Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Job/Money Conundrum

I was raised in a family that was an oxymoron of sorts when it came to the job/money relationship. My mom hated her job, but makes pretty great money. My dad – at that time – loved his job, but the orchard never did much more than break even. Regardless of these two parallels, both my parents encouraged me to study something that would lead to a job that I loved and would make me happy. I chose journalism.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I am not cut out to be a journalist. There are many reasons for this, but two stand out: 1) I’m am not a “sprinter”, and 2) I prefer to work for myself.
When I say I’m not a sprinter, I mean that I want projects and work I can sink my teeth into: multi-dimensional, thick and meaty, and requiring a long period of time and organization to get all the pieces to fit together. Journalism is about what’s in the news now, and how it relates to today’s world – in 500 words or less. This is also the reason that I am not a good freelance writer at all: I want to write books, not stories.
As for working for myself, my dad told me once (only half joking) that I would work for myself, like him, barely scrimping by and taking on the brunt of the workload alone. This was not an insult, more of an insight into my work personality, which I get from him. My brother, he said, would probably be the CEO of a company, rake in a bunch of money and manage hundreds of people. Chace is the social one, like my mom.
At times, I’ve thought that I could easily accept this idea of what my life would be. I’m sure that those times aren’t over; inevitably I will once again think that I will be perfectly happy living on very little as long as I can work for myself. There’s only one problem: I have things I want to do, and they require money.
As much as I can live on very little, I don’t like to. It’s not necessarily because of what I have to give up, more because of what I can’t have. The items that I want, however, are not the kind you can save up for when you’re living on your savings trying to be a writer. And here’s where the conundrum comes in: I want to work for myself, doing what makes me happy, but what makes me happy doesn’t make me any money. This blogpost by John Scalzi on writers and their financial situations really hit home for me. Even when writers are considered to have “made it,” authors’ incomes are far below most other professions. What constitutes “made it?” Two published books a year by a midlist author.
So, what to do? What kind of job can I get that won’t eat up my time – my most valuable possession – that will allow me to make enough money for the things I want? And just so you’re not guessing at what I want, here’s a short but succinct list: property, maybe even with a house, maybe even in a foreign country, and the ability to spend a lot of time there without having to hurry back to a job after 10 days.
So here’s the revelation, coming years later for me than it probably did for most people: I can’t have it all.
This doesn’t need to be as negative as it sounds. There are plenty of jobs out there that are longer shifts, less days of the week; that have summers off; that give more than average vacation time. There are businesses out there that I could start myself that would take up my time, but it would be my business and my income. There are surely jobs out there that I would love to spring out of bed to get to. The only problem is that I don’t know what they are.
I started off my year of writing in the end of January 2009. I’m less than three months away from that deadline, which doesn’t have to be set in stone. What is set in stone is the fact that I will run out of money unless I get a job. I can float by for awhile on some part-time jobs that help pay the bills, but I can’t do that forever, nor do I want to. Now is the time to think about it, though, not when there’s nothing left for me to use to start over. At least I’m ahead of the game in the thinking department.

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