“It’s not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I am often asked what makes a writer? At what point do you call yourself one? Are there actual parameters like being published? With the advent of social media and self-publishing, I’m not sure anyone can answer these questions concretely. It’s not so cut and dry anymore. What I can tell you, though, is the first moment I was called a writer and the immense effect it had on me. I’m not so sure that this moment would have had such an impact if it weren’t for the fact that it came from a person who had openly despised me. If that doesn’t get my attention, I don’t know what will.
The year was 2003 and I had recently received my first offer letter as a Pharmaceutical Rep. I was given an incredible package with incentives, a car and my first medical benefits since graduating from college. I relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico and was beyond excited by the newness of a professional career.
I spent 3 grueling months in training, a crash course in physiology and pharmacology, which allowed my nerdy self to shine. Once I was all fluffed up on the science and marketing techniques, I was set free into my territory. Soon enough, I found my groove. I enjoyed meeting with doctors and sharing my incredible stores of data, ever so much data. I wouldn’t be remiss in saying that it was more of a data downpour, a mistake most new reps make and it was almost a year before my data was ever seriously challenged.
I was catering a group of physicians with one of those infamous pharmaceutical lunches people hear about. Manned with my pens, staplers, and data, I conversed with both practitioners and staff. As I sang the praises of my drugs, I lacked any type of perceptiveness. Some doctors rolled their eyes, others chuckled and some seemed partially interested. On this day, however, an internal medicine doctor objected to my data. Instead of listening, I opted to whip out my glossy detail piece to support my point.
His face looked horrified when he saw this marketing sheet; he furled up as though I had slapped him. Contemptuously, he spat out, “What is that shiny thing you are holding? It’s not a study or a medical book, you idiot. You are a brainwashed automaton!” I was shocked into silence. Tears welled up in my eyes.
Although my feelings were hurt, I wasn’t sad; I was ashamed because until that moment, I didn’t realize how insulting I was or how arrogant I seemed. He spent years in academic study whereas I spent mere months. This wasn’t arrogance, just the opposite; it was ignorance. I dropped my head and apologized, learning the most important lesson of my career, to listen, not defend.
Of course, I would continue to run into and interact with this doctor who put me in my place. Still feeling uneasy around him, my mother, a Psychologist, made a suggestion, “Instead of being intimidated by him, see him as a growly bear. You made a mistake, big deal so stop personalizing his personality because that’s what it was, HIS personality. He was merely growling at you.” Her advice made sense so I started doing just that, visualizing him as a growly bear, which allowed me to let go of my mistake and release any fears while speaking with him- another score for the mamabear.
It wasn’t over night, mind you, but by the next year, the growly bear began to engage me with questions during our lunches. I was able to shed my nervousness and our conversation became organic. He was surprised to hear I moved from Berkeley and asked why I would ever move to Albuquerque? I nodded to the lunch and said, “This, my first professional job is why I moved here.” While looking at him, you could see that it never occurred to him that pharma reps came from somewhere and will one day go somewhere. Despite how much I spoke or laughed with doctors and staff, in truth, people knew relatively little about me except what products I sold and what goodies I brought for them.
Intrigued, the growly bear asked a slew of other questions about my hobbies, what I do for fun, how is the adjustment? My answer, “New Mexico is beautiful, but it’s hard to create new relationships when you work as much as I do. I’m kind of boring for I mostly work and write.” The growly bear asked you write? What do you write? I told him about my novel, short stories, poems as well as my current project of modernizing a Shakespeare play, my emphasis at U.C. Berkeley.
Our conversation continued to spin around the room until we were the last two left in the mass of discarded paper plates and empty cups. After a thorough examination about what I wrote, he asked me why I wrote? I was taken aback by the question because no one really asked why I write. I felt that if he was taking the time to get to know me as something more than an automaton, then I could, at the very least, be open so I replied, “When I write, I leave my loneliness within this world and step into a world where I can continue to dream, where anything is possible. I don't feel trapped by my disappointments.”
The growly bear said nothing. He looked down at the table. After a peaceful silence, he finally piped up in his matter of fact way and said, “You are a writer if I truly ever met one.” Embarrassed, I quickly explained that I was not published. He shook his head and said, “Being published is something that writer’s do. It’s not who they are. To dream within the English language is an art, an essence, it will always be a part of who you are whether or not you ever get published. Don’t be like the rest of us, who readily forget to dream and only later in life, realize that we are the ones responsible for relegating our own dreams into obscurity.”
With wide eyes, I stared at him. Blink, blink, I processed his every word. I smiled because I understood what he was saying, what wisdom he was imparting. I felt humbled. I thanked him, “That’s one of the greatest compliments anyone has ever said to me. I will always cherish it.” Gruffly, he nodded and left.
This is when I realized that I was letting others define my dreams, define who I was. Initially, I had believed that I needed to be published in order to call myself a writer, but really, this is making other's opinions of more importance than my own. I have had people scoff at my essays and laugh at my attempts to get published, but none of this bothers me. Because for me, it’s not about the destination, getting published; it’s about the journey, me actually writing. I enjoy it. I love it. I dream in the landscape of my words. The growly bear is right; I am a writer!