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#308: I feel like I don’t deserve my partner’s support of my artistic dreams.

Dear Captain,

So here’s the deal:

I’m married, and living with someone who is incredibly smart and hard working. He has so many mad skills that he doesn’t even need to submit applications to get a job. By comparison I have a degree in something I realized (after 4 years) isn’t really my thing and definitely doesn’t do much good in the area where Partner and I currently live. I feel dim, drab, and generally useless by comparison (despite Partner’s instance that this isn’t the case at all).

I’ve spent the past year working (part time and unpaid) while hammering out a couple of novels. Partner says I should follow my dreams and not ‘settle’ for a job in something that is beneath my college-educated-self. He’s perfectly happy supporting me, and capable of doing so. 

Looking ahead now I’m torn between two reactions.

The first is a bit of a knee-jerk and goes something like:

HELL NO. I will not sit idly by and become your housewife* and make sandwiches while you work and do cool things with your life. I will go out and make waves and waves of money**

* I’m sure there are people who are perfectly happy as housewives (more power to them), but it’s never been a word I wanted to use when describing my future

**I don’t actually want waves of money, but it seems like a good way to prove to myself and others that I’m not dependent  

The second reaction goes something like:

The world out there is terrifying. I like it in my apartment, and I like writing and playing video games and if I could just pretend I’m a kid with no responsibilities for the rest of my life that would be great, k-thanks-bye.

(okay, so maybe they’re both knee-jerk reactions)

Am I totally crazy to be stressing out about all this? It seems moronic to feel miserable choosing between what most people would see as a multitude of positive options. My brain has convinced me that I don’t deserve to live happily without getting a real (grownup) job like the rest of the world. At the same time I don’t feel like I would be happy working a job I seriously dislike. (Especially when I don’t need the money that bad and really someone else probably needs it more and I’m just taking it away from them and they would do better at the job anyways **hyperventilate**).

I’m terrified that no matter what I do I will end up looking like a worthless failure in comparison to all the successful, awesome people around me. 

Should I stop being a good-for-nothing-leeching-bum and just get a job? Should I dedicate my time to getting published, even if it means depending heavily on others?

Sincerely,

Dependent and Unemployed 

Dear Dependent & Unemployed:

I (and you, and your Partner) really need your Jerkbrain to shut the fuck up and accept the love and support that is allowing you to finish novels (plural!). We also need you to spend the amount of time necessary to polish an promote your books and maybe get them published (!), and to stop seeing a supportive partner who wants you to pursue your dreams to the fullest as a problem.

[GIANT SOAPBOX]: I also need everyone to stop seeing certain jobs as “beneath” them, like, forever. Do you (not just LW, you = everyone) need a job? Will this job put food on your table? Then cool, do the job for as long as it works for you. Buy yourself some stability and an income and some pride in your work and some new professional connections or maybe even friends. Then, if there’s something else you’d like to be doing, look around for that thing. When I first moved to Chicago I temped a lot and took a lot of bullshit from my parents about how I was “wasting” my skills and my college education by doing work that was “beneath me.” Temping meant that despite the bad economy (small recession of 2000-2002) I was clean, safe, climate-controlled, fed, and housed. Plus it meant I was working only 8 hours/day and had time to exercise, cook good food, spend time with friends, go to therapy, and start pursuing artistic dreams like writing and working on people’s film shoots instead of being locked into 70+ hour workweeks like I had been in my more career-focused job in the past. Temping (vs. finding a “real” job) meant that I could start to heal my own depression and establish myself in a new city, and if people wanted to pay me for my spread-sheet wrangling or phone-answering skills instead of my nuanced knowledge of Eastern European affairs or the intersection of religion, politics, and pop culture that I studied undergrad, that was just fine with me (once I plowed through the giant pile of parental disapproval and shame and second-guessing myself, that is). Temping (+ a period of going easy on myself about career stuff and OMG ACHIEVEMENT for a year or two) meant my hair stopped falling out in clumps from stress and I had time to figure out what I actually wanted to do with my life.

Pro-tip: If you feel like the work is beneath you, people can tell that when you apply for the job and they don’t like it.

Pro-tip for parents of young people just entering job market: The economy sucks now and shit is different from when you were just starting out. Your kids’ generation is going to totally reinvent the world, but first they have to acquire some economic stability and power. Be patient and withhold judgment. They really are doing the best they can with what they have.

Pro-tip #3: Most people with Liberal Arts-ish degrees don’t use their degrees directly in the work they do, especially not the work they do early in their careers. The skills you use in early white-collar-type gigs are things like: Budgeting, project management, scheduling, writing reports, emails & memos, being able to run (&/or contribute to) a meeting, data management (from straight-up data entry to managing + presenting data), some web content writing &/or management, being an assistant (get the coffee, take the meeting notes, unfuck the photocopier, call around for vendor quotes, keep the files, order the supplies). You’re more likely to learn those skills in non-classroom activities like running a student group (theater companies/arts groups prepare you for corporate life like NOTHING ELSE, I swear), waiting tables, doing work-study jobs and internships, etc. than you are in class.

The idea behind a liberal arts (& sciences) education is that learning writing skills, the ability to construct and evaluate an argument, an understanding of logic, a habit of reading and critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, the ability to apply knowledge of one subject to another subject, an aptitude for analysis and understanding statistics, the ability to meet deadlines, the ability to evaluate theories against real world realities, the ability to trace an idea through history +  a working knowledge OF history, etc. will serve you well in almost any field and will become more and more useful as you advance and grow. At its best this kind of education is a beautiful exercise in becoming a confident learner who is self-aware and also aware of how much you don’t know. “Majoring” in a subject allows you to delve deeply into one field of study, but the idea is that you’ll be able to apply the process you used there to anything and everything else you find interesting.

Most of the time people don’t pay you to know a lot about Soviet Jazz (for an example of an obscure thing I know kind of a lot about from undergrad). Most of the time people don’t even ask you what your college major was, and unless you’re applying to grad school or a certain very specialized type of job no one will ever care about your GPA. Does that mean your education was “wasted” in terms of preparing you for a career? My opinion is that I didn’t need to major in “database software” or “unfucking a spreadsheet that’s been royally fucked by too many people twatting about in it” to understand how to do those things, and I’m personally glad I spent four years exploring intellectual passions and reading great books and learning to construct & deconstruct arguments before I had to do boring stuff in exchange for money.

I recently came across the following quote in a comment to a news article, and I lurve it:

“Let me make this clear to you: Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life — save only this — that if you work hard and intelligently, you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education.” -Attributed to John Alexander Smith, Professor of Moral Philosophy, Oxford University.

I think there is absolutely room for debate about how much or what kind of higher education is “needed” for certain careers, especially given the high amount of debt that people are taking on to go to college vs. the way that libraries & the web & collaboration are massively democratizing education and allowing autodidacts to shine. I think that there is a giant case to be made that a liberal arts education is a class marker and having a BA or a BS is a way of “proving” to employers that you “deserve” to have a white-collar, upper-middle-class-aspirational sort of job because you Fit In in a way that has little or nothing to do with actual skills used in said job, and I think it’s worth dismantling that a bit in the name of counteracting poverty and racism and helping disadvantaged folks truly have a leg up in our society.  As a counterpoint, I reject all rhetoric about reforming primary and secondary education that talks about “workers” rather than “humans” or “citizens,” and  I don’t think that poor students should be receiving education only in practical job-getting topics.  I think it’s disgusting to treat art and literature and history and music and scientific exploration as luxuries that only certain children in certain zip codes get to learn about.

For someone who is taking on massive debt because they want to invest directly in improving their economic lot in life, I realize that my privileged arguments about education-for-education’s-sake /there-are-no-guarantees aren’t terribly compelling when you really, really need that investment to pay off sooner rather than later. I think that higher education will undergo major changes (and parts of it will totally die off to be replaced by something new) in my lifetime and that skepticism about its value to you depending on what you want to do with your life is extremely healthy. But I really need to slay the dragon that “I majored in x thing but I’m not doing a job that directly uses x so somehow I have failed at/been failed by education.” If you’re lucky enough to acquire that higher education, it will be something that you use over your whole life in a way that is not measured (or measurable) by the job(s) you get immediately after college.

Also, can I just say, while we’re ranting?  Not everyone knows what they want out of the rest of their lives when they’re 18 years old and choosing a college major. It’s not a binding contract with WHO YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE FUTURE.  It’s normal to change direction and focus as you grow and learn. The value of a liberal arts (which includes social sciences, math & science and is the most recognizable kind of “well-rounded” university education in the US) is that it DOESN’T prepare you for one specialized career. A lot of careers today’s new grads will be doing 5, 10, 20 years from now haven’t even been invented yet.

[/GIANT SOAPBOX]

LW, you sound awesome and productive (novels! plural!) and also kind of depressed. Please go talk to a therapist about why you don’t feel like you deserve support from your partner in pursuit of your dreams, why your partner’s career success is due to “smarts & hard work” but why you feel that yours is dumb and lazy (again, novels! plural!), and why your brain is confusing Awesome Luck with A Problem. I don’t want to dismiss your problems – there is an actual giant problem in that your brain is being a big jerk to you in a way that I personally recognize quite well – but you do NOT have to feel like this. It is not normal, it is not anything you’re causing, it is not your fault.

Concrete recommendations:

  1. Seek out a therapist. Something’s going on with your brain.
  2. Since you don’t need a job, maybe look around for some volunteer work in your area. I think you could benefit from some contact with the outside world, from flexing your skills, and from feeling useful in some way. You need something that’s just yours and doesn’t come through or because of partner. That’s totally understandable and doable.
  3. Ask yourself “If I were serious about becoming a published novelist, what would I do next?” Make a list.
  4. Do the stuff on the list.
  5. Thank your partner in big ways (graciously accepting support and help) and small cool ways (awesome dinner, kisses, kind words, small acts of marital appreciation, taking good care of your mental health).
  6. When your shit gets published, come tell us about it so we can rejoice in your deserved success.

Much love to you,

Captain Awkward

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99 comments
  1. LW, I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been there.

    I draw comics for a living. I say “for a living,” but it doesn’t actually make me a living yet. In fact, it doesn’t make me much of anything, but for now it pays for most of the expenses it takes to actually do it. My husband is a brilliant, kind man who works for an engineering firm, and he makes enough money for us to get by comfortably. He’s told me many times that I should follow my dreams and do what I love and be happy.

