time to make crullers

9/30/09

You know, when I made the offhanded comment a couple of days ago about the American school system’s 3-month summer vacation “allowing you to live somewhere else” if you had the means, the comments about my unwitting elitism struck an old chord. That particular chord, if we’re going to be honest about it, gets broken down into arpeggios that look like this:

a) I may have been under the poverty line for long time, but now that I have money I have utterly forgotten the way most of America lives

b) As someone who decided to forgo a “regular job” and instead turned to writing, I have very little understanding of the pressure – or even the benefit – of a day job

c) By living in ultra-liberal Chapel Hill, NC for 13 years, then ultra-liberal New York City, then ultra-liberal Los Angeles, I have almost no understanding of the thought processes of other Americans

d) By currently only having one child still in pre-school, I am patently unaware of how rigid life becomes when real school starts

… and so on. I can always offer rationale and spin yarns about how none of these are altogether true, but the fact remains: there has always been something intrinsic to my persona that says I’m “getting away with it” and, further, that getting away with it is annoying to those who aren’t.

In fact, there are so many things I don’t talk about on this blog anymore that it’s a testament to my frickin’ ego that I still think I have interesting things to say. Already I can’t talk about work, can’t talk about a number of specific people, but I also choose to omit a ton of other details about our lives because I just don’t want to deal with the judgment.

Tessa and I work very hard – each in our own way – to be successful in our current mode, which is writing for television and film. But it does offer us tremendous flexibility for travel, since we’re not required to physically be anywhere – as long as our computers plug in, our cell phones work, and there’s a decent shot at wifi, we could be salmon fishing in Labrador until the meetings start.

This is a choice I made a LONG, LONG TIME AGO. I looked at my weaknesses and strengths, and decided that I would be god-awful at a job that required my constant attendance from 8am to 5:30pm, unless it was something terrifically bizarre or a truly heartfelt passion. A few times, that did happen – in the early days of the internet, I was putting in insane hours and drinking lots of Jim Beam and loved it.

But that was the exception. For the rest of my 20s and early 30s, I was willing to be utterly broke with no health insurance, no steady gig, and constantly shifting fortunes, living in hovels with eight roommates and driving The Worst Cars in the World in order to maintain a basic freedom of schedule. In fact, I think “willing” is the wrong word – it wasn’t even an option. Doing otherwise was akin to death; hopefully a few of you know what I’m trying to express.

I had this life for a decade, until I’d built up a body of work (and contacts) that allowed our new gigs to bear fruit. I’m leaving out one major factor, naturally, but the basics are the same. I fought hard for this, both because we live in a country that doesn’t make it particularly easy on those who don’t get “real” jobs, and because I never really felt I had a choice.

And so I turn the question back on you. If you swallowed a truth serum, what would you say to this question: are you truly having the work life you wanted? I suppose the answers spread out like this…

1) Yes, it has challenges, but it’s basically awesome.

2) Sorta, but what I thought it would be is not exactly what it turned out to be.

3) Not really, but I have [insert reason here], so I’m stuck, and try not to think about it too much.

4) No, I fucking hate it, but lack the courage to do anything about it.

5) Actually, I’m able to compartmentalize work from my emotional life – work just makes money, and is a means to an end, and I don’t really get all of your emotional prissy-pantsing.

Or do you have a more interesting answer altogether? As always, you can be anonymous… I’d rather you write in secret than not write at all.

