Writing Lessons

Make it Happen

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By Joshua Davis

December 1, 2014


 

When I graduated from college, I felt full of promise. I dreamt of writing novels and screenplays. I thought that if I hadn’t achieved all my goals by age 25, I would be a failure.

I actually wrote the novel and made a film; the novel never got published, and the film sent me deeply into debt. So, by age 25, I was working as a data entry clerk at Pacific Bell, the local phone company in San Francisco. I spent my days typing phone numbers into a computer. I was a failure.

Month after month, I sat there for eight hours a day typing numbers into the computer. Then, one day, the supervisor came to my station. I thought I was getting fired. Instead, she handed me a coffee mug.

“Pacific Bell is getting acquired by SBC,” she said. “So they made these mugs.”

The mug featured Pacific Bell and SBC logos. On the side it read: “Make it Happen!”

“Nothing will change,” the supervisor assured me. “Except now you have a coffee mug.”

For the rest of the day, I stared at the mug. The significance was obvious. It had nothing to do with SBC or Pacific Bell. It was a message from the heavens in the shape of a ceramic cup. Nothing would change unless I made it happen.

Shortly thereafter, I quit and tried again to be a writer. In the fairy tale version of this story, this is the point that I would find success.

Unfortunately, I failed again. I made no money, started a business to try to get by, and watched that business fall apart. Throughout it all, I kept the mug on my desk. Every morning, I drank tea and reminded myself that I had to make it happen, even when it looked like I’d never amount to more than a data entry clerk.

The mug helped. It gently reminded me to keep trying to make something happen, no matter what. I tried to stay open to the possibilities. One day, I saw a flier for the U.S. National Armwrestling Championship, I decided to enter even though I knew little about the sport. I lost all my matches but landed in fourth place (out of four) in the lightweight division. It was fun, but I didn’t think it would lead anywhere.

Surprisingly, my fourth place finish made me an alternate for the National Armwrestling Team, and I ended up going to Poland to represent the United States at the World Championship. A national magazine published my reflections on the journey. It was the first real money I’d made as a writer. I celebrated by pouring a cup of tea in the mug. I was finally making it happen.


Joshua Davis was a finalist for the 2014 National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. His latest book, Spare Parts, will be published this month.


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