How I found my career path

We asked some of our instructors how they found their way to their unique careers. Tariq, who teaches in our journalism program, shares his story:

Tariq Hussain. Photo by Nils Loehr.

I wear a variety of hats when it comes to my career: I’m a writer, a songwriter/recording artist, a university instructor and a radio broadcaster. It sounds like a lot of hats to wear, but actually, my roles are pretty connected. I should rewind the tape, though.

Back in the late 90s, when I embarked on my first “official" career in professional music, I had no idea I’d be doing all the things I’m doing now. Back then, at 27, I had a singular goal—to play music full time. Believe it or not, I actually pulled it off for a few years. I just worked on music and managed to pay the rent with a little help from my record label at the time. Then, in the early 2000s, the winds shifted. Napster blew into town, major labels lost their industry grip, and I found myself out of a record contract. So I dug out my barista hat (yes, another hat!) and went back to being an indie musician/local coffee-shop guy.

Thinking outside the box: From musician to radio host

That formula worked for a while—until it didn’t. Pushing mid-30s, I wanted out of the service industry. I started looking around for other job options, all the while thinking, “What the heck are all my years as a professional musician worth to anyone besides me?” Turns out, to the CBC, more than I thought! They actually offered me, the artsy-fartsy guy, a job. I went home, hung up my server hat, and packed my bags for Vancouver. I spent the next three years in the host chair at CBC Radio 3 talking on-air about Canadian independent music. All the years I spent alone in my apartment writing songs and sitting in the tour van were actually an asset when it came to talking about music on the radio or interviewing bands.

Fast-forward a few years to 2008 and the global economic crash. Over at the CBC, water cooler chatter quickly turned to impending job cuts. Rumble turned to roar, and rumours to reality. One morning, I walked into the studio to do a radio show and walked out with a white envelope and a redundancy letter. I sat at my desk and stared out the window while my co-worker sobbed beside me. She had a white envelope on her desk too.

When in doubt, learn something new

I drifted, anchor-less, for a few months until it hit me—why not go back to school? After some online research, I decided to apply to just one program: the creative writing master’s degree at UBC. Call it gut instinct. I could have applied to something with clearer job trajectories, but I didn’t. I felt motivated to become a better writer, so I scrounged up a portfolio, put my song lyrics on the top of the pile, and sent off the package. To my surprise, a few months later, I got in.

Turning art into a career

The next three years at the MFA program at UBC were brilliant. I found mentors, developed friendships, and learned about the craft of writing. As a student, I worked as a TA, and once I graduated, I turned my teaching experience into an actual teaching job.

I currently teach a class in lyric writing as well as a popular introduction to creative writing course. Being part of a department where your fellow faculty members are all working artists—be they poets, fiction writers, screenwriters, playwrights, graphic novelists and so on—makes for an inspiring place to be, and I feel motivated to continue working on my art. I am currently writing a collection of short fiction, a memoir and, of course, an album of new songs.

Feeding your soul as well as your pocketbook

“After all, what is living if you’re not feeding your soul as well as your pocketbook?”

When people ask me what I do for a living, I usually start by saying, “I do a bunch of things,” and go from there. Some of the things I do make me an actual paycheque and others don’t. It all counts as part of making a “living,” though. After all, what is living if you’re not feeding your soul as well as your pocketbook?

In this day and age, a lot of us will likely have a bunch of different careers until we find the one thing we really like. Or maybe we’ll do a few things simultaneously. My feeling is that all the work and all the life experience you gather over the years counts for something and makes you the well-rounded person you are. At the end of the day, if you can sit down at a dinner table with your multiple selves in multiple hats and have a stimulating conversation, great. If one of you can pick up the cheque, even better!

About the author

Tariq Hussain is a Vancouver-based writer, songwriter, teacher and broadcaster. In 2013, he released the Moonwalker EP, a collection of songs told through the eyes of multiple characters, including a stranded astronaut and a musician’s ghost. His musical career spans nearly two decades and includes a Juno nomination, multiple recordings and extensive collaboration, recently as a member of the Vancouver sextet Brasstronaut.

Hussain is currently working on a memoir about growing up as a first-generation Canadian kid who dreams of playing in a rock-and-roll band. It is tentatively titled
There Are No Pakistani Cowboys. Hussain is also a familiar voice on the CBC airwaves: He is known for his on-air hosting at CBC Radio 3 and contributions to programs such as North By Northwest, hosted by Sheryl MacKay.