0 thoughts on “time to make crullers

  1. Neva

    Love my job. Love being a doctor. I have had to change positions several times to try to find the best fit for me specifically to allow for more predictability, not flexibility so much, of schedule.
    I am happy for you Ian that you can do a job that you love and do it on a flexible schedule. Most of us can’t do that because what we love to do just isn’t flexible. I can’t say to people “I don’t want to see you today because I’m going to sleep in” for instance. And, truthfully, I don’t want to. As much as you are a person who thrives in a flexible environment, I thrive with structure and predictability. My family does too. My kids would not do well if I worked 16 hours one day and 2 the next. We all love the 6pm family dinner, the nightly family walks, the routines, as I think most do.
    Honestly, sometimes I am jealous of your jaunts around the the country and your multiple homes but most times I think “God I’m glad I don’t have to pick up and fly here or there this weekend with my kids and pack up and unpack and keep up with multiple dwellings”. Some of us just weren’t meant for that kind of life.
    Also, I think, to be fair, I called you out on the other posting because it is one thing to enjoy your flexible life and wish you could have a different school schedule for your family, but to suggest that a shorter school day and long summer break is ideal without acknowledging the situation of most working families, did seem short sighted. The reality is, whether we like it or not, the great majority of us HAVE to work a standard schedule to make the world run. If the nurses and orderlies and maintenance men didn’t show up every day in the hospital where I work we’d be screwed. And, their children make up the majority of the kids in public school.

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  2. Megan

    Scenario #1 is the closest to my situation, which I realize makes me lucky. However, I work in an historically underpaid profession, and if I didn’t have a partner to share expenses with, I would probably be working two jobs to pay the mortgage. This makes me angry if I think about it hard enough.

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  3. jenx67

    you have such a big personality, and a loving wife and many interesting things to say. why do you care if people judge you? they always will, you know, even when you agree with them.
    i had a great career ride. 18 years in public affairs for the government. i’m now home with my kids, 2, 4 and 11. i enjoy the freedom, but i became a creature of habit. it took me a year to adjust to no desk; no window to stare out; no putting it all on the table for Boomers to take credit for. =)

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  4. Anne

    I like my job very much since it involves what I do well – writing and editing.
    But I also embrace your #5 to some extent. I was at a college career symposium once where an employment counselor told an auditorium full of wide-eyed female college students the reality about dream jobs.
    “It is a myth to think that you must make your living doing work that feeds your soul.” (She was urging the coeds — Coeds! now there’s an oldie — to consider high-paying tech and management careers, and write their Great American Plays on the side. That piece of advice (not intended for me; I was working the event) has stuck with me and helped me keep my wits about me when my jobs over the years have entailed doing administrative crap that cramps my style.
    It’s a JOB. It’s not my life. Are those whose lives and jobs are inextricably bonded more fortunate than I? I’m not sure. I can deal with it because, frankly, my job pays the mortgage and sends my kids to Catholic schools and private colleges; and I’m not at all miserable because of it.
    Also: Ian, you don’t need to defend your career and lifestyle here. We know you and Tessa work very hard and endure creative and deadline pressure that might overwhelm less gifted and motivated writers. I think most of us were simply pointing out that we don’t have the luxury of asking some of the questions you tossed out. I would LOVE to spend my summers in Italy, or even Vermont! :-)

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  5. CM

    Yes, you always have interesting things say, and not only that – they are things that sometimes create good in the world. They educate us, make us think, make us happy, and even introduce us to each other. I have been cheered up by this blog on many a day when things got really really tough for me. Thank you so much. I’m sure I criticize sometimes, but hopefully mine have been differences of opinion on a debate topic, not personal attacks.
    On the work question – I do have a pretty awesome job in journalism. I had to do gruntwork to become a boss, and it is certainly nice to have this responsibility. However, I also have headaches I didn’t have as just a staff writer. It’s all a trade but I feel that I still get to write, get to train young reporters, and get to put out a product that educates and helps people…so I have a pretty good job.
    Would I rather write novels all day and still make enough money to deal with family emergencies etc? Probably, but there would be other pressures and fears that went with that. I guess overall I am happy with what I do.

