Trading Career Certainty for Passion

Singer-songwriter Dar Williams

Singer-songwriter Dar Williams

Freelance writer Carolina Miranda ’93, poet Lenelle Moise, MFA ’04, and singer-songwriter Dar Williams came to campus November 4 to speak to students about the joys and challenges of choosing unconventional career paths. The panel, “Resisting Convention: Narratives of Passion and Purpose,” was presented by the Center for Work and Life and the Women’s Narratives Project.

Dar Williams described how she began to take charge of her identity as a full-time artist. “I was able to defend my creative time—I could lie and say I was going to the dentist,” she said, “but the truth is, I’m wandering in a field, and that’s what I do for a living.”

Like Williams, Lenelle Moise described how she began to make her artistic identity a reality. “When I introduced myself to people,” she remembered, “I called myself a poet.” She told the story of the inspiration her Haitian-American uncle—a spoken-word poet—had given her to become the poet she is today. Though he later disowned her for becoming a lesbian, she said she is sure that if he could see her reciting her poetry, “I know he would be so proud.”

Carolina Miranda ’93 also shared the challenges of her unconventional career choice. After showing a video clip from a harrowing, twelve-hour bus ride in the Andes mountains, she said, “This bus ride is a great metaphor for what it’s like to be a freelance writer—uncomfortable, frightening, uncertain—but in exchange, you get moments of breathtaking beauty.”

The panelists had practical advice as well. “The one number that’s right to think about is money,” Williams said. “Know what your rent is, and then fantasize.” Miranda agreed, cautioning students, “If you’re pursuing an unconventional career, you shouldn’t be wedded to having a lot of money. If you want this kind of life, you need to trim off the excess.”

However, the panelists emphasized that their unconventional lives were worth the challenges. Miranda spoke on the importance of loving your work: “When you can give people a sense of the joy you feel doing what you do,” she said, “then people want to read you, be with you, or see you perform.” Williams, meanwhile, told students to trust themselves. “Your voice of identity might sound a little soft,” she said, “but you know it’s the right thing.”

Zoë Gioja ’13 is an intern with the Smith Alumnae Quarterly