Derek RinaldoCongratulations to Derek Rinaldo for Winning the August 2021 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

What (or who) is your “big why”? In other words, what is your driving reason for pursuing and excelling at a paid writing career?

Derek shared a moving story about the intersection of family and career in his life. Enjoy his winning submission:

My Big Why

By Derek Rinaldo

Have you ever put some part of yourself aside for something you convinced yourself you needed? It could be a salary, praise, or a feeling of accomplishment.

All these are valuable as long as we don’t give ourselves up for them. The last eight years taught me the hard way.

In 2013, my young family lived in modest comfort while expecting our second child. We succeeded spacing our kids naturally and were slowly embedding ourselves in our tightknit Indiana community.

My engineering job at a steel mill paid reasonably. Not enough to afford Disney World, but we were happy. My ambition nagged that I could do more.

Projects played a part in my Big Why. They allowed businesses to offer sustainable value and steady jobs for the workforce. They gave me a creative outlet and structured my interactions with the community. I pursued an MBA at Notre Dame to quiet it.

On graduation, I sought a job to maximize my education and income. The pressure crushed me. I screamed in front of my family while my wife longed for a third child.

I wanted to show it was possible to be a high performer in the corporate world while raising a large family. I wanted to be that role model. Corporate America was about to correct my thinking.

The interview before our move to Georgia seemed my opportunity to make a big impact. My illusions shattered after three months when my manager announced, “The grace period is OVER!” before demanding higher performance to complete projects.

When I insisted on spending a weekend with my family after our third endured a hospital stay, he demanded I solve a problem to get a machine back in operation. Once, he even threatened insubordination for questioning a procedure.

I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t even swallow my food.

I realized this wasn’t my dream on our 8th anniversary. I was covered in ant bites, exhausted from working an outage, and my wife chastised me for crying too loud. It would wake up the kids.

I tried changing employers once more for less responsibility. Of course, seven months later they would restructure and, again, I was supervising maintenance. This time, though, I had to energize a lax culture on top of upgrading equipment.

Again, my wife endured more late nights. My children acted out in my absence. Even after coaching my wife through five births, employment interjects itself between us.

The “Big Why” of copywriting for me is the understanding I can raise, not just have, a family out of the norm while making enough to support them.

It’s participating in my children’s education, not just putting them through a curriculum. It’s working in harmony with my family rather than fitting them in around work. It’s partnering with businesses that share my values rather than changing a corporate culture on my own.

Copywriting is the work that ties my dreams together as a whole.