    At first, I was absolutely guilt-ridden. I was just selfishly doing this Great Thing that wasn’t at all a People Job, that allowed me to stay home and draw all day and not bring in any money. And he was surely resenting me for doing this instead of becoming a Starbucks barista! SURELY! But no, he meant it, and we worked out a system to help deal with it:

    1) We split chores up, and we do them. My job is every bit of a job as his, so our chores are equal. I fold and put away the laundry he does; I cook dinner four or five nights a week. I tidy the apartment when it needs it. He helps me when I ask, and I occasionally do one of his chores if I feel like it, as a special gift.

    2) I treat my art job as a Real Job. Much of what I do during the day besides drawing is networking, researching, making business contacts, promotion, marketing, and budgeting. I force myself to work when I don’t want to, and put in the hours I need to. It really helps me not feel so darn guilty about it, because I own a motherfucking business, and I treat it as such. When you put in the requisite hours, it feels less like farting around and writing if you feel like it. Keep video games to short timed breaks.

    3) Thank him, like Captain said. Let him be gracious to you. This is a beautiful opportunity and you should feel free to grab it by the balls and go hog wild on it. You want to write for a living? You can! It’s awesome!! Accept his gift to you and let him know how much you appreciate it. And then show him how much you deserve it by running the distance and more with it.

    Therapy will help you accomplish that last one. It takes guts to follow your dreams. But you can do it! We believe in you, LW!

    • JenniferP said:

      Recommended reading for you (and LW): Mary Gordon’s Spending. It IS unusual & complex for female artists to have their work supported the way men have been funded/supported/patronized/wivelihooded along all these years.

      LET’S FIX THAT.

        • JenniferP said:

          Thanks! If history remembers me at all, it will probably be for weird compound words like Jerkbrain, Feelignsmail, and Wivelihood.

          • Stephanie said:

            Which, by the way, what was the compound German word for ignoring something an artist has said so you can enjoy his work? Sounds like you may have gotten ideas – what were they?

          • shadowedge said:

            I recently taught a friend about “pantsfeelings” to help her describe why she didn’t like kissing a nice-but-not-like-that guy. It was very helpful, by all reports.

          • matthewjames123 said:

            And pantsfeelings. Don’t forget that one.

      • Oooo interesting! Thanks, Cap!

    • Zyn said:

      I would like to say that the jobs that seem like the most “real” and “productive” and money-earning, like doctors, lawyers, etc. etc. — are similar to artist jobs like writers, comic makers, painters, and other creative things, in so far as you have to train for YEARS and YEARS to get the amount of experience and skills necessary to make a living doing either type of job. The difference between the two types of jobs is that usually the schooling and training involved in becoming a doctor or lawyer or engineer is much more structured then that of creative types. You can go to school for art and writing, but there is no ten-year plan to graduate and become a surgeon.

      So, even if it doesn’t feel like you’re “contributing” or making a living off your work yet, just work hard at Doing your Thing! It may take you a while to get to the point where you can make a living wage, but that doesn’t mean you’re off lollygagging. By doing your passion, you are learning to be experienced enough in your passion to get paid for it.

      • Adelene said:

        This is an exceptionally good point!

  2. Calypte said:

    I love your advice here, Captain.

    LW, your train of thought, though different in its specifics, is also quite familiar to me — and somehow it is easier to recognize in others that it spells out Really Low Self-Esteem and/or Depression, and that these thoughts have very little relation to what is actually going on in your life. Which isn’t to say you’re over-reacting or that there is no problem here! But like the Captain says, your problem is not your life (your situation is fine! Your spouse sounds great!), it is your Jerkbrain being jerky. Which really sucks. But therapy, it is awesome.

    Good luck with the writing and getting published!

  3. LW, I see where you’re coming from here, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with, that feeling of guilt. I don’t have a steady office job. I have a place in my family where we contribute and support each other in what ways we can; it’s not the most glamorous situation ever, all of us in the same house together, but it works for us. My mother has been supportive of my writing even when I felt I didn’t deserve it. At times, I feel a lot of guilt about not rewarding that faith soon enough or fully enough (I am in a very close relationship with my shame monster). But getting bogged down under that guilt doesn’t make anything happen. The Captain is right–eat the sandwich and accept the support. Do what you can to reward it, even if your contributions aren’t financial, and try to *enjoy* that support (which can be hard to do, yes) so that you’re moving forward from a place of joy and good feeling and nourishment.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I was a French/Spanish double major. I had something of a breakdown my senior year (writing papers in three different languages will do that to you), and did not, in fact, go on to do any of the things I (and other people) expected that I would do. In fact, I dropped out of life generally for a year, then went to grad school for a few years, and didn’t even finish that. I didn’t become a translator. I didn’t go to the fancy creative writing program. I treasure the background in literature and linguistics and history that I got from that education, and I’m glad I have it, even though I didn’t become an interpreter for the UN the way my mother had started hoping. All of that prepared me for doing what I actually love–writing, like you.

    Interestingly, I’ve had some internship/work study-type jobs, but the only “real world” corporate job I ever had was… video store clerk. And you know what? I learned so much about customer service and, thereby, dealing with people generally from that. I still use what I learned there every day, in moderating various spaces online and keeping them civil and friendly for people; I use it in the real world to get along with strangers even though I’m shy. Everything is valuable.

    • JenniferP said:

      Artmaking is “selfish”, right? And women aren’t supposed to be selfish (unless we’re buying stuff to make us pretty), we’re supposed to take care of others. So there is this extra mental block we have around artmaking and selfishness, I think. The LW is not wrong to pick up on it.

      But I want to stab that whole social construct and idea through the heart and then kill it with fire. Everyone who has been successful in pursuing a dream has gotten support, material and otherwise, from other people.

      • Emma said:

        Everyone everywhere gets support from other people! Even someone with an incredibly straightforward career path from kindergarten to mediocre actuary got a lot of help along the way from family, friends, teachers, baristas, you name it.

  4. just this:

    You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.

    http://therumpus.net/2011/05/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-72-the-future-has-an-ancient-heart/

    • JenniferP said:

      Yes, I love Dear Sugar and love that particular essay of hers to bits. Thanks! Very relevant!

  5. belle said:

    LW, I have labored for years under the impression that the only way for me to be Good Enough would be to follow this path: 1) Major in something badass; do approximately 10,000 extracurricular activities in college. 2) Acquire one of a short list of acceptably badass, high-powered jobs, directly using the knowledge I gained in my badass major and the skills I practiced in my 10,000 activities. 3) Become the best there is at that job, bar none. 4) Change the world by virtue of being the best there is at my amazingly badass job. 5) Receive endless praise, which is how I will know for sure that I am successful.

    I’m about 2 years out of college now. I did major in something badass, but it wasn’t particularly marketable. I didn’t do hardly any activities in college because I have this perfectionism/procrastination brain thing that makes schoolwork much more time-consuming and stressful than it needs to be. I did have a pretty badass job for a while, and I was good at it. You know what, though? I realized that I don’t actually like having a desk job where people tell me what to do and I have to conform to their expectations of what kind of person to be or what kind of work to do, even if the person they want me to be is pretty okay and the work they want me to do is awesome.

    Like you, what I actually want to do is write. Unlike you (it sounds like, because two! novels!), I have that perfectionism/procrastination problem that I need to work on in order to do the kind of writing I want to do. But recently something changed, and I suddenly felt really ready to do the work of writing. I let go of the idea that I have to be A Writer, already, for it to count. I also let go of the idea that the way to be Good Enough is to have a prestigious, college-major-relevant job, mostly because I had that and it wasn’t good enough. I also remembered that the most enjoyable and fulfilling job I ever had was in independent retail, while I was in high school.

    Finally, I decided that what I actually wanted to do was move away from the Stressful Big City where I was living, get a job in retail, and spend some quality time proving to myself that I have the discipline and the wherewithal to write. I’m only in the beginnings of implementing that plan now, so I can’t report back on how well it’s going. However, I can tell you that it isn’t settling. It isn’t beneath me. It’s exactly what I want to do and I’m proud of myself for making this plan and going through with it.

    I completely understand not wanting to depend on someone else for your livelihood! I think that’s something that comes with our particular brand of capitalism in America (if, indeed, you are in America, but I can’t speak for anywhere else): this idea that we are each entirely responsible for ourselves, that depending on or even cooperating with other people is shameful, and that our worth is determined by the job we get paid for. So I get that anxiety, but I also strongly suggest that you experiment with ignoring it for a while. If that’s scary, think of it as a short while, maybe 6 months or a year. See what happens.

    I think what you need is to get to that place I got to, where you realize that what you really WANT to do, what MATTERS to you, what is BEST for you and is the best expression of yourself as a person, is to write. It is not only okay but honorable and badass to pursue that, and support your writing with the rest of your life (your husband, his income, your part-time jobs) however makes the most sense for you. I think that accepting this path for yourself will ultimately be not only freeing, but lead to a sense of purpose that is stronger than your drive to be “successful” in a “real” job that you hate.

    Good luck. I’d like to think we’re in this together.

    • GemmaM said:

      If perfectionism stops your writing from going, then you may like this quite from Ira Glass, assuming you haven’t seen it already:

      http://vimeo.com/24715531

      • GemmaM said:

        “quite” = “quote”, gaah

      • belle said:

        I do love that Ira Glass thing. The first time I saw it I was like, “… OH.” And I could see how it was true from other creative things I’ve done — I played a musical instrument as a child, and I remember hitting that place where I’d gotten good enough to tell just how much further I had to go! Luckily, I had a teacher at the time who told me that the reason I thought I sucked was that I was actually starting to Get It. It’s always good to have a reminder, though. Like, ALWAYS. So thanks!

    • That 5 Step Plan (Full of Shit) is what is taught to you at most major private universities in the US. Just saying, if you want to go down that road, be prepared for the Guilt/Shame party you’re about to have. I wasn’t ready for that, even though I did okay in university. It’s something even really smart and talented people struggle with, too, because it is the academic culture of Mythical Competence.

      • belle said:

        Full of Shit is right. That’s why I’m getting the hell off that road! I’d even make the argument that smart and talented people struggle with it at least as much if not more than other people, especially if they’ve been told since childhood that they’re Smart and Talented. That guilt/shame party is hard to leave, even once you realize that everyone there is bitchy and too drunk to be fun anymore.

        • Britt said:

          Not only is that guilt/shame party SUPER tough to leave, I think a lot of us end up building so much of our identities around being the Successful Honor Student and Talented Whatever Destined For Great Things. I spent basically from age six to age twenty-two being Honor Student and Performing Artist Britt and when I burnt out on school due to a crap load of financial and personal problems and the attack of my interesting brain chemistry and realized that the horrendous stress and crazy lifestyle of being an opera singer was just not going to work for me, no matter how much I love it when I’m on stage, it was REALLY hard to rebuild my self-image without those pieces.

