Walking the Walk

Justin holds a catWhen I was 8 years old, I wrote my first book. It was about a koala who lived in the zoo, wondered where people went when they were out of sight of his cage and decided to escape to see the world. He hitchhiked, he hid from koala hunters, and he slept in the eucalyptus trees I assumed dotted the Oklahoma prairie. It ended with him sneaking into a backyard and swimming in a pool, because when I was 8, swimming pools were the pinnacle of existence and embodied the concept of “happily ever after.”

It wasn’t my last book. Writing was not something I was motivated or encouraged to do – it was a compulsion. I did it because I needed to get ideas out of my head, so I could free up space for the invariable flood of new thoughts that consistently percolated in my young brain. For years, it was just a part of my life.

In my 20s, when inconsequential jobs gave way to burgeoning careers, writing seemed like such an obvious choice that I felt it was too safe a decision. It wasn’t sexy, it wasn’t exciting, and it seemed to be a bit of a cop-out – that I wasn’t challenging myself to discover something more fulfilling. So my path meandered through some fascinating roles, first as a recording engineer and then as a photographer. They filled that void a creative mind is constantly generating, and I assumed I was being true to that inner voice that was driving me.

I was writing the whole time – poetry, magazine articles, the beginnings of undoubtedly world-changing novels – because that drive was so ingrained in me that I didn’t recognize it consciously. I couldn’t acknowledge the drive as anything other than some fundamental quirk I needed to comply with in order to stay sane.

justin wears a hat

It took a while for things to make sense to me, about 15 years or so, and I started to revisit some very raw and concerning thoughts that first showed in college. I remember having moments of crisis when facing decisions about my future, about the direction my studies should take, and whenever I was honest with myself, I always came to the same conclusion – I didn’t want to be taught how to do something, I wanted to be known for those talents that can’t be learned. I needed to see how far I could take them to be comfortable in my own skin.

Life experience steadily reinforced one thought for me – you can learn to be better at something, but you can’t learn to be good at something. The right hemisphere of my brain functioned in a harrowing state of overdrive, and I consistently needed to appease it by taking up every creative outlet I encountered. But time taught me that was a surface solution. None of these were latent talents, none gave me real satisfaction. Forcing novel means to quell my addiction for creation wound up as a hollow solution. And so I decided to embrace something I felt I had known pretty much my entire life. It was time to give into what came naturally.

There are many ways to be a writer, and while I don’t limit myself overall, I have discovered I am most comfortable in the role of copywriter. While I still harbor fantasies of producing the next blockbuster screenplay or Great American Novel, both from compulsion and from my ego, I’ve found that being honest about what I do best leads to the purest satisfaction in my life.

I spend my days immersed in exploration, in strategy, psychology, sociology, collaboration between fascinating minds, and by the time all is said and done, a rationale for words and concepts. They exist because of a firm conviction there are none better to choose. I get to repeat this daily, with people of a like mind, and I am finally able to acknowledge that this is the most satisfying means to an end. And I like to believe that this translates into a quality of work that was previously unattainable.

Justin holds a catI wouldn’t change a thing if I were to do it over, because of what I learned along the way, but it has been a fair journey to be able to sit at the feet of that emotional Buddha. When I do what I do now, it is not because of my employer or my co-workers or my clients, it is because of a selfish satisfaction from being a creator in the best way I know how. Doing it in a way that creates a benefit for them is a most delicious icing on that cake, though, and it’s the best feeling in the world when all of this comes together the way it has.

So here’s to honesty, to creativity and to successes. They make for a most fulfilling place to feel real.