Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Giving Up or Letting Go?

Recently a few people have asked me how long I will pursue self-employment before I give up and get a real job.  Not that anyone put it quite like that, but that’s the gist; how much longer will I continue to struggle financially pursuing my desire to work for myself until I realize that the attempt has failed and I have no alternative but to re-join the ranks of the gainfully employed?

This is a loaded question.

The people who have asked me have done so out of concern for my welfare; they see what the lack of a steady paycheck has done to my quality of life and my hope for a comfortable retirement, and they are worried about me.  I’m grateful for their concern, and my response (without thinking much about it) has been “another year”.  I tell them I want to give the new business venture time to work.  I think to myself that I want to finish the second book I’m working on and see if anything comes of that.  Another year seems like a good answer, and it has satisfied the questioners.

Even before I was asked about it point-blank I’ve wrestled with the question of how long I should keep trying.  Everything you hear from people who have made the rags-to-riches journey tell you to never give up, keep following your dreams, and one day it will all pay off.  Of course the romance of that appeals to me, and I can see myself on talk shows telling about how I refused to give up, even when it got really tough and everyone was telling me I should throw in the towel.  But I held on!  Doesn’t that make me a role model for all the starving dreamers out there?  It’s a great fantasy that I’m sure most people have at some point or another.  But it doesn’t pay the mortgage today, which is actually a huge problem.

If I was on my own, it would be much easier for me to just ride this out.  The irony is this:  the fact that I’m married both allows me to pursue self-employment and sets limits on it.  My husband has been so supportive and patient and has never pressured me to give up and get a real job.  When I see so clearly what he’s giving up in return for his support it makes walking this path that much harder for me.  No vacations.  No occasional extravagant dinners.  No golf at nice courses.  No “getting new” but lots of “making do”.  It tears my heart out to see him working so hard just to meet our minimum requirements.  Not that I’m not working hard – I am – and I do occasionally make money.  I’m doing everything I know how to do, hoping it will all pay off one day. But so far it hasn’t, and the path in front of me is as flat and unchanging as far as my eye can see.

So the question remains, hanging over me every day – how long is long enough?  How long is too long?  Has that time already come and gone?

And then I remember a big reason why I got into this in the first place; when I was laid off in June of 2010, there weren’t any jobs in Atlanta in my field.  The jobs that were available were mostly in Washington D.C. or Chicago, which means we would have to move, which really wasn’t an option at the time as we would have never been able to sell our house, and NO ONE was paying relocation expenses.  I do keep an eye on it, and the situation hasn’t changed much.  I would still have to move today.  Not that I wouldn’t consider it – of course I would.  But the process of finding a new job will take months – it isn’t like there’s all that many out there anyway.   It’s a niche job.

I do draw the line at taking a job I know I will hate.  I would rather be on the street than do that.  I’m just too old and life is too short.

The bottom line is that I have no idea how long I should keep going.  I don’t even know if finding a job in my field is actually an option – it is much easier said than done.  I do know this – my heart tells me that this isn’t over yet.  And I’ve decided to follow my heart.  My head just hasn’t figured that out yet.

Ask me again next year.

 

 

 

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The Status Game

On and off for years now I’ve dreaded it when people ask me “So what do you do?”  When I first was laid off, I was embarrassed to tell people that I was unemployed.  When I started ATB Meeting Design I was able to tell people about that, which was OK except that it is very hard to explain.  When I founded the How We Work group with a partner, I had to decide which pursuit I would use to define myself, based on who I was speaking with.  In the last few months, I’ve added yet another company, Moventus, to the list of professional pursuits.  Sometimes I let people know that I write meetings industry-related articles for an online magazine.  If they haven’t changed the subject by that time, I might mention that I have a book for sale on Amazon.  I don’t talk much about the blog yet – it seems like overkill.  I feel schizophrenic when I run the list, and I can see people’s eyes glaze over as I’m talking to them.  I can’t help but imagine they think I’m a jack of all trades, master of none.  It’s entirely possible that I am.

I wonder if we as a society will ever stop defining ourselves by what we do.  A dear friend recently told me that she has a job she loves but that it carries no status – meaning, people don’t respect her as a professional in her chosen field.  I had a job I loved that carried a lot of status, but as soon as I didn’t have that job anymore the status went with it.  In the blink of an eye I went from holding the keys to the kingdom to trying to melt into my plastic chair at the unemployment office.

Status is an illusion, but we all buy into it, pursue it, try to convince others we have it, and downplay it when we think we don’t.  I compensate for my lack of status by listing everything I’m involved in at the moment, because for some reason I still care what strangers think of me.  It’s hard wired into my brain to want to show to others that I meet the definition of “relevant”.  I would love to live in a society where I could say “I want to be a writer, but in the meantime, I’m doing all this other stuff to make some money” – and have that be not only acceptable, but what everyone aspires to do themselves.  There are people out there who want to pursue their dreams, but they’re afraid of losing the status they think they have.  They may admire someone else for taking the plunge, but there is a part of them that thinks that person is an idiot at the same time.