  6. tinyorc said:

    “I’ve spent the past year working (part time and unpaid) while hammering out a couple of novels.

    “… while hammering out a couple of novels.”

    “WHILE HAMMERING OUT A COUPLE OF NOVELS.”

    LW, that is awesome! You already approx. 500 miles ahead of 90% of people who want to be writers (myself included.) I am sort of baffled that you mentioned this huge achievement as a throwaway comment! This is a huge achievement! Well done on your huge achievement! There are so many people out there who are “pursuing their artistic dreams” by lying around the house and procrastinating and making excuses, while feeling perfectly entitled to being supported by someone else because, you know, Art. You are not one of those people! You work hard at your art, you treat it like a day job and you do not assume that financial support from your partner is a given. And that’s a good thing, we should never take financial support for granted and it’s good to question if you are happy with that arrangement from time to time. But in your case, I think you should allow yourself to be happy and secure in the knowledge that Partner wants to facilitate your art because you are awesome at making art! He wants to support you because you are dedicated and driven when it comes to achieving your artistic goals and you’ve given him every reason to believe in you!

    • I have to agree with and piggyback on this comment, here. You’ve written a couple of novels already. Congratulations on your momentous accomplishment! That is not only damn hard to do, it’s proof that you have the drive to get it done. Half the job, right there.

      Also, as you can see, you’re not alone; this is my story, too. That guilty sense of, “me and my work aren’t good enough to be supported,” is a strangler of dreams.

      • misspiggy said:

        Yes, and I too have to agree and piggyback on both these comments. A couple of novels is huge. Just because this achievement may not yet measure up to your enormously high standards (five published novels? A Pulitzer prize or two?) that doesn’t mean you won’t achieve your standards in time. And even if you don’t achieve your enormously high standards, but keep writing and get published, what you do is likely to be more than enough to establish you as a Really Good Writer in the eyes of the rest of the world.

        Every piece of work I’ve ever done has been terrible in my eyes. The only thing keeping me going was getting paid so as not to be thrown out on the street. And then somehow I am a global expert on Difficult Things, and people quote my work and use it to make life a little bit better for other people. Sometimes I can bear to read my work, years later, and realise that it is actually OK and not a pile of garbage.

        If you have the chance to pursue something you want to be good at, do it and try not to listen to your jerkbrain. You will make other people’s lives better for making art and getting it to them. (Not that women should have to use the justification of making people’s lives better to choose a career, but sometimes it helps when the jerkbrain is rampaging.)

  7. Mercy said:

    I have no advice to offer, but I’m going through some similar mental convolutions regarding my exploration of art and the fact that I love painting and drawing and have discovered that I seem to have a talent for it and would like to do it “for reals” i.e. professionally, someday. And I sooo don’t want a “career” in the sense that a lot of people use the word. (I was talking to an acquaintance once about wanting to find a part-time job, and she looked shocked and said ‘you can do better than that, you could really have a CAREER, I could help you get started with that’ [subtext: by teaching you how to look/sound like someone who could be an executive like me, never mind what you want to do/live like]) So I’m really looking forward to the rest of everyone’s advice, too, and meanwhile would like to offer a little solidarity, maybe?

    Also Respect for the Two! Novels!

  8. Emily said:

    My jerkbrain likes to remind me of its whole list of luck and privilege I’ve had in my life, and ask me why I’m not living up to some jerkbrain-invented obligation to have a totally amazing world-saving career because of that. I end up reminding myself that I was offered a certain number of dollars to do the job I have now, so I do it, and they pay me. I don’t have to go back every day and re-earn good health, or a college scholarship I got years ago, or the good timing that got me the job before the recession.

    So as much as I love the Captain’s response and the other comments here for adding context re: gender relations and the purposes of education, it helps me a lot sometimes to de-contextualize and just look at your discrete task & what you’re working for: there is some income and a big sense of accomplishment that you can get by writing a good novel, so your job is to work hard on your writing and earn those rewards. When a publisher rejects something you send them, it’s not a comment on the worth of your degree or your husband’s confidence in you or the whole feminist movement that let you write instead of being in the kitchen. If you start working thinking “how will this novel EVER live up to my awesome husband’s love and support, and the privilege of getting to write full time?”….well, a novel, or any job for that matter, can’t do that, so don’t let your jerkbrain ask it to.

  9. The idea behind a liberal arts education is that learning writing skills, the ability to construct and evaluate an argument, an understanding of logic, a habit of reading and critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, the ability to apply knowledge of one subject to another subject, an aptitude for analysis and understanding statistics, the ability to meet deadlines, the ability to evaluate theories against real world realities, the ability to trace an idea through history + a working knowledge OF history, etc. will serve you well in almost any field and will become more and more useful as you advance and grow. At its best this kind of education is a beautiful exercise in becoming a confident learner who is self-aware and also aware of how much you don’t know. “Majoring” in a subject allows you to delve deeply into one field of study, but the idea is that you’ll be able to apply the process you used there to anything and everything else you find interesting.

    This is a really beautiful–and true–explanation of the value of a liberal arts education. (It also applies to studying a natural science as an undergraduate, even if you are not going on to become a scientist in that field.)

    • Bev said:

      And anyone who is writing anything longform besides their dissertation is miles ahead of us “useful” subjects. I have seen Maths students try to use words. It is often painful.

  10. Red Shift said:

    To touch on something outside of the degree issue: Part of being married is the constant give and take. Its natural for one spouse to support the other when the other is trying to figure things out. Somewhere down the line, this balance will switch and roles will be reversed.

    You are not being a leeching-bum!

    I do not have a degree in the arts, I have degree in psychology, but I honestly don’t see the difference. Its means to an end. My husband helped me through grad school (akin to your creating phase of writing books!) so I could pursue MY goals. Now, our roles are in transition: as I begin looking for my “big job” he is considering going back to school and changing his career to something new.

    Sure, there were times when I felt guilty he was paying my car payments and buying me food, but I always reminded myself that I would NEVER feel bad doing the same for him. When he needs me to take over the bills, I am prepared and willing (and have slowly been doing so already)! In fact, I am encouraging him to go back to school because I am not happy when he is not happy!

    If your husband is willing and happy to support you through this, don’t feel bad!! You will get to return the favor many times in many different ways throughout your marriage. That’s the best part of having a partner, you have someone to weather the ups and downs with you. If you want to pursue your writing and playing of video games, DO IT!! If you want to find a job to be out of the house and work on your building your resume, DO IT!

    • I agree with this comment. It is wonderful that your partner wants to support you, LW, and I think you should take yes for an answer. I also think you should do lots of communication and negotiation about this new relationship deal before it starts, and consciously put measures in place to make sure your relationship still functions as a partnership of equals. I’ve been in this situation (on the other side) and it can be surprisingly tough even when the earning partner is supportive.

      • Sorry, I meant to add some examples of things I wish we’d talked about:

        Do you currently have joint bank accounts? Because you need to come up with some way where you have access to money you can spend without scrutiny of every penny. Having to ask for money because you need new underwear or to meet a friend for lunch really sucks. In this regard, there is a surprisingly big difference between earning much  less than your partner and earning nothing at all. It’s not just that they pay the rent and bills – it’s that every cent comes from them.

        What, if any, expectations will change in your relationship? Will you do more around the house? If so, will you still have enough time to write? 

        Will your sleep schedule be completely changed? How will that affect your time together?

        Will he accept that you are committed to this even during times when you don’t get heaps of writing done every day?

         How long do both of you envisage the new arrangement will go for?

        It’s not that I think you need answers to every question, but I think it would be great to kick this off with a full and honest discussion about how it will work.

        Happy writing, LW.

        • JenniferP said:

          I like these practical suggestions for actually hammering out an agreement.

  11. siobhanmkelly said:

    The question *AND* a large part of the answer really hit me hard. I am in a similar position in that my husband is supporting me while I look for work, and I HATE it. I married an Austrian, and moved here under the assurance that there were SO MANY English-speaking companies. And there are. But my career path has been secretary –> executive assistant, and the managers/engineers/architects/lawyers/bosses may get away with only speaking English, but from what I am seeing, the secretary level has to speak German as well.

    The Captain\’s answer about \”beneath me\” hits me really hard, because I waited tables for years and would have been happy doing that… but for waitress here the MINIMUM is English and German, at least one other language is usually required! So I am in a position of either no job or a cleaning job. It\’s not that I think \”I am better than that,\” it\’s that I *DID* amazingly shitty jobs and finally got to a place where I didn\’t have to do them anymore, to find myself right back there.

    LW, you are DOING SOMETHING. You are PRODUCING something. That is AWESOME.

    But also? To be safe? Maybe get a part-time job? That way you might have time to write, AND feel like you are contributing, AND, in worst-case scenario, and your marriage ends, you have a little nest egg that is just yours?

    K, I am spewing my thoughts, so I\’ll sign off…

  12. Annie said:

    What follows is a *massive projection*, because I’m in a position of having to go back to the job market after 8 years, my high-earning, initially supportive prince having turned into a frog with Teeth Like This.

    A job you don’t want and don’t need really isn’t necessary for you to be a functioning grown-up. However, for the sake of your sanity and self-respect, you’ll need to make yourself and, crucially, your husband treat your writing like your grown-up job.

    You need to protect it, just like a job. When you’re writing, you’re not running to the store, or doing dishes, or making sandwiches, or going on errands. Neither are you playing computer games. You’re doing your job, like a grown-up. When you work from home – be it writing, or coding, or doing whatever people do from home – people in your life are tempted to see you as a homemaker. Well, you’re not – you’re a writer. Who writes stuff, and can’t do home things until the writing work is done.

    In addition, I wonder if you’d find it rewarding and less terrifying to do some volunteering in your spare time. (You probably won’t write for more than 4 hours solid a day, that would be super-human, so there’ll be spare time.) If you have a volunteer job, you’re not taking work away from somebody who really needs it, just the opposite. Also, you’ll be getting out of the house, picking up inspiration and keeping up with the outside world, and also keeping some things on your resume in case, some time from now, you decide you want to go back to work.

    Good luck!

  13. Not Too Proud To Work said:

    “I also need everyone to stop seeing certain jobs as “beneath” them, like, forever. Do you (not just LW, you = everyone) need a job? Will this job put food on your table? Then cool, do the job for as long as it works for you.”

