Wednesday, January 2, 2013

She works hard for the money

Huddling under the covers with a flashlight, I would escape for hours, exploring other worlds until the words blurred under my sleepy eyes, forcing me back to reality. I emptied my veins into diary entries and shakily coaxed my own new worlds onto the page. In my last semester of high school, I reveled in the daily play time of Law, History, Sociology and English (Core), English (Creative Writing) and English (Fantasy in Fiction). School had become pure fun.

Until it wasn't. One day I sat in creative writing class and stared at a blank page for the whole hour, sick of chasing words that were playing hard to get. It's okay, I thought. I'd always been more of a reader than a writer. Maybe I'll be an editor rather than a journalist. My welcome packages into several university English programs had already arrived, and I sent back my acceptance to the school offering the largest scholarship, ignoring the queasy feeling in my stomach.

I made it halfway through my first year of university before I acknowledged I had made a serious mistake. All pleasure in reading and writing was steadily being stripped away, the gorgeous stories breaking into motifs and foils and pathetic fallacies. I didn't want to look behind the curtain anymore. I just wanted to read and let the words carry me away.

So I became a chartered accountant instead, eliciting astounded laughter from my mother, the English teacher. "You can hardly add!" she exclaimed in her usual supportive way. "That's why we have calculators," I said haughtily, confident in my new career choice. Analyzing a business case and a novel had more in common than one might think, and accounting soothed the practical side of me that had always rolled my eyes when the incense at coffeehouse poetry readings got too thick.

After all, work would only take up, what, eight hours a day? That should leave at least eight hours free for reading and writing, which I'd be able to enjoy without critiquing every turn of phrase. Not to mention I wouldn't have to live in a cardboard shack with accounting as my day job.

What I didn't realize in my student days was that a full-time job doesn't take only your time (which is almost certainly more than eight hours a day in a professional career). It takes your focus, your energy, your self-esteem. And if the job itself doesn't wear you out, your commute to and from that job certainly will. When I envisioned reading and writing as hobbies, I didn't know I would feel like I'd just pulled an all-nighter by the time I got around to them at 11 o'clock each evening. In an effort not to destroy my passions, I've squeezed them out of my life completely.

In two months, my maternity leave is over and it's back to suits and briefcases. For the first time since I proudly hung my degrees on my office wall, I wonder if I've made a mistake.

69 comments:

  1. It's only a mistake if you stick with something long after you recognize it's not right for you. I hope you find a way to reconcile your need for joy and your need for an income to live on.

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    1. It's not that it's wrong for me; it's just not my passion (it is accounting after all). Which sounds so first-world indulgent - oh, you're highly educated and working for a decent salary in your chosen field. Poor you! Ugh. I'm disgusted with myself...but I still wonder what it would be like to have my work feel like play.

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  2. Hmmm...that's a tough thing for a kid in school to realize. It's hard to pick a career before you've actually had a real job!

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    1. I've often thought schools should do a lot more career counselling than they do. There are so many careers and fields of study that high school students don't even know exist.

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  3. I grew up very passionate about reading and writing--but I knew I didn't want to study English because I didn't want reading and writing to turn into a science for me. I'm pretty sure most of the greatest writers of history didn't have English degrees! :P Writing is still my passion, but right now I'm in cosmetology school so that I can have a practical job while I write. THe "practical job" part does steal so much of your life, though!

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    1. Turning into a science is exactly how it felt and it was awful. I felt like my writing actually got worse the more I studied English, because my internal editor interfered with the natural flow and rhythm of my writing.

      Cosmetology sounds like it could provide an artistic outlet too, which is a nice bonus in your practical job.

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  4. If you love English, can I recommend (for leisure reading) any books by David Crystal and the Etymologicon and the Horologicon by Mark Forsyth. They're awesome.

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    1. Just the title of that book makes me want to read it. Thanks for the tips!

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  5. Good question. Any chance of finding some type of accounting to do at home? I'm sure you have probably considered that option. It is interesting with career choices one makes; they do sound reasonable at the time. What I thought would be a "shoo in" of a career and last forever (medical transcription) is in danger of not being, so one never knows if they made the right choice or not. We just do the best we can with what we can work with at the time.

    on another note, Happy New Year!

    betty

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    1. I had considered opening my own practice at one point, but getting a business up and running is a ton of work, and it's not the right time in my life to be taking the financial risk.

      I like your thought about doing the best we can - that's a good perspective to keep.