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  6. LFMD

    I agree with all Neva said.
    I fall into category number 5. I compartmentalize my work from my real life. I like working for a stable company which provides me with retirement and 401K options, paid vacation time, regular paycheck every two weeks, etc. I don’t manage people (I truly am not a people person), spend most of my time researching and writing, and I work from home two days a week. My work day ends at 3pm and I never work weekends. I enjoy it because there is minimal stress and I am able to have a balanced life. My husband’s work situation is similar — he has job security, great benefits, and his work day ends at 4:30pm. Our work is a means to an end — providing financially for our family and allowing us to live the way we want to live.
    We are happy with our work, but it took a long time to get to this point. I have done the big law firm thing and he did the self-employed attorney thing, and it was stressful and awful and did not leave time for much of a personal or family life. We are at a good place now, and for that I am thankful and grateful.
    Putting all of this aside, my true dream is to be a Day Lady. A Day Lady is what I call a woman who does not work and is free to pursue any and all interests. Many of the mothers at my daughter’s school fall into this category. I have always been jealous of the women I know who do not work, especially when my daughter was younger. It would have been lovely to spend all day/every day with my baby without a rigid daily grind schedule. Be able to be the class mom and volunteer as much as I would like. Now, I would love to be able to send my daughter off to school and then do whatever the hell I want for the rest of the day. Can you imagine? Having the whole day to go to the gym or pursue hobbies and interests, etc? It would be heaven for this corporate drone.
    Why am I not a Day Lady? Mainly because I don’t think that it would be fair to dump all of the stress of being the sole family wage-earner on my husband. That is not what he signed up for when we married. Also, it is important for me to be financially independent. Divorce is a reality for 50% of couples, and the idea of being a displaced housewife trying to re-enter the workplace strikes fear in my heart.
    So, in light of the fact that I am not independently wealthy and can’t realize my Day Lady Dreams until retirement age, I have to say that I fall into category 5. And I am content.

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  7. LFMD

    Forgot to say that I apologize for calling you out. I don’t always think before I write, and I need to remind myself that this is your blog and I am invited to the party to comment. There are more polite ways to say things, and I hate to think that my snark causes you to censor your posts. I love hearing about your life.

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  8. cathie

    love my job, love my job! being a priest is the best job in the world. even though it is huge long hours, i work weekends and all major holidays, i am always on call and it is sometimes really stressful, i still can’t believe they pay me to do this. every day i feel like i am doing something meaningful and make a difference. plus i know the most fantastic people ever and my whole life gets to be about joy.

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  9. emma

    Funny you ask on the second anniversary date of my current job.
    I worked for nine years in private practice – loved the work, loved the people I worked with. Once I had kids, I did not like the stressors of feeling like I was doing too many things and doing none of them well. Discovered my family was more important than work and discovered we had the means (eek!) for me to stop working and I did!
    One year later (to the date), I was recruited to work for county government as a staff attorney doing a job share (yes, a job share even in rural eastern NC – I didn’t believe it myself at first). And that is what I do. I don’t love the substance of the work quite as much as I did before, but love going to work 2-3 days a week, I really enjoy the people in my office and feel very fortunate to be in the situation that I am in.
    And a couple of days a week, I get to be a Day Lady, which is fun for a couple of days, but I wouldn’t like it five days a week.

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  10. Sean

    Here’s the thing. If someone called you a worthless drunk, you would just stare at them for a minute before smiling. If someone called you out for being cheap and ungenerous, you’d do the same. You would automatically assume that they either didn’t know you at all, or had you confused with someone else.
    I had a person once accost me, saying “everything you know, you learned from a book…” and I remember it because it was so patently absurd, she may as well have accused me of anorexia.
    It isn’t that people are bitter about your life of privilege, I think the real problem is that you spent many years rolling your eyes at people who suddenly found themselves with an un-earned fortune, and so you’re incredibly sensitive to even the slightest inkling that you lead a life of leisure. A mutual friend once said to us that “it’s impossible to live in New York without a car service 24/7” and we didn’t know what to even say to that. Now when you say “that three month vacation allows us to live somewhere else” there’s an alarm bell that goes off in your head that maybe you’ve become that person.
    You haven’t. The thing that separates the wealthy from the rich is that wealthy people don’t know where there money came from and don’t know how to make any more of it if it all disappears. So they cling to it, desperately, and bemoan taxes and hate freeloaders and are furiously awful tippers.
    Rich people have rich lives, shared with a lot of other people, where they give all that they have, they share their good fortune and yes, they’re easy with their money. And they can be that way because they know how to live without it, and they know how to make more if the money they’ve got suddenly disappears.
    A lot of people are gonna want to call you out for your perspective, but you’ve gotta figure out a way to say “you must be thinking of someone else”. The people who troll this blog and attack you for being an elitist… how can they possibly have any genuine joy in their lives? The people who are furious that their tax rate might go up so that the undeserving poor won’t die of the flu – these are just ugly, ugly horrible mean people, who are more interested in what other people *aren’t* doing with their lives than they are in what they *are* doing with theirs.
    If you get to the point where you’re censoring yourself more than you’re writing, then either cancel the blog or block the comments. You’ve got enough shit to worry about.