    Captain Awesome, you live up to your name yet again. My mother always said “All work is honest work,” and it really helped me during those crappy years I worked at 7-11 in order to make university happen. I have always worked whatever job I’ve needed to in order to survive and that work ethic has always served me well.

    Good for you for getting on that soapbox – the world needs to think more like you!

    • A well deserved soap-box. My friend (artist/photographer) is in a similar situation to the LW. She has a loving, ridiculously well employed partner; they’re extra lucky and live near his family. She’d doing a part time job to get out of the house and have money that is her or that she can at least contribute to chipping in towards rent and groceries. She focuses on her art and networking a lot of the time, and if the relationship with your partner is healthy, I’m think this is how things might work out. I’d only be concerned if the partner starts to treat your art like it’s not a real job. Bestest of luck writing novels!

  14. JfC said:

    I really needed to read this right now. After a year of job hunting and interviewing for awesome jobs but being continually passed over for people with “more experience” (seriously, this article: http://qualitydigest.com/inside/quality-insider-article/why-good-people-can-t-get-jobs.html really shows how organizations and companies are utterly failing the next generation), I finally got a job at a Subway this week. My fear is that that sort of work will sap my time and energy and make it impossible to get somewhere else (I’ve seen that happen to a few people in my life), but it’s manageable because I’m working towards other things. I have goals and dreams and this job will give me the money to get there (and if it interferes too much, I can go part time). I have a List for my goals and I have deadlines for each item. I’ve been down on my future for a long time, but with my partner’s support I’m optimistic about the future.

    • JenniferP said:

      Well, let’s talk about what it means for a job to be “beneath you.” If you think that, at a certain level, you must think people who work those jobs are also beneath you. It’s a pretty disgusting attitude to carry around. I had it when I was waiting tables in high school and college (I was going to get the hell out of there and didn’t care who knew it, including career waitresses with family responsibilities who really needed that job) and I’m so, so ashamed of that attitude to this day.

  15. TR said:

    If you’re not already doing this, it may help to start treating your writing like a traditional job – set aside an “office space” then set hours for yourself – I have to write from 8-5, or 9-5, or midnight – 6 or whatever – and stick to them. Do things on your lunch hour or afterhours, dress appropriately for the office if that helps – just act like your writing is an office job. Clearly you are disciplined and productive, but it might start help solidifying it as a job in your head if you dress it up a like a traditional white collar job. Set goals like the Captain says and hold yourself accountable. (You’d be surprised how many successful authors do this!)

    Also, start asking people in their 40s and 50s what their undergraduate degree is and what they do now. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many people have jobs that have nothing to do with their degree.

  16. White Rabbit said:

    “I think there is absolutely room for debate about how much or what kind of higher education is “needed” for certain careers, especially given the high amount of debt that people are taking on to go to college…… I think that there is a giant case to be made that a liberal arts education is a class marker…”

    And here I thought you couldn’t possibly be more awesome! Thank you for the entire paragraph that those excerpts appear in. I agree 100% and am thrilled to see you bringing this up in a forum that includes many more wise people who I believe will take it to heart. My attempts to share these ideas with friends and other online forums over the last couple of years have, frustratingly, been met with very negative and dismissive reactions. It’s my opinion that the sooner people are willing to start re-examining the current structure of higher education and the assumptions attached to it, the sooner we can start to make meaningful reforms that will allow everyone who works hard and applies themselves a genuine chance at success in their chosen fields.

  17. Mary said:

    More a fellow-feeling sharing a story than advice, because sometimes those help too. Well, I hope so.

    My husband and I have been together since our late teens. With the exception of a stumble at university (he took a while to finish it) he has had the Approved Adult Progression: university, white collar job. He is one of very very few people I know who has always worked a 9–5 salaried job since he graduated. (Probably an important note there: it’s kinda rare!) Last year he received a job offer where we blinked and ran the numbers and it appeared that I never need to work again.

    My path has been kinda different: I worked for a short time then traveled, then worked for a short time, then went to do a PhD, then had a child before completing the PhD, then went back to it and also tried to start a business at the same time. This can seem somewhat formidable as a resume (educated entrepreneur parent!), but it’s also not a very good story from people whose POV prizes stability and adulthood (I chop and change all the time).

    Anyway, we talked about this some (over years in fact) and came to the conclusion that an advantage we have in him having a (presently) stable career and good income and basically liking it that way and not wanting to, eg, pursue his own business or a creative career or similar means that I have the ability to take some risks and that I should take advantage of it, being a more risk-taking person.

    So maybe that’s one way to think of it? That you and he are lucky to be together in a position to organise your finances* so that you can take a non-traditional path? That it’s something of mutual adventure? My husband would hate having a career path like mine, but he likes helping with it.

    The Captain’s concrete steps sound awesome. As does having written multiple novels. Good luck!

    * Almost every couple ever has somewhat different incomes and in couples where financial subsidising of lifestyles goes on, which is many of them, some find it very helpful to think of it as “our money, which we save and spend by mutual agreement” rather than “the money that the higher income partner generously shares with the other partner, isn’t higher income partner wonderful?”

  18. Keely said:

    All the advice already given is awesome, and the soapboxy bit about the value of education was brilliant. I have a college degree and deeply appreciate the education I have, where as my current partner and a previous one never completed school. Old partner is (and was when I met him) a video game designer making six figures with large bonuses at 26 years old. My current partner is making less mind-blowing money (but still quite good money) at a job she finds unexciting, but is doing very well in a stable job and saves a large portion of her income towards fulfilling big dreams in the future. Meanwhile, I have friends with degrees who can’t find work. College is awesome, but it’s really lousy that as a concept a college education has so much baggage.

    Anyhow, that aside, for the LW:

    I have no idea where you live, but if you are perhaps near one of the cities with 826 centers (http://826national.org/) you could maybe consider volunteering there? They work with kids on their writing, as well as do some general tutoring. I don’t have experience with them yet (training soon though), but it sounds like maybe good work for an aspiring writer, and would make you feel useful? I’m all for you making the writing a full-time thing, but I know that for me it is difficult to stay motivated if all I’m working on is a long-term intellectual project with uncertain real-world value. (in your case, writing, in mine, a science phd) Volunteering somewhere that can really use your skills, even just a few hours a week, can go a ways to making you feel relevant and productive, and then you can put that energy back into your less-immediately-gratifying projects.

    • Boredlizzie said:

      826 is AMAZING. I did an internship there and got more practical experience and enjoyment there than my entire undergrad career. Just don’t sign up for too much and then burn out, tho. (It’s hard not to sign up for everything because everything they offer is so, so great!)

  19. I’ve been in the arts for over a decade now, as a real professional in various ways that plays out in the arts. And I’ve known a few artists of both genders and multiple sexual orientations who have been supported by their partner(s). One thing I’ve noticed about some of the partners doing the supporting, is how much they enjoy it. They are generally not people drawn to creative ventures themselves, but being around a creative person awakens that part of their brains and makes them feel happier and more fulfilled in general in their non-art/more “typical” job life.

    LW, it sounds like your partner is one of those. So please consider that being a good partner is more than just making money to contribute to the household expenses, it means contributing to the life the two of you share. And so, being a good partner in your case could be pursuing something creatively, which will make you a more fulfilled person, and by extension, be a gift to your partner in the form of the possibilities of being around creative energy and the benefits thereof.

    • Thneedle-dee-dee said:

      > One thing I’ve noticed about some of the partners doing the supporting, is how much they enjoy it.

      This. Yes. This describes me. My partner is a sculptor and she makes the most wonderful things and sometimes she sells them, but for the most part I’m supporting us. I’m not terribly creative aside from the stuff I do with fiber, but I LOVE that I get to live with her and all her artistic-ness. It’s not just that she’s being creative and getting to explore her art every day (which is good), it’s that everything else in our material lives is affected by it. We have art on our walls, and our walls are painted lots of different colors. We love looking at architectural doo-dads on old buildings together. She likes surface decoration, and lots of things have surfaces. We actively pursue beauty or interestingness in the items we surround ourselves with.

      And yes, she does some “house & home” stuff because she’s home during the day, and I feel so very loved on the days that dinner is planned-out already when I get home, so that’s time that she’s not arting but she is contributing to our household in other ways. And me? I get to live with an artist, and that’s a huge thing.

  20. Esti said:

    LW, if you are passionate about writing and want to make a go of that, then I absolutely concur with what everyone is saying here: you don’t have to work outside the home to be doing something valuable, and it is totally okay to accept support from your husband that he is happy to give in order to let you do what you love.

    But I have to say, this part of your letter stuck out to me:

    The world out there is terrifying. I like it in my apartment, and I like writing and playing video games and if I could just pretend I’m a kid with no responsibilities for the rest of my life that would be great, k-thanks-bye.

    If this just means that you’ve internalized a message from society that writing full-time is pretending to be a kid with no responsibilities, that’s definitely not the case and isn’t a reason not to go for it. But if what’s going on here is that you want to stay at home and write because you’re scared about getting out there in the real world and dealing with the types of responsibilities you might have out there, then that’s maybe not the best reason for choosing to stay at home and write. The world doesn’t need to be scary, and having a job — maybe a part-time job? — that you enjoy outside the home might help you to feel a little more secure about your ability to thrive out there and to take care of yourself if, god forbid, something ever happened to your husband.

    Like I said, if what you really want to do is write novels in your home, I think that’s awesome and you should go for it. But if you’re concerned about that path because you think you might be using it to avoid the world outside, then I’d vote for going out and finding a niche in the world where you can thrive, whether or not it’s something other people might say is “beneath you.” I waitressed for years while I was in school, and loved it — it may sound weird, but there was something very satisfying to me, an introvert, about having a series of brief, successful interactions with customers and then getting a monetary reward for each of them. I also did some manual labor, although I’m not particularly physically strong, and it was satisfying in a whole different way to feel myself developing muscles and getting those happy-tired endorphins. Don’t feel like you need a job that is Your One True Passion or whatever — you can do something for fun and for some extra cash and to get out of the house, and then come home and have your passion (whether it be writing or something else) there.

    • staranise said:

      Yes, this!

      Even if the LW does have the ability to stay at home and hammer out novels forever, that doesn’t sound very satisfying. It’s incomplete. Where are friends? Who is the LW learning from or helping out? I think doing SOMETHING outside the house, whether that’s taking classes in underwater basket weaving or volunteering or working, is a super-good idea here.

  21. JenniferP said:

    LW, I didn’t say this in the post, but I want to make sure you hear this somewhere.

    I made much of your novels and “NO REALLY, U R PRODUCTIVE” in the initial response. It’s so American of us, really, to equate professional success/identity with Value As A Human, that I fell into the trap as well.

