What would you do, if not this?
I’m unemployed. Still. So the question asked this week has a certain bitterness to it:
If you weren’t doing what you do today, what other job would you have?
Clearly what I’m doing today is nothing, but the question doesn’t presuppose that you are a professional writer—nor is it asking for a wishful answer of what you would like to be doing.
So let’s suppose I had no interest in writing since, in my unpaid moments (which are many), that is what I currently do. What would I be doing?
I could have stuck with law. I could have completed my PhD and become an academic, teaching international law and doing research into war crimes.
Stripping that back a stage, I could have stuck with my original plan, become a qualified solicitor and joined the Procurator Fiscal Service (the prosecution in the Scottish Legal System). That would have been a life confined to Scotland, focused on Glasgow and Edinburgh.
But I became dissatisfied with law, and have recently been trying to find out what I actually wanted to do with my life, because law wasn’t something I wanted to do, but rather was something I could do, and there is a difference.
Prior to the law, things get fuzzy, and I find myself looking at the strange list of careers I “wanted” as a child. None of these answer the question of course, because most are unfeasible, and the ones that were feasible would have been discounted.
An astronaut. Luke Skywalker. An American footballer. Batman. A Ghostbuster. A Catholic priest. Incidentally, the latter career path was chosen as the only realistic means of becoming a Ghostbuster. I wanted to be a priest because I wanted to be an exorcist. And whilst I could never really be considered suitable for the priesthood, part of me thinks the Catholic Church is infinitely poorer for my not becoming Pope…
But I do recall when I was perhaps 12 or 13, there was something I wanted to do. I wanted to work on bionic engineering and robotics. Pretty sci-fi sounding, as outrageous as my other choices. But I wanted to make exoskeletons. I wanted to make artificial limbs. I wanted to make a device that could be attached to paraplegics and quadraplegics that could allow them to stand and walk.
An astronaut helps advance science. Luke Skywalker helped save the galaxy. A footballer helps his team. Batman helps the victims of injustice. Ghostbusters help the frightened. Priests bring spiritual help to their parishioners. Lawyers help their clients. And the bionic devices I dreamt were to help the injured regain mobility.
I don’t know what I’d be doing today if I didn’t want to write. But I can see what I’d be striving for.
Doing something good. Making a difference. And if that’s all we do in our lives, then I think that’s been a life worth living.