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  11. Bozoette Mary

    I like what I do; it can be fun and challenging. I’m not in love with it, but it matches several of my strengths and is a good use of my abilities. I’m not crazy about having to work in a cube and show up at certain hours and meet deadlines and everything that goes with any “day job”. I do feel a bit stuck – I need this paycheck and I need this health insurance. My husband is out of work presently, so my quitting is not an option. But I do separate my work and home life and feed my soul in other ways.

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  12. ms four

    Sometimes my job is one and sometimes two. I do have three days once in a while. But it really suits me. It calls upon many of my strengths and not too many of my weaknesses.
    What I adore about my job–which is subject to great caricature in the US–is that it brought me and my husband and two kids to Egypt for two years. Not my employer, but a new job in the same field. Here we have a full-time nanny/housekeeper (which we could never afford in the US), and my full-time schedule is 35/hours a week, so I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with my kids, especially since my house is already clean and my dinner cooked.
    And now yet another job in my field is going to bring me to Portland, Oregon, my dream city–the place I hope I’ll stay at least til my kids graduate from school. Despite having money to travel here, we’re looking forward to getting back to normal life in the US. I’ll have to work later, but we’ll have clean air, rivers, woods, parks, and lots of fun stuff for our kids to do (though climbing down into an ancient Egyptian pyramid was pretty fun).
    But as much as I enjoy my work, and as much as it suits me and reflects who I am, I also enjoy that I can almost always leave work at work at the end of the day.

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  13. kazoo

    ian, first, this is what i love about your blog. you write, people respond, and then we all think about it for a while. and often, you’re willing to delve deeper, expose more, and try to push us all to examine things we often just accept as reflexively as breathing.
    as you know, i’m at a moment of self-examination vis-av-vis the job, and i’ve calmed down enough to really appreciate considering it more rationally. i do love the people and the work itself. i don’t love the salary or the hours, really, or the muddiness of what growth means. but i’m thankful every day that i get paid to do something that keeps my mind engaged, exposes me to amazing people, and actually shapes larger experience out in the world (to whatever trivial degree).
    i’d love to get paid to do my art, publish more books, make films, run a think thank on sustainable products and commerce with friends, and generally have more time to drink coffee and read. but, for now, i think it’s more a matter of adjusting the amount of time i put into each area rather than scrapping the overall pursuit.
    anyhow, i’m late for superslow…which, thanks to starting my morning with this blog, is now another gift from ian. bonne journee, everyone!

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  14. Julie

    I definitely fall into #5. I fell into this job, heck even this line of work, by circumstance and contacts more than anything else (but backed by education and somewhat relevant prior experience). Do I love work, no, not really. Do I hate it, no, not really. There are good days and bad just like with life. However, I try to mantain an attitude of what happens at work, stays at work and what happens at home, stays at home (minor details for interesting stories to be retold are the exceptions). I get paid well relative to most, have a 401K, benefits, vacation time, and incredibly enough a fair amount of flexibility (no one is looking that hard over my shoulder). I can’t work from home, but you know that’s ok because I like (for the most part) the people that sit around me, and the trading floor is vibrant – it allows me to keep up with “life things” that I often take home with me–either to apply now or file for future use, especially when it’s kid-oriented information (call it the work-oriented “it takes a village” theory).
    If I didn’t work, we would not be able to send our kids to what I consider a fabulous school. Yes, it is private (but not Montessori), and I know I sacrifice many things to do this. But, the opportunities this school offers outshines the public option by miles. The class sizes are small, and the teaching mind-set does not focus on mundane memorization or busy work. The on-campus, after-school program is incredible – yoga, art, study hall (so no probs with homework), outside play encouraged, and “enrichment clubs” that rotate on a six-week basis. And, even if we can’t go live somewhere else for a summer, my kids are able to participate in some good enriching programs during the summer (ok, they’re mostly sports camps, but my boys are so much happier doing those kind of programs right now). To see my kids being happy and thriving is worth all the grumblings I may have about the job.
    Last point – Ian, I hope you don’t resort to censoring your words. I may not agree with everything here, but I still come back day after day. I love the fact that your life is so different from mine in its day-to-day events, but that globally there are many similarities.

