Lost Girl

Look, most people are going to tell you to pick something safe. And I’m not qualified to contradict them. I have no letters behind my name. I am a writer myself, and I drive a sixteen-year-old Ford with a rusted tailgate.

DEAR SEAN:

In August I will be a senior in high school. I’m trying to choose colleges, and what to major in. I want to become a writer, but every time I tell people that, they always say choose something different, or they tell me how bad a journalism career is.

I’m on my school’s newspaper and I fell in love with writing. I’m stuck. Do I follow my passion and become a writer or do I pick something safe?

Sincerely,
THE LOST GIRL

DEAR LOST:

I almost wrote something else today, but your letter really struck a chord with me.

Look, most people are going to tell you to pick something safe. And I’m not qualified to contradict them. I have no letters behind my name. I am a writer myself, and I drive a sixteen-year-old Ford with a rusted tailgate.

Others may tell you that to be a deeply satisfied human being you must (1) be a professional success, and (2) have decent retirement options.

And maybe they’re right.

But this isn’t how people like Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Davy Crockett, Buffalo Bill, Mark Twain, Betty Crocker, Andy Griffith, Mother Teresa, or Willie Nelson changed the world.

I’m no expert, but I think the problem might be: you have loudmouth for a heart.

Well, join the club, sister.

Your heart feels things. It knows things. And if your heart is anything like mine, it’s probably searching for something. Fulfillment might be a fitting word—but that makes me sound too much like a yoga instructor.

So I’ll call it happiness, plain and simple.

Hearts aren’t stupid. They’re interested in this happiness deal. Also: love. Kindness. Loyalty. Giving money to homeless people. Good friends. Biscuits and gravy with hickory smoked Conecuh Quick Freeze sausage.

Your brain, however, thinks about things like: money, safety, and the dangers of saturated fat.

I won’t lie to you, following your heart could ruin your bank account. But then, NOT following it could ruin you.

You asked for my opinion—God help us all. Here goes:

You are not just a high-school student. You’re a creature so wonderful and complicated that you aren’t fully understood by scientists, scholars, or idiots with rusted tailgates.

This “you” I’m talking about is so profound it’s a mystery. Microscopes can’t see it, surgeons wouldn’t find it if they cut you open. The IRS can’t tax it. The CMA’s can’t give it a greasy award.

What I’m saying is: you’re wiser than you think, darling. So is your heart, which is why it’s talking to you now.

It’s saying: “Good God, this idiot is a long-winded son of a biscuit. He’s a mediocre writer who has limited control over basal English language. I could’ve EASILY written something better than this.”

Yes. You could have. Because you are a writer.

Anyway, this writer can’t tell you whether you should play it safe or take a chance. I wish I could, but it’s not that easy.

What I can tell you is:

The safest move you’ll ever make is to let your heart take the wheel.

And you’re not lost.

28 comments

  1. Tana Branch - July 7, 2017 12:51 pm

    Dear student and Sean —-IF you can take something you love doing and turn it into a way to make a living, you will be the happiest person working. If you have the need to write, then, get the words out there. Journalism in my book is still a wonderful profession if the writer tells the truth and sticks to the facts. I can make up my own mind about how to process those facts.

    Read: All the President’s Men and see how journalistic research is supposed to be done. Read Sean to see how a man honestly feels. Go for it, kid! Go to college at a school that has a great English/ journalism dept —forget the football team. You can cheer from afar if need be.

    Reply
  2. Nana B - July 7, 2017 12:57 pm

    Well sir, I am here to admit that I am a grandma who doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve and I can hold my emotions inside with the best of them. But when I read your blog, your stories, they always pull those emotions to the surface and my eyes fill up. Maybe it’s because I love dogs, and the south, and the beauty of it all, but everything you write is true and so well spoken in a down to earth kind of way and it touches my heart. I love that you love real women, and hate the word fat, and fight for the veteran, the downtrodden and the hard working people who struggle everyday to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. I think you are me, just a younger version. Thank you Sean for following your passion and your dream of being a writer.

    Reply
  3. Diane Enloe - July 7, 2017 1:13 pm

    From a 73 yr old “Nana”……Amen, dear Sean…..Amen! ❤☺️

    Reply
  4. Marty from Alabama - July 7, 2017 1:50 pm

    Yea for you Sean. She will probably (I hope) become an excellent writer. You didn’t tell her to go for it; you didn’t tell her to forget it. You told her to listen to her heart – good move. Sure wish I had had a “Sean” to tell me that some few, hahaha, years ago.

    Ok, Lost Girl, let the fun begin. Enjoy your next adventure and please, save me a copy of your first book!

    Reply
  5. Debbie - July 7, 2017 1:51 pm

    Yes, Chase your dream! But know that young people change their mind a lot. And that’s ok. Keep an open mind. You don’t have to decide until you have two years of college under your belt.

    Start college. Get on the college newspaper staff.

    Set up a blog and start writing about what ever you want. Your life, short stories, politics, comedy….whatever floats your boat. Discipline yourself to publish to the blog on a regular basis.