    Even if you weren’t a writer and incredibly productive, it would be ok if your partner was willing to support you for a while. Maybe you need some time to heal from depression (or whatever is going on with your brain, I don’t want to break my own rules about internet diagnoses!*) and that means having a lot of down time to take a break from achievement and just read and play video games for a bit. I’d still recommend therapy & finding a volunteer outlet just because both of those things might make you feel better about yourself than you currently do.

    You deserve all the love you’re getting right now, even if you don’t feel like you do. Love isn’t something we can really “deserve.” We can try to be worthy of it, but when it’s true it’s always a gift. Accept the gift. Eat the sandwich. Hopefully this marriage will go the distance, which means there will be many chances for you to give your partner the support s/he is giving you now.

    *When you do find that therapist, the words “fear of success” will come up in your talks, I think. Just file that away for right now.

    • Elisabeth said:

      Thank you, Captain, for reinforcing this. I’m currently not working at any kind of job; circumstances not unlike the LW’s are in play, with the added issue that I have some health stuff going on that makes it difficult for me to do anything that requires a lot of stamina. I’ve gone through some really uncomfortable interior stuff surrounding my lack of financial contribution and whether I’m “worthwhile.” The thing is, these circumstances have come after years of a brutally stressful work life and a lot of personal turmoil (which is part of why I ended up with the current health stuff), and stretches where I was the primary breadwinner while my husband worked toward HIS dreams, and my husband’s been really clear that me taking care of myself right now is a bigger priority to him than anything else. He thinks I’m an awesome person for a ton of reasons that have nothing to do with how much money I do (or don’t) make (he even encouraged me to leave a part-time job I was struggling with when it became clear in short order it was a bad fit, even though the extra money would have been useful), and he supports me in finding a life that is good and worthwhile and healthy TO ME.

      So I have a fair number of days where I don’t do a hell of a lot that’s “productive” by typical definitions. And I feel kinda bad about that sometimes. But I’m also learning how to live with my health issues and what I can and can’t do, and figuring out what I want to focus on, and that’s enormously useful to the life I hope I’ll be able to have. Some days, getting up on time and getting dressed and leaving the house is a big triumph for me; my definitions of success have changed, and I’m learning to be comfortable with that. I’m volunteering (as I can) in a field that means a lot to me, and that might lead to something more, but for now it’s good for getting me out and giving me a sense of purpose. And my husband and I work together on what our partnership and our household need, which has NOTHING to do with me being “a housewife” or anything like that, but with how we can best support each other. That’s what “productivity” means these days. And yeah, it’s not always great. But sometimes it really is, and I feel really glad that I have this opportunity to redefine that, and the love and support of someone who believes in me no matter what my definition is or what I do over the course of a day.

    • Adelene said:

      Oh, good.

      I’ve spent enough time in the disability community that that’s basically my default perspective, and this kind of issue comes up all the time, there – when someone can’t work, or can’t work much, or needs an unusual amount or type of support to hold a job, or could theoretically work if they had to but is better off not and has found a way to make that happen, there’s often this issue of worrying about being less valuable because of it, which is ultimately ableist. (It’s probably a good portion of why most people are afraid of becoming disabled, in fact.)

      I don’t think that idea of value coming from professional productivity is good even for non-disabled folks, though, even if there weren’t issues with judging disabled people by one standard and non-disabled people by another. It seems like a very narrow kind of metric to judge people by, and I suspect that the world would be a much less awesome place if everyone actually tried to live up to that standard.

    • tinyorc said:

      Oh man, I feel like my comment above might have enforced the idea that “You only deserve support if you are productive!” so I apologize for that! I was seriously just so impressed by the novels. But all of this is very true and very much seconded!

    • LW said:

      Hey Captain,

      I just wanted to say a quick thanks for your advice (and to everyone who’s already replied here). It’s all helpful. Depression is something of a fact of life in my family, and it’s definitely allied with the shame monster leading up to this post. I think one of the big walls I’ve run up against (and maybe a wall some of the other commenters have hit as well) is this idea that we all need to be deemed productive in the eyes of society. It feels like it isn’t enough to write books. You need to get them published. Then it isn’t enough to get published, you need to get popular …

      When I graduated I felt a driving need to somehow earn this approval of society as a whole. As time passed I realized more and more I had no idea how to get this approval, or what constituted ‘enough’ societal contribution to be a worthwhile human. I’m starting to wrap my head around the idea that all these are arbitrary classifications. I am a writer so long as I keep writing, and so long as I keep pursuing my own definitions of success. Publication is something that comes as a result of that process, it is not the end goal. If getting another job helps support that process then it isn’t a bad thing.

      That’s all rather rambling and incoherent. The important bit is, thank you for your advice, and thank you to people who shared stories. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who’se jerkbrain digs this sort of pit.

      • Oof, and the Writing Jerkbrain is so UTTERLY jerkitudinous. That “you have to be popular” train is the Express to Yuckville.

        Good on you for focusing on your own definition of success. I get a LOT of “we love your writing, but we’re not going to publish it because it’s not the New Hot Thing” – but most stories/poems do eventually find a home, and when they do find a home, they almost uniformly find *readers*.

        May that happen for you.

  22. Kate said:

    This post is something I needed to read right now. The thoughts on a liberal arts education are a pleasure to read. I grew up on a college campus and have degrees in Classics, British Literature and Library Science, which I’m glad to have. You’ve put into words why studying words and art are so key. We’re always learning. Thank you, Captain Awkward and LW, you know what you want to do, that’s powerful.

    I’m thirty-one and about to move back in with my parents after getting a masters degree and a year long job search. I know what I want to do and I’m searching to find a place where I fit but one of the things that’s made me feel like I will find it is I know where I’d like to fit. The thing is that place isn’t one that I would have expected when I finished college with a Classics’ degree and went huh, I’m a librarian. I’ve lived abroad, studied abroad and that helped me figure out a lot.

    It sucks that there are people from my same class who got jobs within a few months or even before graduating and at times my jerkbrain goes into overdrive of I’m not good enough. When that happens, Team Me of my friends and family remind me that I’ve done a lot and will find my way. When I move back home, I’ll be volunteering doing exactly the kind of job I want being a youth librarian. My parents reminded me that all three of my siblings have had points where they relied on family and friends to figure out what’s next.

    Your husband is on Team You, trust in him and yourself. If you want to get out and do more, take some of the great suggestions above but do it for you. Jedi hugs and its hard to just eat the sandwich but I’m always glad when I do.

    • Zed said:

      As I was scrolling through comments, I saw the phrase “library science” and I had to stop and read your comment, Kate. And boy do I find it familiar. I graduated with my MLIS in 2010, and I have been working part time since then. In academic libraries, which means I am Working on My Career, which is great! But on the other hand, my salary is low, I have to buy my own health insurance, and I moved back in with my parents. I see my librarian friends get their first full-time jobs. Some of my friends from high school became teachers (for example) right out of college and have had their jobs for four or five years. And I’m still trying for my first. Friends are getting married and having babies and buying houses, and while none of those are priorities for me (and are, in fact, all things I’m not that interested in), my jerkbrain sometimes conveniently forgets that in favor of unfair comparisons and a mantra of, “What’s wrong with YOU?” It’s so hard to escape sometimes.

      • Kate said:

        It is, jerkbrains are awful. I find that having little things to show, yes, I’m still here helps. I’ve enjoyed my part-time reference job and I know my volunteer work will be nice. I have a librarian blog that is my little contribution to the conversation, which makes me feel better. Also I write fanfiction and am part of a community full of people figuring things out. Sometimes I go, aah, I’m failing then take a deep breath and try to figure out what I can do. Life is also full of surprises as I have a job interview tomorrow.

        • Zed said:

          Best of luck! I accepted a full-time job offer today, as it happens, so I can only hope this is a fortuitous day for Awkward Librarians.

          • Kate said:

            I had an interview today and they want to see me on Friday for a second interview, so I think it is.

  23. Oh, gods. I am right there with you. My fiancee is a software developer, and makes good money, and is encouraging me to stay home and do arty crafty things, that maybe I can sell on Etsy or something if I feel like it. I have a 2yr degree in culinary arts, and I’ve worked in that industry, and can’t go back now. I owned a restaurant for a while, but I had to close it last year because it was just a money pit, and I’ve been depressed ever since. I’m thinking of starting a part-time personal chef thing for a little extra money, for wedding things (we’re planning to get married next year, when it will hopefully be legal in our state — we’re both women), but haven’t been able to yet.

    My mom was a housewife almost the entire time I was growing up, and still is now. That was her choice, and it’s great for her, but it’s not what I want. And both my fiancee and I have all kinds of Issues about traditional gender roles, and she especially does not want to be in the “man’s role”. My one comfort in all of this is that I supported my partner for a year when she was too depressed to work, and she says it’s her turn now.

    Augh.

    The world out there is terrifying.

    This. Especially after the complete cock-up I made of the restaurant.

    I don’t know about you, but I have an anxiety disorder (and yes, I’m in therapy and have meds) that make this so much worse. The world is completely terrifying and I would much rather stay home with the critters and the computer and the TV. Write my blog, maybe work on my cookbook. And that’s more or less what I’ve done for basically a year now. I’m trying to get myself out of the house now, doing fun things and not just running errands (which inevitable makes me crazy and gives me anxiety attacks), but it’s hard. I let my social life go while the restaurant was open, because I had to spend so much of that time being social with customers, and I’m really an introvert and needed to go home and recharge. But I’m slowly building it again, seeing friends once a week. I’m going to start having a young friend (7, I’ve known her her whole life, and she’s very dear to me) to give her cooking lessons once a week.

  24. Tesss said:

    Let me share my own anecdote! A few years ago, my partner and me were both jobhunting. I had just graduated, and he had just left a horrible job which had stopped paying him for 6 months before he quit. After a long year where we were both pretty miserable and poor, I managed to land a job that supports us both comfortably and even lets us save a little. I had no hesitation at all at telling him to take a much needed rest from jobhunting.

    Now that I have a housekeeper of my own, I am totally baffled by the popular idea that they are leeches. They are an incredible bargain. I do hardly any cleaning, and no cooking, and no chores like going to the bank. As soon as I am out of work, my time is totally my own to squander on videogames :) Obviously it is a giant privilege that we can afford to do this, and of course there are some concerns like, what if we break up, and will this make it hard for him to get a job when/if he wants one, we do try to talk and plan about stuff like that. But for right now, it is super awesome.