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  15. jje

    I’m a SAHM, or a Day Lady, as LFMD puts it. And no doubt about it – I’m #1. It definitely has its challenges, but on the whole, it’s pretty awesome. I do have to remind myself how awesome it is when I’m feeling completely fried at the end of the day, after the eight millionth tantrum and wiping up other people’s various body fluids. A friend summed it up pretty well in her FB status the other day, “feels like all I do some days is sweep up behind the parade.”
    Perhaps it puts a bit of pressure on my husband to be the money-maker, but I know that we both feel lucky that I’m able to be here with the boys. I don’t think he would enjoy being a SAHP and I do. And to make our family life run smoothly, especially as the boys get older and become involved in more things, it’s necessary for one of us to have the freedom to drop everything and go, not to mention keeping up with the household side of things.
    I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m giddy thinking about next year, when G will be in school two mornings a week and C will do five days in K. Two whole mornings all to myself is just crazytalk! ;-) I’m in the middle of a serious bout of teething wakeups (usually around 3 am and 6 am every.single.night) and a very cranky baby, so I’m clinging to “this too shall pass.”

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  16. jersey

    I have vacillated between 1, 2, 3, and 4 over the past ten years, which tells me that I need to ensure that I continue working with my therapist.

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  17. Piglet

    I’ll go with #3. Being self-employed is rough, and I have to budget like a miser even during the good months, anticipating the months at a time when the income just doesn’t roll in…but I wouldn’t trade it for having a boss.
    Seems to me you’re doing just fine, Ian. Having money doesn’t make a bad person good, necessarily, but it doesn’t necessarily spoil a good person either. Just looking at the pictures you post from time to time of you and your wonderful wife and child I see the proof that you aren’t spoiled by success.
    It’s when people stop being mindful that they get at risk. You’re one of the most mindful people I can think of.

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  18. FreshPaul

    I’m a #1 most all of the time, but I can see that glacially changing…I think that’s due to the nature of my career evolving for the worse more than my own (d)evolution. I’m a history teacher at a large public high school, and I am invigourated by my work, am never bored, and enjoy the myraid challenges that come with interacting with 16 year olds each day…
    That being said, the best thing about my job is from 8-3 every day, in my room, with the door closed, where I have the freedom and have been granted enough professional courtesy (more than most schools, relatively speaking) to do my job as I see fit. However, the trend toward turning teachers into automatons striving for the lowest common denominator in the name of “equity” (however so twisted that is) will drive me out of the profession one way or another–either to a charter school or to academia or to waiting tables at a place where my tips exceed my current salary. The scary emphasis on “data” for data’s sake simply to placate business leaders is going to-and is starting to already in many places-continue to drive independently minded teachers away. I partially blame Sputnik.
    (great article in last month’s Harper’s on this, in defense of the humanities: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/09/0082640)
    My wife is in clothing design/production, and works for very little pay at a company she absolutely loves and believes in whole-heartedly. (shout out to Raleigh Denim…grab a pair or 9 next time you’re @ Barney’s). That being said, while we don’t make much money–and that our insurance premium for medical is 600/mo. with the state employee plan for my wife and I–we are quite happy with our lives. If my wife’s gig turns full time and stable, we’ll stay here. If not, we’re off to NYC to make it work.
    Neither of us have an ounce of regret so far and don’t plan on cultivating any soon, Italian villa or not. We chose this path and chose each other and can have and do the things that make us happy.

