By Dana Hall
Finding your passion can mean experimentation
With a job history covering everything from work as a corrections officer to doing makeup for bridal parties, it is safe to say that fear of the unknown isn’t an issue for Julia Blues. New experiences are never a problem. For Julia, the real challenge, when she was younger, was in finding a job that inspired her to stick around.
After completing her first semester at a local community college, 18-year-old Julia opted to drop out and carve a path of her own. Unsure of what she would do next, Julia began a journey that would lead to the discovery of her passion: writing.
Her first move was to join the military, hoping to follow in her father’s footsteps and make it a career. She joined the U.S. Air Force, but quickly decided that the job was not for her. From there, she went on to work several jobs, none of which she found particularly fulfilling. At first, she temped her way through offices, moving from one company to the next.
It was during this time that she discovered writing. Enjoying the fulfillment it was able to provide for her, Julia began exploring the craft. As writing grew from an interest into a passion, Julia began to take it more seriously as a skill she wished to practice and develop.
With writing occupying her spare time, Julia grew tired of the temp life. Deciding she wanted to find something more permanent, she began work in a jail as a corrections officer. Two years later, she switched jobs again, this time taking a position working security at the airport. The job paid the bills, but couldn’t offer the fulfillment she was looking for. Little did she know, this would be the job that forced a change in her life.
While lifting a heavy piece of luggage off an inspection belt one day, Julia felt a pop in her back. The injury worsened, ultimately preventing Julia from working at her job any longer. Her time at the airport had come to an end, and she needed to figure out what to do next.
Julia will be the first to tell you that success is about more than the amount of money you earn. She decided to follow her passions and went to college for skin care and makeup artistry. She also threw herself into the field she truly loved: writing. What had begun as creative release had evolved into something Julia wanted to do full time as a career. Eventually, she transitioned fully into writing, dedicating herself to her craft.
Today, she has two published books, Parallel Pasts and The Last Exhale. Money is a struggle; every new piece of work is submitted to the same storm of rejection that even the most established writer considers brutal, but Julia couldn’t be happier.
Can you describe some of the jobs you’ve had?
People often joke how long my résumé is as if I worked for the CIA or something. I have worked in retail in venues that range from a maternity store to home décor. After the military, I temped for employment agencies in various office capacities.
I also did some time in the county jail as a corrections officer for the sheriff’s department. That job made for an interesting two years. Working for Homeland Security at the airport was the last of my government jobs. I injured my back, which put an end to any type of physical labor. From there, I went to school for esthetics to specialize in skin care and makeup artistry.
I was the makeup artist for several brides for their weddings. I even interned on a movie set, which was exhausting, but so much fun. My jobs have been random, but each exposed me to different realities and provided me with the experience and knowledge to better prepare me for the role I play now as a storyteller.
What drew you to the military and when did you decide it wasn’t the career for you?
What drew me to the military was desperation. I knew something needed to change in my life, I just didn’t know what that something should be. After a semester of community college, I knew that wasn’t the route, so my mom mentioned the military. I was conceived in the Air Force and lived in a military household until my father retired when I was in high school. Even after his retirement, we often visited military installations; it was our way of life. So when my mom proposed the idea, I told her to call the recruiters.
The Air Force was the first to respond, and as a result, they would get my commitment. Like college, I quickly learned the military was not the path for me. There were a list of reasons as to why I chose to move on, but overall, it just wasn’t a fit. I felt certain policies, rules, and regulations were in place that violated who I was. At the end of the night, I needed to respect myself for who I was at the core, and I was not able to do that being enlisted.
What was your back injury and how did it affect you?
Oh gosh, my back injury affected me in so many ways and for so many years. It happened in the spring of 2006, and I am still dealing with it a decade later. I’d injured it while working at the airport. I moved a heavy suitcase off of the inspection table and carried it to the airline’s belt. It was well over 50 pounds, which I didn’t know at the time.
When I stood up, I felt something pop in my back. I shook it off, but when I was asked to pull a cart full of boxes, the pain in my back warranted my attention. The manager on duty clocked me out, and then sent me to an urgent care facility.
As the days passed, my back worsened, and within a few weeks, I had stopped working. The issue with my back had gotten so bad to where I herniated a disc just from sneezing. I’ve had to walk around the house on my hands and knees. It was such a fight to get proper medical coverage through Workers’ Comp—denying doctor requests for procedures—resulting in my back not being properly treated; therefore, I’ve learned to live with the pain. Thankfully, it’s not every day, but when it hurts, it hurts.
The injury also affected my sanity. From all of the back and forth from the Department of Labor, I endured bouts of depression.
I was harassed by a private investigator which led to me dealing with paranoia. This man would sit in front of my house, blocking me from even leaving, and would go to the school or gym and divulge my personal information. It was so bad that I had to go to the police. To this day, I tense up when cars follow behind me too closely or for too long. They went so far as to follow all of my social media accounts and twist my words.
I understand they had a job to do to protect their money, but it was obvious that I was not trying to cheat the system, so they had to use whatever they could, even if it wasn’t true, to implicate me for abuse. I am still fighting that battle. So, needless to say, the injury affected me much more than physically.
Did your injury affect your career path?
Yes and no. I say yes, because I wasted a lot of time being depressed instead of writing. I had a lot of pity parties which left me exhausted. I couldn’t do anything else. The injury is in my lower back, right at my tailbone. No matter where I sit (e.g., bed, bench, floor, chair with or without cushion), I experience pain.