When I think about the people I admire, they are not the people with a lot of status according to society’s definition.  Most of them are artists who continue to pursue their calling in spite of the enormous struggles they face – no money, intermittent work, and sometimes, a lack of support from their family and friends.  I admire these people because they have the courage to keep going in spite of it all.  Sure, there are lots of heartwarming stories out there about artists that struggled and struggled and finally broke through – those people are easy to admire, because their struggle “paid off”.  Those are great stories, but I’m more impressed by people who struggle and struggle doing what they love who never “make it”.  Who do what they do because they can’t do anything else. They have never been “successful” in the eyes of most people, but they do it anyway, and they don’t care what anyone thinks.  The idea of that kind of life both attracts and frightens me.

It is possible that one day I will regain my status in the world.  For a long time I pursued avenues that I thought would result in me getting my status back, but it didn’t work out that way.  I’ve talked about that before, about how I’m now convinced that my motivation for doing something is probably more important that the thing I’m actually doing.  If that’s the case, then, here’s the paradox – I’ll only get my status back when I don’t care about it any more.  I can tell you for a fact that I’m not there yet.  I hope I will be one day; I just have to stop being afraid.

 

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Helping

When you get laid off, if you’re lucky like me, the people in your life want to help you.  Many of my friends and most of my family tried to be helpful in lots of different ways.  Some provided emotional support.  Others helped me craft my resume.  I asked for, and received, lots of advice about different courses of action I was thinking of pursuing.  One friend gave me a refuge to fly to when I needed to get away.  Others continued to reach out to me for advice, helping me to cling to the belief that, in spite of everything, I was still relevant.  Friends called me up to talk, or took me out to lunch.  Some made me laugh.  Some let me cry.  I am grateful to them all, as each of them played a part in keeping me from complete despair.

Just recently I had an unsolicited offer of help from someone I’ve just begun to get to know.  They were suggesting I look into a profession that fits my skill set; they suggested it because they thought they could be of some help starting me on my way.  It was kindly meant, and I appreciated the gesture, but after giving it due consideration (and discussing it with my husband) I decided that it wasn’t what I wanted, regardless of the potential financial upside.  My husband agreed.

This episode made me realize that I’ve come a long way since the early days, when I would pursue any course of action that presented itself, regardless of how I felt about it.  At the time, I had decided that I didn’t have a choice, that I had to take whatever came my way if it paid money.  I spent a lot of time and energy following up on the slightest possibility of employment, even if I knew it would crush my soul to take a job like some of the ones I pursued.  My heart knew it was wrong, and thankfully, for one reason or another, none of those jobs ever panned out.

I think I’ve finally reached the place in my life where I don’t have a choice but to follow my heart.  I’ve been down a lot of blind alleys, pursuing different ways of getting what I thought I wanted, only to come up empty.  I’ve looked hard at those attempts to try to figure out what went wrong, and I think I know now that my motivation was faulty.  Instead of doing work that fed my soul, I was doing work as a means to an end.  The work itself wasn’t bad in any way; in fact, much of what I accomplished I’m very proud of.  My heart just wasn’t totally in it – and I knew it.  I knew I wasn’t being authentic, and I feel like the people I was working with could sense it.  Sure, I’ve done work before that I didn’t give my heart to, and I was successful at it.  I think the difference is that now I’m doing it for myself – and there is no room anymore for self-deception.

So I’ve decided that whatever I do now, I must love it.   It must give me joy.  It must help others.  I can’t worry about how I’m going to make a living – that always seems to work itself out anyway.  I must have faith that being open and honest about who I am and what I want is the only path forward.  I have no idea where this path will take me, but I’m going to walk it anyway.  I might need help along the way, but my hope is that now I can be there for someone else who needs help.

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Begin Again and Again

When I was very much younger than I am now I used to think that at some point in your life you “mature”.  I understood “maturity” to mean that you had a pretty good grip on things, and that nothing short of a major catastrophe could impact the trajectory of your life.  When you became mature, I thought, you knew what you wanted, and even if you hadn’t achieved it, you knew how to go about it and that’s what you did.  A mature person didn’t question their life’s purpose.  A mature person knew who they were and proceeded confidently into the future.

I don’t know where I got that crazy idea.  I suppose it was from watching the adults in my life, who seemed to be so wise, and so stable.  I kept this notion of what maturity was until my parents split up during my senior year in college. For the first time in my life I began to see them not as my parents, but as individuals, with a whole life experience that had nothing to do with me.  For the first time I saw them as fallible, and vulnerable.  It freaked me out initially, but eventually it allowed my relationships with my parents to morph into the friendships I have with them now, which has been a great blessing.

I have started over many times already in my life.  I graduated college believing that I would make my career in the theatre, only to change my mind after one season of working professionally.  I thought I would go to law school, only to decide against it after a couple of years as a litigation paralegal.  I thought I would make my living in commercial real estate, only to walk away a year after finishing graduate school.  I thought I had finally found my life’s calling working for a membership association, only to have it snatched away in the blink of an eye.

So here I am, starting over again, and again, and again.  Until three years ago I was my own agent of change, and I’m still working to find the way forward.  I’ve tried a number of avenues; some I’ve abandoned, some I’m still traveling, wondering where they will take me.  I am not, according to my own definition, mature.  I am still beginning.  Every day I get up is a chance to be someone new, to get one day closer to finding my voice.  I keep catching glimpses of a bright, beautiful life that I know could be mine, but I’m not the person I thought I should be at this age.  I don’t see the way ahead clearly.  All I know is that I must keep trying.  And for now, that has to be enough.

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