thinking about it.
There’s a stigma behind the term “millennial” that brings to mind images of a wandering, lost individual who is not working because they are “waiting on the dream, or a job worthy of their time and talents…” There’s a pretty funny/accurate video going around, which inspired this post, that seems to sum up the general sentiment. You can view it HERE.
Here’s the secret: your dream will not happen if you are idle. If you’re waiting on divine appointment or inspiration or for someone to notice you it’s not going to happen to you while you sit and do nothing.
The most depressed I’ve ever been was 6 months after I had my first child. He was a really easy baby, we did sleep training so he napped and slept and I was bored out of my mind. I had a lot of time on my hands to sit around and think about myself all day. I got selfish and self-absorbed and I nearly sabotaged my marriage. So I started writing, pursuing some passions that filled that work void I had, and here we are. I can say 3 kids later that the work void is FULLY satisfied! Haaalp!
Hank also went through a depression. He had no idea what to do with his life when we first were married. He didn’t work for nearly a year and it was the darkest time of his life. It wasn’t until he started working that he quit thinking about himself, his problems, his limitations, that he began to thrive. And by work, I mean at Best Buy, in an entry-level sales position. He was promoted to “appliance delivery” after a few months of selling cameras (he doesn’t care about cameras), and he knew it wasn’t his dream. Far from it. It wasn’t even within his skill-set (as was evidenced by one ill-fated delivery where he dropped a new fridge on a new suburban) but it was work, and he was diligent. And humans just simply operate at our best when we are working.
The basic principles of stewardship demand that you are doing something. I have never met or heard of anyone who was doing nothing when God moved in their life and handed them their dream job. You have to work for it. And this means doing the less appealing, unskilled stuff first.
Hank and I have had a long list of those grunt jobs. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to live our dream: He is a songwriter, producer, and guitar player. I am a writer and a stay at home mom. We are now able to hire help both in our home and in our businesses, but that’s only after we were that help for many years. Here’s the list:
best buy salesman, best buy delivery guy, waiter, studio assistant, concrete-staining assistant, starbucks barista, insurance claims front desk, secretary, administrative assistant, orthodontic assistant, new patient coordinator, housekeeper, nanny, burial plot salesman, chick-fil-a toilet scrubber, restaurant host (both of us), event center table-setter, tech assistant, gap salesman…I’m sure I’ve missed a few.
I remember being 14 and working at Chick-Fil-A. I was sweeping the floors b/c I was too young to handle the food. A cute boy I had a crush on walked in, and there I was, sweeping up waffle fries in those horrid pleated khakis we had to wear back in the 90’s, which were 3” too short, and I was embarrassed. But I went up to him anyway, said “hi” and went about my job. It was good for me. You will survive your peers seeing you doing a job they might deem not good enough for themselves. It might even inspire them to do the same.
The dream can happen, but not when you’re sitting still. Get out and do something. Anything.
Think of any grunt job: You’re not too good for it. There is great value in learning to do a job well even if you hate the work. Here’s how you know it’s a character-building job: you will be working the hardest and getting paid the least.
This is something we hope to ingrain in our kids. They will have the jobs that remind them why they don’t want to do this kind of work for their entire lives. They will have those hard jobs that teach them to treat the people who may eventually work for them with dignity and respect, because they’ve experienced the same reality. If they want a carreer in the music industry we will put them on a tour at 15 years old, for no money, working 16-18 hours/day doing all the stuff no one else wants to do.
The thing I’ve noticed about the really successful people in this industry is that they all would have been successful at just about anything. Sure, they’re talented musicians, but they are really smart, they don’t burn bridges, they aren’t too good for the mundane tasks, and they work harder than everyone else around them. While he’s just begun to find success, Hank still works 65-80 hours/week. When he’s on the road he still works as a songwriter and producer from the bus. He will often set up a “studio” in a venue bathroom, church nursery, someone’s random office space…but he makes it work.
My goal here is to inspire those who might feel stagnant or stuck, or who think that doing nothing is superior to doing something menial; to move into action. Do something. Anything (legal).
Your brain and your inspiration atrophy with idleness.
My kids know that we expect them to either be in college or working once they graduate from High School. Staying at home, living off mom and dad while waiting on the dream opportunity is not an option. One of my number one goals as a parent is to help my kids discover what they are passionate about and where their talents lie from a young age. This means setting aside what I think would be a great career for them, and honing in on what they were created to be.
We know a large family who focused on this and all of their children were proficient at their profession by around 19/20 years old. Now that they are in their 30’s they are more successful than most people twice their ages, and in a very competitive industry. One of the most prolific and successful writers in music that we know personally still takes advantage of any downtime on the road to write.
There’s something invaluable to be gained from working really hard, earning something for yourself, and becoming something great.
Millennials: if someone is enabling you to not have to work, have the guts to cut it off. Some of you were raised to believe that you aren’t capable of living independent of your parents, but you are. If we could make it as dysfunctional, immature teenage newlyweds, you can too.
There is an incredible future out there for you, and working hard at something you don’t necessarily enjoy just might be what gives you the vision and ability to become what you were made to be.
live well. be well.