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I Didn’t Plan on Becoming a Writer, but Thank God I Did

“So, I was thinking I might want to try a journalism class,” I told my advisor, anxiously leaning over in my chair. I was the ripe age of 19.

“Oh yea?” she said, typing into her computer, half listening. 

“Yea. I wrote a review. A music review. The other day for the student paper. And I, well, I really liked it.”

She kept typing and I kept blabbering nervously, thinking the more I would talk, the more chance she would finally hear me. Then she turned towards me.

“Okay. Hey. What do you say we make that your major?” she said.

“I’m sorry?”

“Yea. You seem to have an interest in it. And I know a lot of the people over there, it’s a good department. So why don’t we just go ahead and make that your major?”

Whoa. I just did a review of Primus’s latest album (‘Anti Pop’ for anyone who cares), and was most interested in reading music magazines, like ‘Spin’ and ‘Rolling Stone.’ But this was pretty heavy. Especially since I didn’t care all that much about news, and that was pretty much the purpose of journalism.

So I agreed. A hapless young man swayed as easily as a dog on a leash, that’s how I became a journalism major. No planning. No passionate path from here to there.

Some might call it a mistake. A wishy washy slacker’s point A to point B. I mean, I did end up heading for the hills, running from journalism after only three years in newspapers. But now I know this was essential in order to reach my calling as a writer. And it also aligns perfectly with Jeff Goins’ message in his best selling new book, ‘The Art of Work,’ and which he shared in our recent podcast interview.

The Teacher that Changed My Life

I was what some might call a late bloomer. I didn’t “get” things until a little later in life, around age 27. So, if you knew me during college, I won’t say I was a complete misfit, but I was searching for purpose and coming up empty.
Yet, life wasn’t a complete loss. Some key moments helped define who I am today. For instance, I wouldn’t be writing this blog, or anything, if it weren’t for Keith Spear, my freshman English class professor.

Keith was my first professor to swear in class. I don’t normally swear in my blog so please excuse my French, but I’ll never forget when he wrote on the chalkboard “shitty first drafts,” referencing Anne Lamott’s writing book ‘Bird by Bird.’ I was shocked. He didn’t just teach from a textbook, either; in fact one day he brought a guitar into class and played The Beatles’ ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?’ I can’t even remember why he did it was the day I was sold, he was the coolest teacher I ever had.

Keith then did something no other teacher or professor ever did for me. He invited every student into his office to advise us about our first drafts. and After I took a seat in his office he asked a few questions about my brother who he coached in minor league baseball. Then he started leaning back in his chair to the point I worried he’d fall over.

“Matt, tell me, have you ever considered becoming an English major? Because this paper you wrote, it is absolutely incredible how you wrote it. How you made me feel like I was with you as you walked home that Friday night. Passing the parties on Seventh Street, thinking back to your old friends in high school. I don’t really know how you do it, but it seems you have something natural. You should really consider it.”

I hadn’t. And this didn’t align with my desire to become a rock star, which was the only career I considered to this point. So I politely navigated the rest of the conversation as he told me I could become a professor, maybe even teach in other countries, who knows.

At the time I thought I replied with a nonverbal “not interested,” and yet a year later I found myself in the student paper newsroom, asking if they would let me write an album review. And here I am today, not a rock star but a writer. How did I end up here? Because of two big unplanned steps.

A Living Legacy

Goins points out in our interview that this is how we find our calling. Rather than deliberate plotting of well sequenced steps, it’s usually pivots and turns that are neither perfect nor expected. And here I am now, writing in my spare time on a Friday night, Saturday night, whenever. I certainly never saw this coming.

Back in the Spring of 2010 Mom sent me an obituary that took the wind out of me. Keith Spear, a man who had forever changed my life, had died of cancer at the age of 56. I was devastated. But I’m happy to say he’s still living because I’m ultimately writing this blog because of him, and I like to hope that this writing is influencing others as well. Who knows, it may help someone find their calling.