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  6. I love your thoughtful blog post. I hope things go well after your maternity leave is done. Found you on SITS today.
    fortheirtenderhearts.com

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  7. I started out pursuing a music performance degree, only to end up with $75K worth of student loans and a desk job. Looking back, I can't believe we're sent from high school to college in order to pursue a degree that will, theoretically, decide our career having known so little of the "real world." You never know where life is going to take you.

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    1. Great point. A lot of liberal arts grads end up with a ton of debt and a job that's outside their field of study. Unfortunately following your passion doesn't always translate into the happy ending popular media would suggest.

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  8. Oh dude, I feel you. I LOVED high school English and did really well. When I got to university, I took lit classes as my electives. What a huge mistake that was. I thought it would be great to have fiction as homework, but my papers were ripped to shreds by TAs who were planning a career in...well, whatever it was they were planning...I really didn't know since I was not an English major. But I realized that if you weren't an English major, you were not welcome in their classes. So I stopped taking them and didn't have the chance to read a novel again until I graduated. As for the job thing, mine has totally worn me out over the last decade, so my new plan is to try and find some mental balance with it and see if I can keep at it a while longer.

    Sorry for the novel here; I hope going back to work isn't as foreboding as it currently seems.

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    1. No worries; I love long comments! I'm a novel-writer myself ;)

      Mental balance. That's what I need to find with my job too. I'm just not sure how to do it.

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  9. I totally understand this. I have been spending a whole lot of time lately wondering if I made a mistake in my chosen career. I think, particularly with writers, this is a common sentiment, and a way for you to reassess where you are going, and what you really want.

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    1. I know I'll stick with accounting as a career - I might switch jobs, but I'll stay in the field. I'm not willing to lower our family's standard of living to indulge my early mid-life crisis, and it's not like I detest accounting. But I wish I had understood a little more clearly what I was giving up to take this path.

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  10. I went back to college in my late 20s because I was hoping to get into vet school, even though I sucked at math and science and knew it. But hey, people tell you that if you put your mind to it and work hard enough, you can do anything! Bull. Shit. I quickly learned my limitations and switched my major from biology to English. It was great until I got to grad school. I always say, "I fell out of love with poetry, but in love with my husband in grad school." Seriously, I highly do not recommend MFA programs, especially ones that you have to pay for, which fortunately, I did not. I actually grew to hate reading! Sigh. Thanks for letting me rant.

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    1. Not ranting at all; I really appreciate you sharing your perspective on grad school English. It gives me some confidence that I made the right decision. I felt like I was starting to hate reading in my first year of my undergrad!

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  11. Yes yes yes. I relate to this. I know we all have to find our own solutions to this issue, but know you are not alone. I hated graduate school in English because tearing a text apart felt like math. Ick.

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    1. I've never thought about it that way, but maybe that's why I developed such an aversion to literary analysis. Too much like math!

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  12. I am currently home with my little ones, but want to return to more traditional work one day. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, either. I hadn't found it before they were born, that is for sure. I wish you well. I look forward to updates. Enjoy your time at home and congrats on your new addition!

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    1. Thanks Kristin! If I could start over from the very beginning, I would have liked to be a dancer and choreographer, but it's too late for that now. I wish we could do everything all at once!

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  13. Such a thoughtful post... I tread water through high school English (one teacher actually told me my writing had no voice). Then I got to college writing 101 and "found" my voice. I enjoyed literary analysis (squee -- all the options!) and had more than one prof pushing me towards a PhD in literature, but I was an actor before I was a writer, so I dismissed that idea, something for which I am eternally grateful.

    I approach writing as a performer, so the words have to flow in a way that can be spoken. I create characters as an actor and approach writing conflict as one, too. I don't know how else to do it...

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    1. Well, you certainly have a strong voice now! It's hard to even imagine someone saying this to you.

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    2. Yeah, I chuckle about that every now and then. She's a facebook friend and I wonder if she read the entry where I talked about owning my voice and recognized her criticism or if it was far too long ago for her to remember it...

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  14. Going back to work is hard any way you slice it....good luck!!!

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    1. With my first baby, I could hardly wait to get back. But this time I'm not so enthusiastic.

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  15. Very honestly said! As an English major whose first job out of college was with an IT consulting firm, I feel ya. Good luck with the transition.

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    1. I don't think I'll actually leave my career. But I'd like to find a way to fit in more writing time. Then again, maybe this is just a time in my life when my hobbies have to go to the sideline.