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  19. Salem's Little Sister

    I am a part time day-lady and a part time two year old pre-school teacher. Ben is in private school for TK and my little paycheck helps take the edge off of expenses. It would truly help out our finances( private school, bills and dook MBA payments) if I did work full-time, but thankfully we are making it with this set-up. It is nice to have some mornings to myself to run, YMCA, etc., but I’m also filling those mornings with visits to my grandparents and helping them out. If I worked full time, it would put more stress on my mom and her sisters to do those day visits. I am very thankful that my husband has a solid job that will provide for us and one that he truly enjoys(on private jet with Hugh McColl to Chapel HIll last week).
    My only real grown-up job before kids was absolutely a number one. It was my passion, love and joy and I would have done it for free. There is no way I could have had that job though(therapeutic horseback riding instructor) and been a decent mom. Those passion jobs seem to encompass all of your life and there isn’t a lot of room for anything else. I think once Ben gets older, I’ll go back to it, but for now I’m all his.

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  20. Ian

    Neva and LFMD, it sounded like I directed this at you, but I really didn’t – you all made very good points.
    Honestly, I don’t mind any criticism on the blog, it always offers a moment of self-reflection that is valuable. But in the larger picture, I will simply not tee up a slowball about my life for one of the meaner conservatives to blast out of the park. A blog is an extremely curated version, a selectively-pixelated picture of who we are, and there are certain aspects of everyone’s life that absolutely do not make the translation.
    I don’t even mind it for me, particularly, but I do want to protect my li’l family from some of it.

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  21. Annie H.

    Great blog today! Loving reading everyone’s thoughts…
    I’m so lucky to be a #1 all the way, after a very long and winding road of jobs: tutor, barista, hostess, waitress, manuscript reader (also a #1 job, but limited to part-time hours), yoga teacher, mitigation investigator in death-penalty appeals cases (difficult, but interesting and spiritually rewarding), creative writing teacher, Girl Friday in motorcycle shop (believe it or not, this list is chronological), I have finally ended at the world’s best job (for me): a spiritual hula-hoop teacher!
    I never, ever could have imagined how much I would enjoy this work, which I stumbled into utterly by accident. My bf and I travel all over the US & Canada (and soon, beyond) teaching hula-hooping as meditative movement, and though it has its downsides (being away from cozy home, friends, and beloved doggie too often, stress of flying & navigating unfamiliar places on little sleep) the rewards beggar description.
    Hands-down the most meaningful aspect of my job is witnessing people who have been trapped in danceless awkwardness for years–or decades–finally open up their bodies again and begin to physically express joy…I am getting choked up just thinking about it. I feel that what we do with the hoop is place a large, easy, swinging gateway into authentic movement before people, and then offer gentle but firm nudges that allow them to walk through and find the invaluable, simple, sweet healing that comes so easily through pure dance. Hoopdance is not a strict, forbidding, perfectionist dance form in which steps must be counted and memorized, and the body unnaturally torqued and twisted to achieve some abstract and external standard of beauty. Moving with the hoop is a smooth and easy path to finding rhythm and freedom in the body. The hoop is like a big training wheel, holding each dancer in a defined, safe and protected space that paradoxically offers a nearly unlimited range of expressive movement within. My job is to A) impart the fundamentals of moving with the hoop in the simplest and clearest way, and B) allow students to understand that they are free in their bodies, free to dance and feel good. I have been shocked by how deeply internalized our sense is that the body is made for work. I have been equally amazed by how the hoop gives people the crucial permission necessary to really let go and dance. I know our work would be a lot tougher without the hoop (and, certainly, Baxter and I wouldn’t be where we are now without the hoop anyway–even though I had previously considered myself un-repressed and down with all manner of wackiness, I had a long way to go. Fortunately.)
    Wonderful fringe benefits, too, of meeting all kinds of amazing people and visiting the most interesting cities–Chicago, Philly, Austin, San Fran, etc–regularly. I know how lucky I am. My intent is to honor the good fortune I have been blessed with by being fully present to our students, finding ways to open this door to self-healing even to people who feel very closed off from it. It takes attention and care to uncover new ways of reaching people where they are– having the opportunity to apprentice with one of the most gifted teachers I have ever met (my sweetie, Baxter) is the greatest gift of all.