    The only problem is the one that I think, from reading your letter, is the one that is on your mind as well (Unless I am just massively projecting! Quite possible!). Basically, “He’s unemployed, what will people THINK?”, which is kind of silly, but somehow hard to ignore. I’m still embarrassed when people ask me how his jobhunt is going, has he thought about going back to school, shouldn’t he be working harder to achieve his potential TO THE MAX. I get all furtive and defensive and I don’t deal with it well. But really, you know, I don’t want him to base his career decisions on what will sound impressive when he introduces himself at parties. I don’t think anyone actually cares as much as I am scared they will care. They are all too busy worrying about their own situation to be judgmental. And in the end, if they are judging, screw ‘em.

    • I’m the jobhunter, not the partner, in my situation, but I’ve had to deal with often feeling embarrassed/self-conscious when people talk to me about work. It’s better now that I have a job that is at least interesting to talk about, even if I feel weird about it being very part-time, but for a while I dreaded any discussion about work at parties because I had to explain my depressing job hunt and feel apologetic the entire time. That furtive/defensive reaction you describe definitely sounds like what my reaction always was. A LOT of people had “helpful” advice to give me about my job search, most of which was completely unhelpful and made me feel worse. Considering how many people I know with graduate degrees who can’t find work in their field and have horrible student debt, I don’t know why so many people I know have tried very hard to argue me into applying for grad school – my doctor even spent several minutes during an appointment trying to convince me to go to law school, which I have no desire to do! If I talk about my job panic, I want sympathy and not advice, and usually I don’t want to talk about it at all.

      I started saying “oh, job stuff is so stressful, you know how the market is in this city, so I just don’t talk about it when I’m having fun” and this really helped to keep my stress level down at parties. Even the most dedicated Helper-Types would usually back down if I said (and repeated, if necessary) that I wasn’t into talking about it.
      Also, is there an exciting other project your partner does you can talk about? When folks ask “what do you do?” sometimes I tell them about my homebrewing or crafting or my recent trip to a roller derby match and don’t mention work stuff at all, because these things say more about who I am as a person than anything related to my career, at this point.

  25. Hi LW,

    I’m yet another reader with a similar tale. I have a liberal arts degree and got some great internships in publishing that failed to produce jobs in the editorial field (what I was SO SURE I wanted to do when I graduated) because publishers started cutting back when I left college and I couldn’t find anything in my area. I worked retail and wound up managing a fantastic independent business, which was surprisingly fulfilling despite the fact that I always said “I will never do retail again” after shitty holiday jobs in college. But after several years at that job, my partner, who is a software engineer, got a job offer across the country, and in this new city I have had a really hard time finding work I can feel ok about.

    I got a job at another store in the same field as my great old job, but due to Many Factors that job/environment was no good for me and I quit after a miserable year. I would have left earlier but I was determined not to quit before I found something else… and after nine months of steady looking and some interviews that didn’t quite pan out, I just quit anyway because the job was seriously impacting my quality of life. I was TERRIFIED to just leave without a plan.
    I really lucked out and found some contracting work I do from home and I’ve had this job since last November. My boss gives me better feedback than I have gotten in any other job, and I’ve had some raises and two promotions, but in my mind I still have a hard time feeling like I’m doing enough because it’s limited to part-time work and even the highest hourly wage I’ve ever gotten means pretty much nothing in my household when I am capped at 15 hours a week and my partner is a well-paid programmer. And we live in San Francisco: I am constantly aware that I couldn’t afford to live here on my own. I sometimes feel like I’m trespassing in this city or that I don’t deserve to be here. I have, for the moment, given up/put on hold the Real Job Search because I couldn’t handle the level of panic it was inspiring in me. I don’t know what I’ll do in the future but the work I have now is just enough that I can push the worry mostly away for now.

    My partner, who I’ve been with for almost ten years, has been nothing but sweet and supportive through all this, and even with that support and no guilt about finances, it’s been hard for me. I often feel like I’m not doing enough (both in specific “not enough work” or “not enough around the house” ways and vague “I wonder if I will ever feel like I’m doing enough due to my jerkbrain” ones) or like my job doesn’t count because it’s not full-time, but in my best moments I am able to realize that this isn’t true. What makes me feel better is taking care of a little more housework, although a) my partner does do chores also and b) I really, really love making food, so meal-planning and extra baking/cooking is not a hardship for me.

    I hear you say that the world outside your house is scary, and I can relate to that. But one thing that has been huge in keeping me feel both connected to the outside world and active/productive (a big deal for me) is the rule I made for myself when I quit my job: I have to leave the house Every. Single. Day. Even if I don’t have errands to run. Even if I am tired. Even if I feel upset and don’t want to talk to anyone. Sometimes I just run out to get a coffee or bubble tea, but I also like to ride my bike a bit or take walks. Lately I’ve been trying to do photo-walks and take a bunch of pictures of street art or plants or that glorious SF fog to post on instagram. I don’t know if this will be as helpful to you, but it might be something to think about? Many areas have writers’ groups, and I have made several friends by going to a crafting group twice a month and some occasional knitting events/classes put on by a local yarn shop.

    I also really feel you on feeling not-so-great in comparison to your partner. I feel like this a lot, because they’re super-smart and my job problems have left me feeling less and less smart as time progresses, and also because I have a social group that skews heavily towards computer science/engineer types. I generally can’t follow a lot of their conversations! I know nothing about programming! At all! And it’s difficult for me not to feel awkward and stupid when this happens (I actually wrote a long bit in my personal journal about this recently and if anyone might find it interesting/useful to read, let me know). It sounds like it might be good for you to have some sort of group, whether it’s a meetup-type space as I mentioned above or just a casual friends group, that’s focused more on the areas in which you feel smart and exciting, whether that’s writing, or whatever your novels are about, or some other interest or skill you have. There’s not just one way to be smart or interesting or useful.

  26. Britt said:

    LW, the Captain and the Awkward Army in the comments above me have lots of wonderful advice that I heartily encourage you to go through and absorb what you can. I’m in very much your same boat right now, and I’ve also been the sole breadwinner, and the big thing I can suggest is to treat whatever you do during the day as your job, both in terms of how you schedule your days but also how much credit you give yourself for it.

    Right now I’m a freelance sports writer just starting out in a very tough economy, so I basically make zero money, but I spend a lot of time watching baseball, running statistics, tracking down information, doing the actual writing part for a lot of no to very low paying outlets, networking, all that kind of stuff. I also spend enough time doing household stuff like cleaning, cooking, laundry, taking care of pets/kids, dealing with repair people and exterminators and delivery guys and that kind of thing, that I feel okay with what I’m contributing to the general household ecosystem. I could very easily look at that and say “omg all I did today was watching baseball and putter around the house” and get down on myself (and I have on plenty of occasions), but if I step back and frame it for myself as taking notes during a game on a team for an article I’ve got planned and tending to necessary house stuff that would otherwise have been done by someone after getting home from their out of the house job, it feels a lot more fair.

    When I was the sole breadwinner for a partner who couldn’t/wouldn’t work, I didn’t resent that I was going to work and she wasn’t, because I liked my job for the most part and was building what I thought at the time would be my career. What I grew to resent was that she wasn’t contributing even in the ways she agreed she could/would, either through taking care of herself and doing her own creative work, or by taking care of household stuff. There are so many ways to contribute to making your home and your relationship a happy one, don’t get caught up in the thinking that if you’re not bring home a paycheck you aren’t (or almost more important CAN’T) help make the home life you want.

  27. Pterinochilus murinus said:

    LW, there is a middle path between making waves of money and hiding in your room all day. It sounds to me like you do want to do paid work while also work at writing, just maybe with a difference work/writing balance than you’ve had in the past. I also think that having a day job, IF IT DOESN’T DRAIN AND DEPRESS YOU AND TAKE AWAY ALL YOUR TIME, is really good for creative types. It gives you structure and contact with the outside world.

    The other good thing about having a job when you don’t have to, even if it’s very casual and low-key (like even one shift a week) is that if something happens to your husband or his job, you’ll still have a current work history, and that will make it much easier for you to get back in the job market.

    Since your husband is willing to support you anyway, that means you have time to shop around and find the perfect day job for you. You don’t have to settle for a job that you hate but which pays the bills. I suggest something part-time that doesn’t have take-home work, so as to leave you lots of time for writing. Something that pays a fair wage, even though it doesn’t have to be enough to survive on since you have your husband, because it does sound to me like you’re one of the many people who derive dignity from having some sort of income (and also because it might affect the balance of power in your relationship maybe?) Something that uses skills that you enjoy using and would like to build.

    It could be something completely brainless that keeps your mind free for writing, or it could be something with lots of varied situations and people, to feed the writing. It doesn’t have to be high-status or high-income or high-stress or high-anything, just a place you go at least once a week and do stuff for other people, stuff that takes you out of your head, and get paid for it.

  28. Private Editor said:

    I reject all rhetoric about reforming primary and secondary education that talks about “workers” rather than “humans” or “citizens,” and I don’t think that poor students should be receiving education only in practical job-getting topics. I think it’s disgusting to treat art and literature and history and music and scientific exploration as luxuries that only certain children in certain zip codes get to learn about.

    I want to pet this passage and squeeze it and hug it and call it George. I’m a teacher of adults, and one of my classes is designed to help people make the transition from free ESL class at an adult school, to higher education. So I’m well aware that the national dialogue/debate on this topic, and it makes my head explore on a regular basis.

    • Private Editor said:

      Er, haha, my head does not go out exploring on its own, but it does HEADASPLODE. Oops.

  29. Hazel said:

    Your brain is lying to you because it’s mean. I know the feeling. Your job right now is to make yourself believe that you deserve the things you want to have, and the things your partner wants you to have. It’s hard work, but it can be done, and there are people who deal with doing these things professionally. The goal is to tell yourself over and over again that you deserve your partner’s support, both monetary and emotional, and eventually you will start to believe it, even if it seems impossible right now.

    I am struggling with something similar right now, as I’m a student being supported by my parents, and not being particularly successful at my studies by any objective measure. My goal right now is similar to the one you need to adopt. If I choose to view the last few years of my life as money down the drain, then I’m basically stamping this moment as the end of my journey, whereas in reality I am twenty seven years old and only getting started.

    It’s tempting to surrender to empty numbers and view my academic career as a failure. Instead I choose — every single day, over and over again — to view it as the starting point of learning what skills I’m equipped with, and what I can do with them, to make myself and everyone else a little happier. Not gonna lie, I have learned a lot the hard way, and it hurts. As a result of my accumulated bad habits, I have to unfuck my life at the same time as convincing myself that it’s not fucked at all, and it’s a delicate balancing act.

