About five years ago, I had lunch in a Italian chain restaurant in an out-of-town retail park. It was an unlovely place for a conversation that would change the course of my life. The pasta was dry and the service was slapstick. But at least I wasn't paying; the meal was on the company.
At the time, I worked for a national chain. The purpose of the lunch was to Discuss My Future. Like all big companies, the chain had a staff development programme, where training would be given to anyone seeking promotion. I had completed all the training I could do at my branch. If I wanted to go further, I would have to move around the country doing internships at other branches.
So, my manager and I went for lunch.
I had two very different choices in front of me. I could stay in the company, travel, meet new people and eventually have my own branch, maybe my own region to look after.
Or, I could take myself seriously as an artist. I could stop messing around with stories and I could apply myself to a dream.
As I ate my chewy penne, I imagined those two futures.
In the first, I had a clear line of progression, interesting work, a pension plan, regular pay rises.
With the second, I had no guarantee of any money, no pension, no security, but it had a siren song.
I couldn't choose both; I knew that to succeed, I needed to be committed. If I attempted both, I'd do neither well.
I swallowed my food, and it wasn't just the fact that it was barely edible that made it stick in my throat. I was about to take a huge risk that might backfire horribly. I declined my manager's offer. Two weeks later, I applied to do an MA in Creative Writing for Young People.
The reason that I'm writing about this is because artists are having to think long and hard about their choices at the moment and I am no exception. What kind of life would I have now if I had agreed to his offer? I might own a house, I might have a fashionable hairdo, I might take foreign holidays, I wouldn't be so worried about what will happen to me when I'm old.
However, I suspect that I would also be living with regret; no matter how well I succeeded in business, I wouldn't have been doing the thing I loved.
Artists, writers and creative thinkers have to take risks. Simply by persuing those professions we are taking a risk. The arts landscape at the moment makes this situation even more precarious. But, for me, that makes my decision all the more valid. I love my job, I love books and I love reading. They are worth making sacrifices for. These are the things that stir passions.
At the time (and at points since), not everyone has understood my decision. Some have thought it foolhardy or short-sighted. Maybe it was. But it isn't a decision I can regret.
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