Why can’t you be a writer when you grow up?


Have you ever heard of survival dance and sacred dance theory? Neither have I, until just recently. If you love reading, read the whole damn block quote that follows, because it’s amazing. Otherwise, just read what I’ve bolded.

Harley Swift Deer, a Native American teacher, says that each of us has a survival dance and a sacred dance, but the survival dance must come first. Our survival dance, a foundational component of self-reliance, is what we do for a living—our way of supporting ourselves physically and economically. For most people, this means a paid job. For members of a religious community like a monastery, it means social or spiritual labors that contribute to the community’s well-being. For others, it means creating a home and raising children, finding a patron for one’s art, or living as a hunter or gatherer. Everybody has to have a survival dance. Finding and creating one is our first task upon leaving our parents’ or guardians’ home.

Once you have your survival dance established, you can wander, inwardly and outwardly, searching for clues to your sacred dance, the work you were born to do. This work may have no relation to your job. Your sacred dance sparks your greatest fulfillment and extends your truest service to others. You know you’ve found it when there’s little else you’d rather be doing. Getting paid for it is superfluous. You would gladly pay others, if necessary, for the opportunity. Hence, the importance of self-reliance, not merely the economic kind implied by a survival dance but also of the social, psychological, and spiritual kind. To find your sacred dance, after all, you will need to take significant risks. You might need to move against the grain of your family and friends. By honing psychological self-reliance, you will find it easier to keep focused on your goals in the face of resistance or incomprehension, initial failure or setbacks, or economic or organizational obstacles. And spiritual self-reliance will maintain your connection with the deepest truths and what you’ve learned about how the world works. Swift Deer says that once you discover your sacred dance and learn effective ways of embodying it, the world will support you in doing just that.

What your soul wants is what the world also wants (and needs). Your human community will say yes to your soul work and will, in effect, pay you to do it. Gradually, your sacred dance becomes what you do and your former survival dance is no longer need. Now you have only one dance as the world supports you to do what is most fulfilling for you. How do you get there? The first step is creating a foundation of self-reliance: a survival dance of integrity that allows you to be in the world in a good way—a way that is psychologically sustaining, economically adequate, socially responsible, and environmentally sound.Cultivating right livelihood, as the Buddhist call it, is essential training and foundation for your soul work; it’s not a step that can be skipped. – Plotkin, his book “Soulcraft”

First of all, wow. I’ve sort of innately realized what Plotkin has to say, but never had I considered it to be an actual theory. He’s taken this Native American person’s theory and posited it in a way that allows everyone in this wretched society to relate to it.

Second, I think that Plotkin partially draws his argument from Emerson’s Self-Reliance, seeing as that the phrase is carefully placed many times through this block quote. He contextualizes the concept to most of us by offering a middle ground between status quo society and radical Emersonian society – find something sustainable, then pursue what seems impossible. (What a coincidence, because I just published a post ranting about how much I loved reading Emerson – read it here)

The sacred dance/survival dance theory makes a great deal of sense to me, and it makes sense to my mom too, because she’s always told me that in life, we have to be practical, and that means pursuing opportunities that have a large possibility of paying off, because even if economic sustenance isn’t everything, it is important, unless you’re planning on retreating from society and living in the woods. I’ve always scoffed and shrugged my shoulders, but it’s easy to get caught up in your wild and imaginative dreams when you’re not the one paying the bills.

When it comes to me, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. My picture-perfect, story-tale ending would feature me sitting at a kitchen table working on a blog (this blog?) all day, writing about my experiences and opinions. I can’t really see myself writing fiction or even a book, just…blogging, day in and day out.

A part of me has always known but not wanted to admit to myself that writing is a risky path to pursue. It’s a one in a million, you-only-hear-about-the-success-stories-not-the-mostly-failures future to follow.

Sure, universities smooth over this wrinkle and encourage their students to pursue their dreams through offering English and Creative Writing majors, but I personally know people who have graduated with similar degrees and had trouble finding sustainable sources of income, often being forced to take on a job that has nothing to do with their original major. That happens.

Of course, you can go into Journalism, where you can become a reporter or work for a magazine or SOMETHING, but at this point in my life it feels to me that such a profession would corrupt what I love most about writing (specifically, on this blog), which is that there are no writing prompts, confines, or guidelines to follow.

But who is to say that the way I feel about writing won’t change in the future and allow me to expand my opportunities?

Indeed, I probably can’t become a writer when I grow up, at least, not in the way I’d always dreamed of doing. But maybe I like the survival dance/sacred dance theory more than I like the follow-your-dreams-you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be theory. I’m okay becoming more aligned with reality, because that’s going to cushion the blows of the inevitable failures and rejections that I’m going to face later in life. But that certainly doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on my dream of writing, it just means that maybe I have to postpone it, put it on the backburner, or perhaps approach it from a different angle.

The future is wide open – I’ve got what seems to be an infinite stretch of time ahead of me to explore and find what I’m good at, and what I live for. You heard it here first – I’m going to make this dream come true.

Maybe in ten years you’ll come back and find me again, and I’ll be living out that cliché job where by day, I support myself with a busy waitress job and by night, I’m typing on an old-fashioned typewriter and one day magically get discovered. Or maybe not.

Reader, don’t give up on your dream just yet.

One comment

  1. Pingback: A Day in the Life of a High School Blogger | Never Stationary

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