    To feel better I need to believe that I’m good without stopping the process of improving myself. I have not yet mastered this juggling act, but I’m trying. This comment I’m leaving for you is one of the things I’m doing to help that cause, because I’ve found that talking about how I’m not a failure helps me believe, or rather understand, that I am in fact… not a failure.

    If you are interested, I also have some practical advice about how to deal with working from home without feeling like a shut-in. It doesn’t work for everyone, but some of it might help you improve your mood and your outlook, and thereby, also your productivity.

  30. Toffee said:

    The foundation of what you will do in 5, 10, 15, 20 years is being laid by you today. It’s great that you have a loving and supportive partner but what if that changes due to illness, redundancy, whatever. Being passionate about your writing is one thing, but are you good at it? Do you spend a few hours everyday trying to get better at it? That’s what a career is about. Turning up every day and trying to get better at what you do, upping your game. Nothing comes easy. There is no short cut to success except perseverance, dedication and sucking up the crap life throws your way. As others have suggested, if writing is what you want to do, give it all you got and treat it like your friends who are successful are treating their careers.

    • JenniferP said:

      Yeah, no pressure or anything.

    • staranise said:

      “…So don’t fuck this up, LW, or you’ll fail forever”?

      How encourating!

    • Starling said:

      This is not good advice for me, and possibly for other writers. I choke when I feel I have to write, because suddenly what was a creative outlet is now I MUST HAVE A MARKETABLE COMMODITY OH GOD. Which results in flat, stale and unprofitable work. Hopefully, LW is already enjoying the writing enough to be getting in 2-3 hours a day.

      I’m on Team Keep Working At That Part Time Thing and Write.

      • Zed said:

        Off-topic, but. Hamlet. <3

      • Thneedle-dee-dee said:

        But do you want to work as a writer, in the sense of making some or all of your living doing that? Because the writers who make a living at it *do* treat it like a job. They set a minimum time limit or word limit (eg: must write for 4 hours; or must write at least 1000 words) and meet it, even if they don’t “feel the muse” just then.

        (Happily, there are plenty of writing-related tasks that you can use the stale-feelings days for those. Like editing, or fighting with formatting, or researching something.)

        • belle said:

          I think the point is not that writers shouldn’t treat writing as our jobs, but that Toffee’s comment came across as kinda “But are you Good Enough? PROVE IT TO ME,” and this may not have been Toffee’s intent, but “Being passionate about your writing is one thing, but are you good at it?” comes across to me as a little condescending. The LW already has a good start on two novels. I don’t think they need you or Toffee helpfully explaining to them how to do what they obviously already know how to do.

          Plus, yeah. It helps a lot of people to have a routine. But that’s not how everyone does it. And as the Captain said somewhere here, writing is worthwhile even if it isn’t productive! LW should do their thing, and accept the gift of Partner’s support. How they go about the writing itself it is their business.

        • Starling said:

          Certainly, it’s important, and I do have a mandatory minimum words per day (1500), two finished novels, and an agent, so it’s not precisely a hobby. What I’m saying is that when I quit other work to write for 10 months, the quality of my writing took a dive so horrific that I nearly lost said agent and am currently facing the entire rewrite of an entire book.

          It really helps to be making my living in a different way right now. Much less stress on the writing, much more room for it to work.

  31. Emma said:

    I love the shit out of this rant.

    I also think it applies to your abhorrence of accidentally ending up a housewife – something I totally sympathize with. But I feel like you, LW, are making an assumption that if you do a certain amount of a type of work, you become that type of person. If you work on your novels fewer hours than your partner works at his fabulous job, so you cook dinner and clean the bathroom more, will you become a housewife? If your novels don’t get published, will you stop being a writer? If you keep working part time, do you become that job? At the moment, your career identity is difficult to pin down. That’s okay! You don’t have to pick one and then view all your other work (and any sandwiches made) through that lens.

    Just to clarify, I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t do housework. I’m just saying that I think it’s more important whether you want/need to do that work, than whether it’s fraught with housewifery. It won’t infect your novels with frivolousness and illegitimacy.

  32. Karen said:

    Nothing to add; I just to make sweet, sweet love to your soapbox

    • JenniferP said:

      I think we are not telling students the right things about what college is maybe? We assume they already know?

  33. LW, I was in a very similar situation this past November, and I found that it gave me a lot of clarity. It was terrifyingly similar – novels, supportive husband, hyperventilation and everything! Well, not quite everything. I actually found that my depressed unemployed listlessness and my creative impulse were mortal enemies. I just couldn’t get into a good headspace when I was spiraling into anxious, fretful, beholden hermitdom. I also refused to be a housewife, because I was never domesticated properly and I feel that washing dishes would be an insult to the warrior culture of the wolves who raised me, but then I got even more depressed when my husband came home from his Important Science Job and asked me, in the gentlest possible way, if I had actually done anything that day, implying that he would have given me a gold star for moving from one couch to the other, and I couldn’t even say that I’d unfucked the wolf habitat, and then I’d start crying and he’d attempt to cheer me up by asking how the novel was going and then I’d start to seriously fantasize about stripping naked, running off into the woods and bringing down a deer with my bare hands, but there are no forests in England, so I just developed some bad habits instead.* Then I joined a lovely, supportive, madcap writer’s group. Then, shoved along by my husband, I started taking classes on things I’d never considered doing, like stained glass. Then I started working on my science writing. Then, because I was busily and happily filling up my life with Good Things, I got a science job. Once I had a job and other writers to be my friends and stopped having anxiety about Independence and Feminism and Creativity and Money… I was writing again and meeting with success and feeling like my place in the world made more sense. I realized that I need to work to write. Your mileage will vary. Anyway, you’ve gotten good advice, so here’s this to bore you:

    1. You should get a job. Stop thinking that ordinary labor is beneath you; it’s not. Stop hyperventilating and making up weird excuses for not having a job. There is nothing wrong with being “unemployed” or “underemployed” or “the trailing partner” or “the stay-at-home parent,” but you sound like you have way too much anxiety about it to fill those roles, so get out of the house. It doesn’t sound like it’s good for you. Find something part-time and fun that you like.

    2. You should take a course, class or workshop. Your craft doesn’t stop just because your life has stalled! Your husband will give you the money if you don’t have your own yet. Invest in yourself; invest in your craft.

    3. If you stay housebound, structure your day for productivity; recognize, also, that productivity includes Doing Things That You Don’t Want to Do, things that your child-self hates and puts off and feels guilt about. These are the ways of the growing, evolving human being. Define your own productivity. Limit your video gaming (define the limits.) Keep regular sleeping hours (define what these are). Perform regular habitat-unfucking (define your own domesticity). I also prescribe regular readings of things that move you and calm your anxieties, whether it’s Carl Sagan or Helen Fielding, and planned infusions of things that cheer and restore you, like solo roadtrips, or hours spent reading alone in the bookstore, or romantic weekends with the husband.

    4. Whenever possible, restore what you have taken from the world. Your anxiety sounds like one of my own anxieties: “THE UNIVERSE HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH BUT I AM UNGRATEFUL. I am a selfish bitch who is undeservedly lucky, but also, it really, really sucks to have everyone tell me how lucky I am and how much potential I have, especially when they’re cool awesome people, because that makes me feel even more worthless, since I’m clearly not living up to it.” The cure for this, besides the therapy and good advice the Captain has already given you, is to give back. Give back money, since you have it; give back luck, when it passes through your hands. Give back beauty, if your words can create it. Give back love. And give from your own pocket, freely. Give opportunities. Give energy, give labor, give books. Give kisses.

    5. Read “Bird By Bird” by Anne Lamott. If you’ve already read it, read it again.

    * I am 100% at the front of the “WOMAN STAYING AT HOME, PURSUING CREATIVE ENDEAVORS =/= AUTOMATICALLY INSTALLED HOUSEWIFE + CLEAN HOME + REGULAR MEALS + ALWAYS LOOKING PRETTY, BEING HAPPY AND READY TO HAVE SEX” parade… but if you’re at home, working from home, you need to Unfuck Your Habitat. Because before enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water. And if you’re depressed and unemployed and haven’t left the home in five days, then make your fucking bed.

    • I just realized that since I went on holiday, everyone discovered UFYH and already recced it here and back again! Hearts to the Awkward Army!

      • JenniferP said:

        It’s been in my sidebar for ages. They sent me an announcement about their new app today, I will post on it presently.

  34. Jiggs said:

    LW, I was in the same boat a few years ago, except without the writer part. I was going to school to make my career dreams come true. I had the choice to do it part time and work (4+ years) or do it full time and not really work (8 months), because my lovely husband-then-boyfriend had a pretty snazzy job where we could afford it.

    I went full time without hesitation, but I really struggled with it. I am very independent and honestly I just hated it that I wasn’t pulling my weight (as I saw it). I would see a beautiful pair of shoes, and my lovely person would say “you should buy those!” and I would feel like a child granted some candy, or worse, like I couldn’t spend his money on such frivolous things.

    A couple things helped, and of course your mileage may vary:

    1) I had an outside job once a week for a few hours. I think you’ll need at least one outside pursuit, and it doesn’t have to be a job. You could volunteer, take a fun class, go to an exercise workshop – whatever makes you feel good. It gets you out of the house (we’re always more likely to do that for Standing Appointments) and you get to feel accomplished outside of your writing. I think that feeling of accomplishment is important because if you have a week where you’re frustrated by your writing, progress, life or that one #($%U& level of Paper Mario (LOOKING AT YOU, ENDLESS TREE TRUNK), you still have something positive in your week.

    2) I had to learn to buy the shoes. You deserve shoes. Take the shoes. Or whatever your happiness equivalent to shoes may be. Feel no guilt – you earned them with your sheer awesomeness. Plus, you will not feel like a Martyr to The Writing if you buy the shoes.

    2. b) Try to become one with the marital bank account and view it as “our” money, not his.

    3) Have an end date. You say you’re not interested in being a housewife, so for now, create a goal for when you’ll either a) be wildly successful as defined by XYZ or b) go back to work/school/whatever your plan B is. THIS CAN CHANGE. It probably will. But for me I know I had more peace of mind because I had my game plan with goals and dates, which made me feel like I was in no imminent danger of housewifery. Over time those goals may shift, you may extend your timeline because you’re thisclose or you may be like, hey you know what actually I like being a housewife. Right now though, this may help to calm some of your anxiety over becoming a permanent stay-at-homer.

  35. AspiringAssistantDirector said:

    Bless this thread.