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  22. cd

    I work for the top company in my industry in the greatest city in the world, and the thought of going to work every day fills my heart with misery. How’s that for numbers 3 and 4? It has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with purpose. We’re stuck in some bad timing on this, seeing as how we’ve got a wedding to pay for. Right now, I’m clenching my teeth on the subway, and sleeping as late as I can.

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  23. anon

    I’m late to the party as usual and as usual that’s because of my so-called job, which I truly HATE.
    Call me a 3.5. I do feel trapped and I don’t have the courage to do anything about it. Or maybe the better word for what I lack is imagination. I have no clue what I “should” be doing or could be doing that I’d hate less.
    To give you some idea how much I hate my job, every Sunday afternoon, a deep sense of dread starts to crowd out all my other thoughts and ruins my weekend. Dread of Monday morning and another week at my desk. Dread of all the rejection and the other negative emotions that make up my work week. Sometimes I start to feel the dread on Saturday. Sometimes it’s so strong, my hands actually shake. Sometimes I actually hide and cry.
    I’ve been doing this job for a few years. Before this job, I was seriously underemployed (but mostly content) for years and years. I had to get a “real job” to have a “real life” with a family. I went back to school and then couldn’t land a job in my field of study, but found this instead. It paid better than anything I’d done before so at first, even though I didn’t like it, it wasn’t that bad.
    Basically, what I do for 9-12 hours each day, 49 weeks a year, is call people who almost always don’t want to talk to me and sell them things they almost always don’t want, which was sucky enough when the economy was good. 45-60 hour weeks, constant stress, unending pressure to do more, more, more. A slightly toned down “Glengarry, Glen Ross.” At least commissions were good when the economy was good.
    Now that the economy has tanked, I do the same thing, but with extra stress and hardly any pay for the last 18 months. I love my wife and desperately want us to keep our house, so I keep doing it.
    I keep hoping that someday I’ll find a “calling” or at least something tolerable. Anybody have any suggestions on how to do that?

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  24. LFMD

    Anon – I totally get where you are coming from. I am very familiar with that horrible dread. My first job out of law school was so horrible that I would go to my car each day during my lunch break, cry for 30 minutes, then go back to my desk. I was so stressed out that I lost 30 lbs in 8 months — too nervous to eat or sleep. I eventually moved on to other jobs over the years, cobbling together a sense of what type of work I wanted to do. The fourth job after the crying-in-the-car job was at a large Baltimore law firm. Lots of prestige, lots of misery. I had a husband and a baby and was fired because I did not hit my billable hours each month. I wanted to actually see my family, not spend every night and weekend in the office. Getting fired led me to my current stint at the insurance company. I have been with the company for 8 years, and so far, so good. My hope is to retire from here, which in today’s corporate environment could be a pipe dream.
    I share all this to let you know that you will find the work you want. I remember with each hateful job thinking that I was trapped and couldn’t ever escape. Sometimes I got lucky with a job interview, and other times the decision to move on was made for me (getting canned), but there is always a way upward and onward. Keep you eyes open for job openings.
    Good luck and hang in there. It will get better.

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  25. Tabs

    I’ve read this blog for a couple of years and for some reason this post made me comment for the first time. I struggle with how I feel about my job. I am lucky enough to work at UNC. I’m an Associate Director of Student Aid. Sometimes I would answer #1. I am proud of being able to help students attend college who would not otherwise be able to. Most days I don’t mind going to work and some days I really love it. Is it my ideal job? No. I went to grad school after having worked in that office for a few years knowing that I wanted to go back into student aid. It’s challenging to learn and keep up with the many, many federal regs that constantly change. It’s also a feel good job. The other thing I love about my job is my situation and my boss. It’s very flexible and our director stresses that family must come first when needs arise. She’s very flexible with working from home, flex-time, etc. There’s a lot that is expected from me, but I’m given a lot, too.
    On the other hand, though, I have two young children (five and two). I am fortunate to make enough money so my husband can stay at home with them. My job situation is very flexible so that I can help at preschool (which is next door to my office) and I will be able to help with my daughter’s Kindergarten class, although not as much as I would like. I wish I were the one at home, though, much of the time.
    Although I find my job rewarding, it’s not my dream job. The problem is my dream job would require me to go back to grad school and would entail cutting my salary by half, at least. And that’s if I really know what my dream job is. I’m not willing or able to do that at this point. Once my husband goes back to work when our youngest starts school, then I hope to be able to go part-time at my current job. I will then get my chance to take the kids to activities and playdates. I count myself lucky that I do have a job that’s fulfilling and allows me to spend a lot of time with my family, even if it isn’t my “dream job.”

