#2. No One's Keeping Score
There's an important distinction I want to make right up front: Earlier this week, my co-worker David Wong explained how you might be accidentally making people hate you because they feel you owe them one. He's right. That sort of thing happens all the time. I'm not trying to contradict him, even though one person believing that another owes them might sound like a score is being kept. That's not what I'm talking about.
I'm saying that no one is keeping track of how many times in your life you were right.
"You were wrong: No Oompa Loompas died filming The Wizard of Oz. I'm afraid you're juuuust shy of the Paradise threshold."
I help make this show about people arguing over pop culture at a diner because, before I worked at Cracked, I used to argue over pop culture at a diner with friends of mine. Usually we just traded jokes while breaking down our favorite movies and shows, and every once in a while we'd get into an argument over a pointless bit of movie trivia. I'd claim that Bill Paxton was the one in Twister, my buddy would swear it was Bill Pullman, and another friend entirely would be convinced that it was actually the pig from Babe: Pig in the City (which I maintained was the same pig as in the first Babe movie, which started an entirely new fight).
The '90s were a confusing time.
This was before smartphones, so we usually just let the argument die. Or, rather, everyone else let the argument die. I went home and watched Twister and confirmed my rightness. Then I'd wait until the next time I saw my friends, and I'd say, "Oh, hey, just so you guys know, it was Paxton. In Twister. So ..." I didn't do it to be smug, although, yes, I was insufferable. I genuinely thought "Everyone probably wants to know the truth, because we argued about this, which means it must be important. They'll all be so happy when I share with them this truth!"
Totally insufferable. And totally pointless. I have an easy time writing for After Hours because I remember every single time I was right and wrong in my entire life. It's a tally that occupies space in my brain, space that is supposed to be dedicated to remembering birthdays and my pin number, both of which I've since had to tattoo on my chest.
The bottom line? No one else is keeping score, and you're not doing them a favor by correcting them or keeping score for them. You'll never accumulate enough check marks in your "right" column to be deemed infallible by your friends, and you won't get points for pointing out someone else's mistakes because you don't get points for anything, because there are no points.
Above: The Universe.
#1. The Important Stuff Won't Happen
The question that I get asked on Tumblr most often is "When did you know you were going to be a writer?" "What made you decide??" "What was the moment where you learned 'Yes, it is decided: I AM WRITING!'"
"I've found a quill, THIS IS IT!"
Kids will write to me, usually right before or after they start college for the first time, saying that they might want to maybe someday consider writing, but they also have a lot of other interests, and they're wondering where they need to go and what they need to do to get hit by the Big Decision Bus that tells them, unequivocally, what they want to/should do with their lives. And they assume, because I'm a working professionalish type person, that this bus clearly must have hit me at some point.
I guess the moment I knew -- really knew -- that I was supposed to be a writer was when a very nice company paid me enough money to do it instead of doing my old job, which was bartending.
Aka writing with liquor.
That's all. I mean, I wrote and I studied English in college, but I also studied a ton of other stuff, and I would have pursued something else or continued my education, but I got offered a job doing a thing I liked that happened to have "writer" on the business card, so I took it. I know that a lot of extremely creative and interesting artists talk about their decision to write or act or perform music like it was preceded by some cosmic, life-changing event, and that my answer sounds very dry and heartless by comparison, but it's true. No light went off. No switch was flipped. A famous writer didn't collapse at my doorstep, hand me a pen, and croak out "This burden is yours now" before dropping dead.
I've always been nervous about answering with rules, because if you tell someone there's a "right" way, they'll immediately freak out if they're thinking they're doing things the wrong way. Like "When I was a sophomore in college, there was a MOMENT -- one of those profound moments that all real writers have -- and then I knew, from that day forward, ME: WRITER." I don't want anyone's takeaway to be "But I'm already a senior and I still don't know and OH MY GOD I'VE DONE EVERYTHING WRONG!" And I don't want the takeaway to be "Got it: Sophomore year. Sophomore year of college is when I'll know what I'm supposed to do. Phew!" No. Not phew. There's no moment, no one ever knows. I still don't know. I'm writing today, but that's right now, not my whole life.
The future is a big place.
If you're anticipating some grand moment, then you're wasting all of your time waiting for the universe to tell you what to do when, really, the universe doesn't know, doesn't care, and doesn't have time to tell you to study dance magic, because the universe is too busy coming up with ways to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth.
Don't wait for the universe or anything else to give you a sign to tell you what to do with your life. That's crippling. Just do things.