    If after two years of meeting deadlines, you still want to write, get a degree in whatever interests you. English literature, journalism, history, maybe make it a secondary education degree so you can teach writing. Or, not. Look for a job as a copy editor for a larger newspaper or magazine or some publishing house. All the while, writing on the side. Keep you blog up and submit articles to publications over and over and over until one day you get published. Then go again, and again and again until you are published enough to make a living or support youself in retirement, if it takes that long. It may not happen overnight, it may not happen at all, but you will have chased your dream and that’s what counts.

    I wish you all the success.

    Reply
  6. Laura Young - July 7, 2017 2:07 pm

    Loved this- I listened to my heart that told me I had been called to be a nurse. I loved taking care of people and the satisfaction from seeing a baby cry that we thought was going to die or holding a dying man’s hand was immeasurable. (I even wrote a poem about that one Nurses’ Day) BUT, I listened to a husband who pushed me to leave the bedside and become a nursing administrator. While I was successful by the world’s standards, and while I think I made a difference in the lives of patients and nurses in that role, I was not happy until I gave it up- took a huge pay cut to get back to the bedside- I found that missed happiness and also learned that money is really not that important in your life. Amazing how watching birds take a bath in a birdbath can make you happier that being able to eat a high priced meal at a fancy restaurant!!

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  7. Doris wismer - July 7, 2017 2:19 pm

    Well said Sean. After 50 years of making a living, raising kids and a husband I finally stopped going to ‘work’ and set out upon another career as writer and eventually editor of my small town newspaper. What a joy to share stories and make people laugh and maybe think twice about issues you hold dear.
    You go girl. You probably won’t be rich, but your life will be.

    Reply
  8. Andrea - July 7, 2017 2:32 pm

    Just a small heads-up, Betty Crocker wasn’t a real person.

    Reply
    • Kathryn - July 7, 2017 4:05 pm

      Wow! I find it amazing to think of all the wonderful ways that Betty Crocker has contributed to our lives without even being a real person. I feel the same way about Aunt Jemima!

      Reply
  9. Betsy - July 7, 2017 2:45 pm

    Wise words, and I do have letters behind my name. May I add that…As one follows her heart she does accumulate responsibilities along the way. Following one’s heart must also include accepting responsibilities that one creates. Sometimes another human is created, sometimes debt is incurred, and sometimes promises are made. Following my dream means I’m mature enough to accept the responsibilities I create for myself. By all means one should find a path that allows dream fulfillment along with personal responsibility. Please keep writing!

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  10. C.castleman - July 7, 2017 2:52 pm

    Well put. But why not both? Journalism is a professional career. I have kin that have a degree in that. Satisfies both needs. And how bout those brave foreign corespondents? They followed their hearts. Go for it!!!

    Reply
  11. Martha - July 7, 2017 3:58 pm

    From one who made the deal with the devil….FEEL, SEE, WRITE, SHARE

    Reply
  12. Lucy - July 7, 2017 5:33 pm

    Took me 47 years to learn this.
    Have spent the last 3 making art and through the sales of it, making enough to live on. Much better life than when I wore a suit and high heels to work everyday.

    Reply
  13. Melissa Roth - July 7, 2017 5:55 pm

    If you are a writer it doesn’t matter what you major in or what job(s) you take after college. Writing won’t let you ignore it. You’ll put the kids to bed, get up in the middle of the night and commit what’s in your soul onto paper (or screen or whatever is the next incarnation of sharing information). I’ve never considered myself a writer but I’ve authored 14 textbooks so far. Why? Because I had to. What was inside had to find a way out. It would not let me rest until I shared what was in my head and soul. It will be the same for you IF you are a writer.

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  14. Janet Mary Lee - July 7, 2017 6:36 pm

    There are many good words and ideas here. As usual Sean, you do write with insight to help others and create a flow of comments that give us joy and life. Doing something you love is priceless. Regrets are not. People who live without hearts, they are not really living, are they? Find a way to follow your passion; We must make choices so we should make those we can live with- for sure!

    Reply
  15. shannon - July 7, 2017 6:56 pm

    As at 54 year old who didn’t follow her heart in high school, I could not agree with you more! Thank you for this column. I will share it with my 17 year old son who is a rising senior. There’s an expression: “if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”

    Reply
  16. Judy Miller - July 7, 2017 7:06 pm

    Don’t let other push you away from what you really want to do. That happened to me. A long time ago, just before I registered for college. I was told what I wanted to major in and do for life, was not for “girls”. So I never went to college and now–I see all sorts of girls and women doing the very thing I wanted to do. You go and study what you want, that’s the only way to see if it is a right fit for you. Oh, and by the way, there is NO shame in changing your major after the first term–or year!!

    Reply
  17. Jack Quanstrum - July 7, 2017 9:33 pm

    Let your heart take the wheel. Great advice for the student, great advice for all of us. Thank you Sean for being both concise and precise!