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  26. LFMD

    Oh, and to be clear, after all these years, I have settled for something tolerable that allows me to pay my mortgage and daughter’s tuition, squirrel away retirement, etc. What I do is far from a calling. I think that only a lucky few actually work = calling.

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  27. LFMD

    You know what? I don’t really want to be a Day Lady. My true dream, what would make me happy and joyful each day workwise would be to work with dogs. I love dogs. I would love to own and operate a dog day care center. I don’t have the means or the energy to start such a business, so Instead I compartmentalize my life and volunteer at the local animal shelter. Makes me happy but I wish I had the guts to realize my calling.

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  28. Joanna

    anon,
    I don’t know you or the complete details of your circumstances, so I’d be irresponsible to dispense advice, but please, please find someone to talk to about this. A therapist may help you identify options. Antidepressants may help you cope for now if options are limited. And there are a slew of personality/ interest tests (Strong Campbell, Myers Briggs) that could help you find that “calling.”
    Years ago, I was in an awful work situation (like LFMD, my first job out of law school) and I experienced Sunday dread, knots in my stomach and insomnia. I felt similarly stuck. My husband was still in grad school and we’d just bought our first house. I was lucky that after about 18 mos. a better position almost fell in my lap. It was only once I was in the new position and back to my healthy self, however, that I realized how paralyzed by misery I had been, very much unable to help myself.
    I think that such depression induced paralysis is common and encourage you to get the help I wish I’d sought. Life is too precious for the existence you’ve described.

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  29. anon

    Thanks, Joanna & LFMD. I’ll take your advice, Joanna and try some counseling.
    I guess a lot of people go through something like this. Maybe it’s easier to get through it in your 20s than when you’re pushing 40, as I am.
    But regardless, you’re right. Life’s too short.

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  30. bridget

    i think i could be a 1 right now. I’m not entirely sure because I don’t LOVE it…. but I do get to ponder really interesting questions and then go try to answer them. like… “what do doctors really think about health care reform?” “what kinds of cultural interests do ‘world citizens’ have?” “what is the definition of middle class in today’s world?”
    and i’m not working ALL the TIME. just 9-5. so that’s good because i want to see my 13 month old son.
    i also get to pursue my art in my spare time. which…sure, i’d love it if that was my full time preoccupation. but it can’t be because we need the 2 incomes, especially after buying a place in nyc. but, i get to pursue it on my own time and i’m happy about that. when i was actively pursuing photography jobs and building my work and portfolio as a photographer i was miserable because i was taking jobs i had no interest in. photography then became a job instead of my own creation.
    i’ve switched my jobs around ALOT over my working career. and i don’t think i’ll do this job forever either… i have thought about going back to school for an msw. i’d like to eventually be an ‘old lady’ using art and therapy to help people.

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  31. Jennifer K

    Right now I’m between 3 and 4. After working several years as a copywriter, making a decent middle class income, I’m back into the lovely world of temping. I’m currently temping for a large insurance company. The pay is decent, and I like most of the people I work with. But the work is tedious and sometimes stressful, and hardly fulfills my creative desires.
    Thank goodness I have my writing and other creative pursuits. But sometimes it’s not enough. I’m always blaming myself for my lack of success. I guess I never had what it takes to make it. I did very well in college but somehow it doesn’t translate into the real world. Yea, it’s very depressing.

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