The Boxing Kangaroo and the Professor

Folies Bergere, Boxing KangarooThere’s an old story that a boxing kangaroo is only good until it gets punched. After that, they don’t want to fight anymore. (Don’t ask me where I heard it. My head is filled with useless trivia like that.)

The same thing happened to me. Kind of.

All my life, I’ve been lucky. When I told my parents I wanted to be an English major, they were very supportive. When I told them I wanted to go back to school and get my master’s degree, they encouraged me. My folks were always the type to say, “You can be anything you want to be.”

Of course, that’s not strictly true, is it? As kids, we believe we can be anything. It’s not until later that we realize we all aren’t athletic enough, clever enough, or artistic enough to make those dreams come true.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I wasn’t going to be an astronaut (a big dream of mine). But with writing, I always thought I could reach the stars.

You know how I said my folks were supportive? Well, I didn’t get that same kind of support in college. In fact, when I told one of my professors I wanted to write professionally, she laughed out loud. Then she asked what I was going to do for a living.

I don’t think she was being mean. She was being realistic. We’ve all heard how hard it is to make a living as a writer, and she understood that even mid-list writers have to support themselves in other ways. But her candor scared the crap out of me.

Remember that boxing kangaroo I mentioned at the start? Here’s where it comes in. Because for the first time in my life, I got hit on the nose with the fist of reality and it made me reconsider my choices. I faced the very real possibility that I wasn’t going to be an overnight sensation. I wasn’t going to be the next Stephen King.

Maybe, the voices in my head said, you’re not good enough to be a writer. 

And I began thinking of other things I could do for a living. I wanted a fallback position. I needed to have something to do in case I never got published. That kind of mentality led to a string of jobs that pulled me farther and farther from my goal of being a writer. I never applied myself to being a better writer because I didn’t believe it could happen to me.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about how lucky I am to have a writing partner. My wife isn’t merely supportive of my writing, she’s a writer herself. She understands my need to spend hours quietly working, and she inspires me to be a better writer.

At the end of August, my first short story was accepted for publication. Now I know it can happen, and that fills me with confidence.

As a parent, I’ve been blessed with two very artistic kids. One is a musician and one is an artist. And I’ve tried my best to always be supportive of their dreams. Though some parents might disagree, I’ve never encouraged my kids to have a fallback position.

Some day, reality might hit them on the nose. Until then, I want them to dream without compromise and practice their art without restraint.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

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