I occupied my time doing other things, mainly running unnecessary errands. I spent a lot of time resisting. In the 10 years since my injury, I could have had many more stories. At the same time, I say it did not affect my career path, because I eventually wrote and had those books published. Short stories were published. I still did the work.
In hindsight, injury or not, I am where I am supposed to be at this time. Maybe the hesitation and procrastination held me off “for such a time as this.” Maybe it was to hold me until the right agent and book deal came along. I also believe that I had to go through what I went through in order to help with telling stories. My injury helped my writing.
When did you decide writing was what you wanted to do?
The year was 2000, and I had not long since gotten out of the military. As I sat at the desk questioning my life while on a temporary job assignment, a voice whispered in my ear. I opened up a blank document on the borrowed laptop and typed out a secret that had been shared with me. It was then that I knew I had tapped into something—into some part of me—that I did not want to let go of: a visceral part of me that I would not let go of. I’ve been writing ever since.
Writing is the career you’ve held onto the longest, but it is also the career that pays you the least amount of money. Were you always searching for what writing is able to provide for you, or did your values change as you tried different jobs?
You know, inherently, I believe I was always searching for what writing was able to provide: fulfillment. In all of my other jobs, I was never 100% fulfilled; some element always presented itself that let me know it wasn’t a permanent stay. With writing, my bank account can be empty; I can receive a rejection from a publisher, or get a negative review from a reader, yet none of those parts that come with the territory of being a writer strips me of the commitment I have to the craft. The creative outlet offers me a peace that I am not willing to give up for an assured paycheck.
Once you decided you wanted to do writing full time, how did you go about establishing yourself? What were some of the challenges you encountered?
To be honest, I am still trying to establish myself. With everything that happened with my work-related injury, I have been without a traditional job for years. I’ve been forced to treat writing as a full-time job, even though I am not earning any income doing so. So I would say finances have been the biggest challenge I have encountered.
Thankfully, I am able to live with my parents while pursuing a degree in psychology and continuing to build my vault of stories. This process, or shall I say journey, has been challenging. Just about every day I question myself: “Am I doing the right thing? Did I ‘quit’ too soon? Should I have waited until…?” I still apply to jobs because I feel that’s what I am supposed to do; however, the phone doesn’t ring. It’s caused me to be more creative in ways to earn income while awaiting the call from my agent announcing a major book deal or that my movie script has sold.
I am still trying to get by. If it weren’t for the help of family, I would probably be a starving artist. For the first eight years of writing full time, I still had a monthly income from my previous job. It definitely helped. Plus, I had a few freelance writing gigs and workshops that brought in some money.
What makes writing different from the other jobs you’d had?
Creative ownership. No other job allowed me to express myself creatively. There were always rules and regulations or a format I had to follow. Everything was so matter-of-fact (probably due to being governmental) that it was hard to step outside of those bounds.
It was a task to feel any sort of freedom in my previous careers. Every day was the same day, just a different prefix. Writing is never the same. Boredom never crosses my path, and complacency is an issue I do not face, because as each new character arrives, they bring with them a new genre of story.
Do you feel you’ve succeeded in becoming a writer for a living yet?
I am not there yet, though I will say a moment of success did come the day my agent called and told me I had been offered a book deal. When the first installment check arrived, I felt I had achieved a major goal as a writer. No matter if the check was for one dollar or a hundred thousand dollars, the fact that someone paid me to publish my work equals success.
Are there still challenges you face today as someone with a career in writing?
Oh, yes. There’s always the challenge of acceptance. Anytime you write something and put it out there, you’re opening yourself up to rejection, ridicule, you name it.
It is such a subjective field, so you’re always anticipating what people are going to think. Even with two published novels out there, whether a publisher decides to sign me or not will be based on how well my previous work sold. I truly believe there are levels to challenges. In the beginning, it’s the challenge to write the book, then the challenge to get an agent and have the book published, and once that happens, there’s the challenge to find readers. The cycle continues, because you always want to do better with each project you produce. Most of the challenges are internal, but they exist, and once you win those, you have to face everything external, as I mentioned above.
What would be your definition of success?
Completing a goal. For the longest time I felt like I was someone who couldn’t finish what I started.
First, it was leaving college after only a semester, then un-enlisting from the military before serving my full term. Any time I would start, I would find a reason to quit for no other reason than it not being a fit. So when I discovered writing and kept at it until I had a completed manuscript staring back at me, I realized that I had finally finished something I started. I completed something. That defined success for me.
Having that book published was another check in the column of success. Walking into a local Target and seeing my book on the shelf screamed that I had succeeded.
Every time I complete a writing project—whether I see it in print or not—I know I have succeeded. My definition of success is setting a goal and seeing it through no matter what. I may scratch the idea or project down the road, but as long as I make it down the road, I have achieved success.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes. Believe in yourself enough to not settle. Whether you want to be a writer or fly planes, never give up on your dream.
It took thirteen years from when I first heard that whisper in my ear until I saw my first book on the shelf. As I waited, I kept writing. So in your time of waiting, continue honing your craft. Study it and the people who are doing it. Never give up hope or lose your faith. It will happen.
As Robin Williams said in Dead Poets’ Society: “Poetry, beauty, romance, love: these are what we stay alive for.” Passion is what keeps us moving and what keeps us engaged. Julia’s story is a testament to the importance of doing what you love, whether it be as a career or as a hobby. Having worked her way from job to job looking for a sense of purpose, it wasn’t until she fully indulged in her passion that she felt a sense of fulfillment. Falling down seven times through various job ventures, writing has given Julia the strength to continue on with her passion and rise up eight.
How did you enjoy our interview with Julia? Please let us know in the comments.