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  16. You put very well into words how I felt about English. I loved to read so much but hated picking it all apart. Plus, did EVERYTHING have to have some deep meaning? I didn't read for years, between my career and my kids. Now I try to read at least an hour every day.

    I hope you find the right balance!

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    1. Haha! That deep meaning thing eventually drove me nuts. Sometimes entertainment is mindless or superficial and that's ok. Not everything has to provide some profound insight on life and the universe.

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  17. I teach English, and I think I've been guilty of killing some stories. My kids have had their love of reading killed in English class sometimes too.

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    1. But I'm sure there are stories you've brought to life too. Some of my English teachers were a huge encouragement to me.

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  18. Having children changes us in ways we can't imagine and makes it challenging and frightening to return to our former lives. I hope you'll find the path that is right for you, whether it's in your current career or a new one.

    P.S. I have a B.A. in English, and I've worked as a copy editor and editor for 25 years at consumer and trade magazines. I understand your thoughts about reading and writing for the love of it alone. Believe me. :)

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    1. I wish there was a way to keep my career but just dial down the hours. Why is it so hard to find balance? I guess I want to have it all...greedy, greedy.

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  19. Oh, this makes me sad. But you know you can do what you want. If you want to make a change, it's not too late. I think being happy, as much as is possible, for ALL the hours is the best option.

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    1. The financial stress on our family of me leaving my career would outweigh any benefit to me individually. So my current set-up is probably the best one for us. Unless we win the lottery or something awesome like that.

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  20. oh man. :( now, i'm bummed. hopefully, you're just anxious about the return to work... you've got to be true to yourself...somehow..
    (love, that you can't even add. made me giggle)

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    1. I think part of the problem is that my company and therefore my job is going through a rough patch right now. It's hard to put so much time and energy into a job you expect to lose in the next few years anyway. But I've been there long enough to qualify for severance, so they're going to have to pay me to leave if it comes to that.

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  21. I never did the higher english at school because I hated critiquing and just wanted to write, which no one understood. I don't think I would resort to accountancy though to keep the love alive ;)

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    1. Haha! Hey, I'm not very good at moderation and this was no different. Similar field of study? Pshaw.

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  22. But in reality, isn't it a lot like profession sports? How many people are actually drafted and can make their living doing that?

    I love writing. Not just writing, but the written word in general. I love studying and reading. But I have obligations. The choices are made, and they can't be unmade.

    But that's okay. I like to think that my life is what fills in the gaps between my reading and writing.

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    1. Great point, and this is how I'm going to think of it going forward. Lots of people have much worse jobs for less pay, or no job at all. I should be thankful for what I have and make peace with my passions remaining hobbies.

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  23. I know this is cliche but maybe it is the hormones. And then, maybe, writing should be your second career. One you plan for now, like a ten year plan, so you can quit your job one day. Or maybe it is just your work rough patch. Either way I do hope you find balance.

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    1. I think it's a rough patch that I have to ride out. I'm just not looking forward to it.

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  24. Wow! This post definitely resonated with me. I think the universe has a way of showing you to yourself, if that makes sense. Your passion for writing and reading may be knocking on the door telling you to come along already. I've been writing since I was a child, in full denial that I could actually embrace it as a career. But it found me again and hit me hard over the head during tragedy. So I'm finally following the prompt. Maybe this gut feeling is yours?

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    1. I think my blog might be enough. I miss playing the piano the way I used to as well. If only there were more hours in the day.

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  25. Wow. This gave me so much to think about. Actually, you still have to wonder if writing for a career would have sucked all the passion from it. Deadlines and competition and constantly trying to prove yourself and sell yourself. I pursued my passion post undergraduate degree. I went to an expensive elite school, did well and then chucked it all to pursue my passion - dance. I had that dance career for 4 years, and I'm not sure it sucked the joy out if it (I still love dance) but it did complicate my love for it. There's something to be said for having a job that allows you the mental and emotional space to pursue your passions because making your passion your work can end up diluting it. But that's my age and cynicism talking. I now my younger self would argue the exact opposite. Great post Azara. Your writing is touching people, even if it's not paying your bills...

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    1. What a compliment - thank you! The more I think about it, the more I think I did make the right decision. Even "promoting" my blog wears me out - there's no way I could write professionally. I still think I would be a good editor if I had trained for it, but I don't want to spend my days ripping other people's writing apart. I just don't.