    I majored in political science in college, spent two years working in two separate admin-type jobs before figuring out that I really wanted to work in television and film production. So I quit my job and took a six month unpaid internship in a new city. I loved it and it opened my eyes to the fact that I don’t, in fact, have to loathe going into work every morning. After my internship was over, I packed my things and moved halfway across the world to live in a city that provides more opportunities for the type of work I’m looking to do, but it’s been hard. Breaking into production is all about meeting the right people and when I got here I didn’t know anyone. I’m currently working as a barista to pay the bills. I have to buy my own (very crappy) health insurance and have no social safety net. Having grown up in a country where both was a given, this is super scary.

    My sister moved out here with me but rooming together has proven to be difficult and she told me that she’s moving out and looking for new roommates once the lease is up. That didn’t exactly help with my huge fear of people rejecting me and my self-esteem and social anxiety issues (which I can’t get therapy for since I’m poor).

    Lately my jerkbrain has been trying to convince me that I’ve failed at what I set out to do when I came here – and just a failure in general, for that matter. I’m 27 and working at a coffee shop for minimum wage. I try to tell myself that at least I have a goal and know what I want to do with my life now. I try to be more patient with myself, but it’s hard.

    I’m going to bookmark this thread and keep coming back here to re-read it to remind myself that I’m not the only one who doesn’t have it all figured out and that majoring in something only to find out it’s not really relevant to what you want to do professionally and pursuing one’s dreams while working a crappy job to pay the bills at 27 is okay.

  36. LW, I want to say something I don’t think anyone else has QUITE said.

    Getting to stay home and write full-time because your husband earns enough to support you both and is happy and willing for you to do that, is great.

    But your brain telling you this is NOT A GOOD IDEA may not be a jerk. Correct that: may be a jerk, because BRAIN is saying you don’t deserve it, but may not be wrong about how this is not necessarily a good idea.

    I know several couples for whom this has worked out quite well. In all instances, the relationship was secure and friendly, the couple were married or in a civil partnership, and the earning partner both loved the job they did and were in high enough demand that they had no real reason to fear any prolonged period of unemployment, ever.

    And one more factor: in all instances, the couple had joint finance and mutual control and the earning partner was absolutely clear that it wasn’t “his money”, it was “our money”. Not just for lunches and underwear and tampons and so on, but mad money for going on holiday, buying new videogames, buying a new laptop or a new office chair.

    It is OK to listen to your cautions. It is OK to go see a therapist and talk through your relationship and your worries., It is OK to say no to your husband and continue to work outside even though he is happy to support you. It is ALSO ok, when you’re confident that this is what you want to do and you are worth it, to take the step of focussing on writing only. If you don’t want to “be a housewife”, you need to make THAT clear at the start of the deal: you won’t be staying home to do housework, but to write and do other things that keep you going as a writer – like playing video games. (Hey, whatever floats the boat.)

    I would add, too, speaking as a semi-creative person – you’ve hammered out two novels while working part-time – this may be exactly the enviromnent you need to keep the creative juices going. If so, my best advice is – even if it’s scary and you sometimes think, oh it would be nice not to have to go out there any more – keep going. Cause two novels, in one year? LW, you are awesome.

  37. mintylime said:

    I keep coming back to this because … well, other than the completed two novels part and some other details I don’t want to detail too much (left a decent job to come across the country and move in with my boyfriend-now-husband, have an active volunteer position that’s mostly online), I’m kind of in the same position as the LW. I was doing fine before I moved out here, and I know I’m incredibly lucky in having an amazing partner who can and is willing to support me.

    And I still just can’t wrap my head around how “I would hate a waitressing/retail/checkout/fast-food job with a burning passion because I’m kinda an introvert, I’d be terrible at it, and it would pay approximately 1/10th my husband’s salary” is the same as “I think those jobs are beneath me”. I mean, (assuming I could even get such a job in this market with no relevant experience and unemployed for 2 years) I could take a job that someone else -needs- (and if something happened to the relationship or his job I would; I’ve done similar before), and be unhappy and tired a lot … but it would seem pretty damn pointless and unrewarding for me to be doing.

    I’m expecting to get piled on for this one, but hey, maybe someone has words this time that will make something click in my head.

    • GemmaM said:

      Mintylime, “I would really seriously hate that job and it would make me very miserable” is certainly different to “I think that job is beneath me” :) After all, the first statement could apply to plenty of very prestigious jobs, too. It’s not my place to make decisions for you, but I think you shouldn’t take a job in waitressing or retail if that’s how you feel about it. I’m glad you have an active volunteer position to keep you busy. Stay busy, have goals in life, and you’ll be fine.

      • mintylime said:

        Thanks … it’s a response I’ve gotten to that kind of comment before (in some ways phrased very much like the LW’s paragraph about it), and CA’s response went kind of right to ‘Stop thinking it is beneath you’ (and again later in the comments), so … it seems to be a real thing that I literally can’t understand yet?

        OH! I SEE NOW! I have re-read the original letter (thinking “surely I am missing something”) and I had missed the part where the LW’s partner did say “don’t take a job that’s beneath you”.

      • FlyBy said:

        *nodnod* Yes, sometimes when bills are more plentiful than paychecks (or you’re trying to break into an industry) it’s necessary to humble your pride and go work at a job that you’re overqualified for. That’s different than taking a job that will kill your soul. Save that one for I-do-this-or-I-sleep-on-the-street circumstances.

        And hey, it sounds like paychecks are in good supply right now, so there’s no need to take a job that doesn’t further your life goals right now. Lucky you. :-)

    • JenniferP said:

      I did not enjoy waiting tables and I do not want to do it again ever if I do not have to, but I have a problem with people looking at certain jobs as “beneath” them because it leads to the attitude that the people who work those jobs are “beneath” them. Also, many people have attitudes about those jobs that don’t really work for them when they NEED those jobs to survive.

      If you don’t want to work a certain job and you can afford not to, rock on! But you’re reading a lot into this that’s not actually about you.

    • LW said:

      I just wanted to post a very small clarification about the original wording. ‘beneath me’ is Spouse’s phrase not mine. He is under the opinion that I shouldn’t get a job in retail/waiting/whatever because it will look like I’ve given up, and therefore prevent me from moving on to some awesome, theoretical future employment. I’ve told him that I really don’t mind such work, but he’s convinced it will ruin my future and doesn’t get why anyone would choose to just have a job rather than a career. I know Spouse means this as a complement along the lines of ‘I believe you could do more interesting work than this because I think you’re smart’, but it comes off as condescending when I point out that I actually enjoy the work he’s talking about. The phrase was included in the original post as part of an attempt to explain why I haven’t yet picked up any low-stress part-time work as I write. I don’t want to give the impression that I think there’s some inherent hierarchy of job value that exists.

      • JenniferP said:

        Thanks for clarifying! That attitude, whether from you or from others is what I mean – it blocks you from doing stuff that you need or that might be good for you or that you might enjoy or that might help you feel like you have your shit a little more together.

        And it’s condescending as fuck to people who do have those jobs.

        • LW said:

          I agree completely with you there. I haven’t yet found the right words for explaining to Spouse why such jobs appeal to me, mainly because his argument always rolls back around to how it will look bad on my resume and I can’t really prove or disprove that to his satisfaction. Pointing out that many writers maintain other jobs in non-creative fields doesn’t seem sufficient for him. It’s hard to explain that what he means as an attempt to complement and boost my self esteem comes of a paternal and condescending. When I’ve brought it up he gets puppy dog eyed and does the whole ‘well of course you know that’s not what I meant at all’ routine.

          Anyways, long story short I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I don’t think there is such a thing as a job being ‘beneath’ anyone.

          • GemmaM said:

            One thing I’m discovering in my relationship is that “I haven’t yet found the right words to explain this to my partner” is no reason not to go off and do something that doesn’t affect your partner in the first place. Having a job is your decision, not his. If he doesn’t understand, it’s perfectly reasonable for you to move to asking him to simply accept, rather than putting your life on hold until you can explain it to his satisfaction.

            In other words, yeah, if he expects you to need his permission then he is paternal and condescending. There is no way around that.

            Are you genuinely worried about how this will affect your job prospects in the future, or is this just something you feel the need to respond to because your partner brings it up? Because I think if you were to say, in a future job interview, something like “I took that retail job because, while I didn’t need the money, I found that I was happier when I had a job,” no reasonable interviewer would conclude anything beyond “Oh, nice, here is someone with maybe a work ethic? Good.” Honestly, if you’re choosing between gaps on your resume when you weren’t working at all and places where you had a retail job, it might be something of a toss-up to begin with.

            Go out and do what you want to do.

          • JenniferP said:

            Right, exactly. A consistent work history (with positive references and demonstrated good attitude) is only HELPFUL.

          • Also, you don’t actually have to put it on your resume. You can leave it off and explain if they ask about the gap!

  38. Will said:

    Hi LW, I can sympathise with your circumstance. I have two degrees (engineering and writing/visual arts) and when I graduated from the last one I spent a long time looking for relevant work and trying to carve out a financially viable career in my chosen artistic field (filmmaking). However, as I couldn’t fully support myself in this and my partner was having slightly more succession job finding, but not enough to support both of us. I had a lot of trouble considering many jobs as ‘beneath me’ and struggled to find anything that was both achievable and sufficiently advanced to support my ego. In the end I got a temp job doing retail in a museum shop, something that I would have found hard to accept, if it weren’t for the financial necessities of my situation. And I loved it. My work had been home based, I had been struggling to make ends meet and not getting out at all. Going to my temp job got me out of the house, interacting with interesting people, feeling like I was contributing and meant that I wasn’t having to use the small money I was getting in my artsy job to put food on the table, but could put it towards advancing my artsy work.

    I learned some very interesting things from this. One was to get off my high horse, everyone else at the museum had a degree too. That is the reality of the job market at the moment. Also, applying myself to ANYTHING helped me feel less depressed and more in control of my life.

    I would definitely follow the above advice: carry on with your novels, but do something else too. Some volunteer work would be ideal, get you out of the house, meeting people and feeling like you were applying yourself to something beneficial. Also I find that it is immensely beneficial to my creative work to have an outside context in which to think about my creative work.

    Also, you can never have to much therapy!

    And your partner sounds wonderful, and you are clearly an eaqually creative, intelligent and valuable human being, as long as you both feel that you are contributing to something that you two share (even if that is your mental health or some future success via novelist work), you should be fine. Talk talk talk. Make sure everyone is okay. Accepting help is something everyone does in all kinds of ways, all the time.

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