    Reply
  18. Wendy - July 7, 2017 11:10 pm

    I’ll forgo her most interesting preface, but felt a need to share. My mother took a journalism course at a local college. She was sixty-something years old. Soon after, her human interest stories were being published in the local newspaper. She even used a pseudonym so the townsfolk were kept guessing. The important thing is that she followed her heart & derived enormous pleasure, despite the tiny salary.
    Mother, I miss you every day & I’m so grateful for your inspiration to follow our dreams whenever possible.
    And thank you, Sean, for your wise & poignant writings that touch our hearts every time!

    Reply
  19. elaine - July 8, 2017 12:36 am

    I’m a published writer; I’m not saying that to brag, but just to establish that I know something that might help. (Once, I asked my daughter what one needed to know in order to be a writer; after several wrong guesses, she said, “Well, maybe it’s gray hair.” Oh ha ha)..the kernel of truth is, you need to have a fund of information, experience, and education that will give you the ‘backboard’ onto which to pin your writing. YOU NEED SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT.

    Major in something OTHER THAN writing, English, etc. Learn about a science, a discipline, a craft, a topic….major in something else. Writing is a skill that uses a finite set of rules, customs, and courtesies. Don’t worry about it. If you get a ton of editorial corrections, go buy a copy of _The Elements of Style_ and study it. The end.

    Reply
  20. Nancy Blackmon - July 9, 2017 4:43 pm

    Try the curse of being a writer and a yoga teacher. Pretty much your heart sits outside your chest beating hard for every sadness and joy it encounters, whispering Namaste. Then that voice that won’t leave you alone starts pouring words into your head that demand you give them life. Writing becomes part of your meditation and so it is.

    Reply
  21. Mary Ellen Hall - July 19, 2017 1:10 am

    PERFECT-I LOVE IT!!

    Reply
  22. Pingback: July: Month in Review – Now All I Know is Grace

  23. Dianne - August 25, 2017 10:20 am

    The best advice this young lady will ever receive, and my dear Sean you my friend are a marvelous writer but an even better human being. Thank you

    Reply
  24. Allen - August 25, 2017 4:23 pm

    Write, read, write some more. Pursue writing even if you have to take a job doing something else to pay the rent. But, keep writing and pursuing opportunities to put your writing in the public eye. The more you write, the better it will become.

    Reply
  25. Valerie - August 26, 2017 12:26 am

    We need good writers and journalists! Stick to the truth and what you know. If you write about it, learn it first or … know it. Just be genuine, not fake.

    Reply
  26. Elaine Walizer - August 26, 2017 2:53 pm

    I am a writer–nonfiction variety. I’ve written articles, a chapter for a book, co-authored more articles and a book, and about 750+ ‘feedback letters’ to CEO’s, Medical Directors, hospital administrators, physicians and nurses, and other parents of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities. I taught special education students for two decades (with time off raising two children with challenges.).

    The most important thing for a writer–and I learned this the hard way– is to find Something To Write About. I always knew I wanted to be a writer (and a teacher) but I only hit my stride as a writer after getting an education and working in my profession. Read widely–and graduate from college with a marketable degree and a long list of things you will finally have time to read–novels, plays, nonfiction books, worthwhile magazines (The Atlantic, The New Yorker, National Geographic,) and newspapers (always thinking how you might have phrased that better, composed it more clearly.).
    Correspond (on paper) with a penpal.
    Comment on FaceBook, if you must, but seek out opportunities to write at length on important topics: write to your Representative and your Senators, national and local.

    Don’t think you have to break from the gate as soon as high school is finished. Growing things bear fruit, dependent on time and nourishment; that includes writers.

    Reply
  27. Denise Hammond - August 27, 2017 12:32 am

    I have been the lost girl as well, I always wanted to be an Airline Hostest. But was told my on mean aunt , while i was spending summers taking care of her she told me I could never be one I was not pretty enough. In my Jr. year of HS I had a first year teacher, her first assignment was we had to write in a journal every day, it could be one line or ten pages. Well I got my 5 subject note book and stared writing, like you without even talking to a person I would write. We had to turn in our journals every day, I wrote some amazing thing, even about the War going on in the 70’s, no to rebel but to support our troops. The teacher said I had a gift for writing. So at end of year we had to turn in our journal for the final grade. She never gave them back, Senior year i kept asking her when will I get my journal back, I didn’t care about my grade just my journal. Still nothing from her, after I finished HS I still asking her. It was in a small town Palatka, Fla so I had her phone number, when she finally replied to me (and this was horrific to me. She told me she threw all of them away. It crushed me. But now I spent lot of time alone with hub at work and my mind thinks and after seening what you write about I think the same kind of things. Just seeing a stranger or meeting one, I see something in them to write about, so instead of me, my mind, my heart just thinking, because of you, getting a new 5 subject note book and I am going to write again. I got knock down from that teacher but i will never let her keep me down. Thank you so much for the inspiration. Just like the lost girl, I will never feel lost again.

    Reply

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