Day 12: Describe the lives of your audience by describing the lives of singular individuals.
Describe the lives of your audience by describing the lives of singular individuals. Describe concerns, desires, suffering. What do they (not they, but he, she) do, say, think, and feel? Make them (not them, but him, her) as human as possible.
I took the last statement of making the character as human as possible a bit too far, and evolved from describing the life of an individual into a short story. However, by the time I realized I was off-prompt, I’d gone too far and decided to finish the story. The take-home point is that my audience is full of people like David, though perhaps not with his exact story :)
His friends call him David, though his real name is Davoud. He’s nothing spectacular. Just an ordinary engineer.
Every day he pores over diagrams, charts, and graphs in an attempt to perfect the design of the device his company makes.
Although David loves his work, or at least, that’s what he tells himself and his wife, he feels unfulfilled. He really loves the idea of creating something that will help individual lives, rather than pushing the frontier of technology for the sake of pushing it.
David is swamped with work and other worries, so he has no time to cultivate his passion for helping people. His skill in hardware engineering is a difficult one to bring to consumers on a direct basis, so he is lost.
While having coffee with his best friend Shawn, David confides in him and asks what he should do. Shawn tells David that he should be grateful for having a job in the first place, let alone having one that pays as much as he makes, and that it’s a waste to throw his hardware engineering work to scratch an itch that might not even pan out. He concludes by saying that you can either do fulfilling work, or pay the rent.
David tells Shawn a white lie and says that he agrees completely. The truth is, David only half-agrees. David certainly is lucky to have such a prestigious career, and the money that comes alongside, but he feels that someone as intelligent as him should be making a real difference in perhaps not the world, but definitely in individual people’s lives. He thinks of Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos; people who changed the world with their revolutionary ideas.
However, his thoughts are brought back down to earth by Shawn, and his dreams are shattered as he realizes that perhaps he will never be as great as those figures.
David takes solace in the fact that there’s no point in trying, and shelves his dream in the corner of his mind, the corner where sentimental, yet fundamentally useless, things are stored. Things to be looked at, but not to be used.
One day, while eating breakfast at a cafe, David notices something not particularly peculiar, but definitely concerning. An old man is hobbling from patron to patron, unsuccessfully asking for some spare change. The patrons, each with a 7-dollar breakfast and a 3-dollar coffee in front of them, dressed to the nines, are suddenly broke, unable to give this man the smallest fraction of their wealth.
Dejected, the old man begins sifting through a trash can. David instantly sees himself in the old man–both have a hunger that needs to be satiated, and when that hunger can’t be satiated after numerous attempts, is instead fulfilled by taking scraps of other people.
David decides he needs to put a stop to this–both the old man digging through the garbage, and the method of satiating his hunger.
Though he has no cash on-hand, David invites the old man to dine with him, buying a sandwich and a drink for him.
The old man graciously accepts, and the two chat over breakfast burritos and coffee.
David asks the old man why he doesn’t have any money to buy food. The old man replies that he once worked in finance, and had a huge house, with a beautiful wife, and a few kids. When the economy collapsed, he lost his job, and had trouble finding another one. He had to downsize the house and take a job at Starbucks, and it was then he was met with the news that his wife wanted to divorce him and take the kids. The man was ridden with the undue stress of divorce, losing his kids, and struggling to pay the bills, as well as paying back the debt he’d taken on while he was rich, and upon a visit to the doctor, was told that he had stomach cancer. He was able to barely pay for his medical bills, but the subsequent surgeries rendered him unfit to work, and as such, he was unable to pay the rent of his house, and was left on the streets. Since then, he has been wandering the streets, begging for scraps.
The old man looks at David with a look of sincerity, yet urgency, and says, “Never settle for scraps in your life. Do things that make you grow, that make you happy. Doing things for the money will only attract to your life people who want money.”
The old man thanks David for the meal, and hobbles off into the crowded streets of the city.
David ponders the old man’s story, and realizes that their stories are not much different. The old man was capable of so much, but focused only on making money rather than creating value. And now he is not capable of much, and has to settle for scraps. David is capable of doing more, but settles on unfulfilling work–scraps, in the context of his life. Furthermore, David seems to only attract to his life people who are also unfulfilled in life, such as Shawn.
David surmises that the ten dollars spent on the old man’s meal would be a drop in the bucket compared to the value of the old man’s advice, but only if he took action on it. David makes the decision to begin associating himself with people doing fulfilling work that still pays the bills.
He applies for jobs at companies that has a mission that he truly believes in. He begins a new job that is similar to the job he was working previously, except now he knows that his work is going to mean something in the world. They even let him make some key decisions because of his expertise. David had never been happier in his life.
David was once a hardware engineer, living an unfulfilled, meaningless life. Now, David is still a hardware engineer, doing the same work, but feels much more fulfilled. All it took was a change in what his work meant to him changed his entire outlook on life.