      Dance...if my family could have afforded to put me in dance lessons, I would be in a different place right now. By the time I discovered that I loved dance more than anything else (including reading and writing), I was far too old to pursue it in any capacity. Dancing all day would be the best thing I can imagine.

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  26. I can relate to so many comments, especially the one about the commute. I used to work at a place that was 36 miles away.

    Mornings took between 60-90 minutes and the ride home rarely was less than almost 90 and sometimes two hours.

    When I got home I just wanted to do nothing.

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    1. This is why I would never work in a big city. My 30 minute commute is as much as I can handle, because when you add in transporting kids around it turns into at least an hour.

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  27. Goodness, this is very open and sincere! And, quite refreshing, actually. I enjoyed reading this. I mean I enjoyed READING this (think emphasis rather than yelling). Your writing style is beautiful. It is hard to comment on such a raw feeling as you have touched on with the possible wrong choice of career. The arts, in nearly every capacity, draws you, but has a hard time keeping food on the table. I have struggled with this most of my life. I wish you luck with finding a space that you feel comfortable in or at least finding a balance.
    Jamie

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    1. Thank you. Keeping food on the table needs to be my priority right now.

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  28. Maybe there's a new direction your life is supposed to take? I hope the path is opened up in front of you in a very obvious way!
    Michelle
    http://normalchaosforamultitaskmom.blogspot.com/2013/01/ready-set-purge.html

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  29. I can totally relate. I sit at my desk sometimes planning my escape / envisioning what my life would have been if I had left earlier and followed my passion... but, there is a time for everything AND it's never too late.

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    1. A time for everything is the key. Now is just a particularly busy time in my life.

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  30. Welcome to SITSSharefest!!! Glad you hopped in today for the first time. Love your bloggy world here!

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    1. Thanks! I'm enjoying the hop so far.

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  31. I know I've made many mistakes in this regard, BUT, it's led me to where I am now and there's nowhere I'd rather be. I love the way you write by the way. I hope you're able to still find the time once you're maternity leave is over.

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    1. I won't have as much time for blogging, but I'm determined to keep up as much of it as I can. It's free, I really enjoy it, and I can do it at any time of day. What else can you ask for in a hobby? Of course right away my dirty mind starts thinking of other things that meet this criteria. Haha!

      And thank you :)

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  32. Very well written. I think this is always the constant trouble. I hope to someday make enough on my blog to be able to quit my job. And yes, the commute, it steals your soul.

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    1. Good luck with building your blog. I could do a lot of my work from home, but telecommuting isn't accepted in my profession, which is frustrating.

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  33. When I was a kid I wanted to get paid to read book when I grew up too – never admitted this to anyone before. I also ended up in accounting –I liked it enough to go back to school to take the classes needed to get my CPA. I needed a career where I could support myself. Accounting has never been my passion unlike the members of my professional organization whose eyes light up when a speaker starts talking about tax law. I also recently wrote a year-end work/balance post where I talked about having to work too many hours. Many companies still expect accountants to work a ton of hours during busy season or at year end. There are companies out there that do promote work/life balance, but I think they are hard to find. The problem for me and I think for you too is more than the hours. It is the grueling demands of deadlines, cash flow, audits, etc. that zap the energy and the life right out of you. In my work/balance post several commenters suggested I find a new job, I don’t really want a new job I want a life. Plus, there are many aspects of my job I like and it does pay a decent salary despite me being underpaid. Let’s hope we both find a little more balance in ’13.

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    1. Yeah, I left auditing because it was someone's year-end all year long and I got burned out from constantly being in crisis mode. My company has a reasonable work/life balance but our organizational structure just changed, and it looks like we might go public. If the hours get out of hand I'm leaving, period.

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  34. Wow I was glued to your every word in that post. I loved how you said you didn't want to look behind the curtain anymore. I really get that. I have always felt like a career in writing was the path not taken for me, but if I had studied English would it have ruined my love for it? I loved this post -so thoughtful - and I have felt very focused on finding the elusive balance in my life lately. Much harder than one thinks it will be. How are you enjoying your maternity leave?

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    1. I didn't enjoy my first maternity leave and the beginning of this one was hard. But I'm really starting to enjoy it now and I don't want to go back. I wish we could afford for me to take the whole 12 months.

      I know I made the right decision - if blogging sometimes makes me feel burned out, how would I cope with reading and writing as a full-time job? It would completely suck all the joy out of it.

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Lend me some sugar!