A few days ago I got into a heated discussion on Reddit about the macho, bullying attituded present in some male-dominated fields that frequently discourage women and minorities from applying. Someone put forth the argument that if someone isn’t mentally strong enough to handle the harassment, discrimination, and bullying, that they weren’t strong enough to handle a high-stress, life-and-death job. Police work and firefighting were used as examples. I think I was in a mood for a fight that night, so I called bullshit on the whole thing, citing my own experiences in the firefighting academy.
It was almost ten years ago that I applied to the academy. I went back into the closet when I started after being out for many years. The casual sexism and homophobic comments made me feel like I would lose the respect of my peers if they knew I was gay. For most of my time in the academy, I was at the top of my class. During our first search-and-rescue drill, where we wore blackout masks, full turnout gear, and O2 tanks, and had to crawl around a “building” in which our instructors changed the configuration at random by moving the wall and save all the “victims,” my teammate and I were the only ones who completed the task successfully.
I ended up leaving the program about halfway through. I was offered a promotion at the day job I was working at the time. I hated the job and I loved firefighting, but the homophobic culture had worn me down. Firefighting requires the trust of the people you’re working with. I felt if I came out, it would create tension that would make it difficult to do my job. I felt if I stayed closeted, eventually someone would find out and it would erode the trust of the people I might be working with. I could handle the stress of a life-threatening situation, but I didn’t want to handle the stress of the toxic environment.
That’s what I told myself nearly ten years ago, and that’s what I argued on Reddit. And I wholeheartedly believe that harassment and sexism and racism and all the other isms have no place in a work environment, but I wasn’t being entirely honest with myself.
I left because I didn’t want it bad enough.
I took an F in my high school journalism class during my senior year because I refused to be mistreated by my teacher. When my parents told me they weren’t comfortable with me bringing my first boyfriend over to Easter, I told them that if he wasn’t welcome then neither was I. I’m a fighter. I fight for what I believe in even at great personal cost. It’s one of my best and worst attributes (especially when I later realize I was on the wrong side of the argument, which definitely happens…more often that I want to acknowledge). If I’d wanted to be a firefighter badly enough, I would have fought for it. I would have confronted the guys who’d made the gay jokes and who threw the word “faggot” around so casually. I was good at firefighting, I enjoyed it. But I didn’t want it badly enough to do whatever it took to stick with it.
If you’re not willing to do something when it’s difficult, then you’re not going to do it when it’s easy either. It’s taken along time to admit to myself that if it hadn’t been how uncomfortable I felt with all the gay jokes and homophobic innuendos, I probably would have found another reason to leave. Because I liked it, I loved it even, but I didn’t love it enough.
Not the way I love writing.
I’m lazy. I will do anything to get out of doing hard work. I will fill an ocean with excuses as to why I can’t do something. Except when it comes to writing. When it comes to writing, I will drag my lazy ass out of bed at 5 in the morning to write before my day job. I will sit down after ten hours of work and write late into the night. I will and have given up weekends and vacations and visits with friends to write. Because I want it that freaking bad.
When I see people online asking whether they should quit their day job to write, I think: Nope! Because if you wanted to write, you’d be doing it day job or not. Hell, I’ve got it easy. All I had to contend with was a day job, a lazy dog, and an understanding boyfriend. Friend of the blog (and friend in real life), Matthew has a demanding job and two awesome daughters. He still writes. I have friends who write with day jobs and newborns, friends who do it as single parents with a house full of teenagers. They have demands on their lives that make my life look like a non-stop vacation. And they still find time to write. Because they want it that bad.
I made excuses for my why I quit firefighting. That the excuses were valid only made it more difficult for me to recognize and admit that they were still just excuses for me to quit. But I never make excuses for why I can’t write. I make excuses to my family for why I bailed on visiting, I make excuses to my friends for why I’ve disappeared for months, I make excuses to my partner for why I’ve been holed up in my office all day, but I always find time to write.
I don’t feel shame for dropping out of the fire academy. I don’t feel ashamed for any of the hundred things I’ve tried and given up on—painting, sculpting, guitar, programming, TV writing. I didn’t want them enough. I liked them. They were fun. But I didn’t love them enough to give up everything for them.
So how bad do you want something? If you don’t want it badly enough to sacrifice watching TV or going out to a bar or to lose a couple of hours of sleep, then you should question whether it’s right for you. And then get your ass out there and find that one thing you are willing to make sacrifices for. You owe that to yourself.