We all know the script. Go to school, work hard, get good grades, get a job, work hard at the office Monday to Friday for several decades… and then you can retire and relax and do what you want. It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture and our minds that anyone who dares to make a living any other way faces a barrage of questions implying that somehow, their work is not ‘real work’ – their job is not a ‘real job’.
The above photo is of my job – taken last summer as I was working on my laptop on a hotel terrace overlooking St Ives beach in Cornwall, UK. I work as a freelance writer, and as long as I have my laptop (well, MacBook), a good internet or Wi-Fi connection and my smartphone, then I can do my work. Even if I’m outdoors overlooking the beach and enjoying the sunshine. Does that mean my work is not ‘real work’?
The following are the things I’ve heard said to me about my work:
- ‘Have you ever thought about applying for a job?’
- ‘I’d love to be able to sit and write all day, but I can’t be so self-indulgent – in reality I have to have a proper job’
- ‘No one can pay the bills by writing for a living, unless you get lucky’
- ‘I don’t know how you manage to work from home and get your work done – I could never do it’
- ‘Yeah, but just because you were able to make that career change doesn’t mean it’d work for me – you’re different from me / you have special qualities that I don’t’
- ‘It’s not necessary to do something you love for a living, and those who do love their jobs are lucky’
- ‘I couldn’t do something I love so much for a living – the moment I start earning money for it, it’ll feel like work and I’ll stop enjoying it’
- ‘But being self-employed / owning your own business is really risky – at least being an employee gives me job security’
Be honest. How many of you thought one of those things (or a variation of them) when I said what I do for a living? Or if someone like me told you what they did for a living?
Each of the above statements carries the unspoken implication that my work is not ‘real work’ – that my job is not a ‘real job’ – as the deeply ingrained script in the speaker’s mind defines it. Sadly, these assumptions held in the script about work and jobs are often never even questioned – even if the speaker themselves (as is often the case) is secretly very unhappy about what they do for a living.
Here’s what I think: We need to change how we think about work. We need to change what we think a job is, and what ‘counts’ as a job. Your job, your work CAN be – and frankly, should be – something you love, and you can still earn money and make a living from it. Let’s look at the above statements one by one.
‘Have you ever thought about applying for a job?’
No, because I don’t need to apply for a job. I have a job. The fact that I like it, or that I don’t have a boss to try to please or justify myself to, or the fact that I don’t have to commute to an office (or other place of work that others have told me to be at), doesn’t make it any less of a job. The words ‘job’ and ‘work’ are not defined in any dictionary anywhere as ‘something that gives you a complete lack of freedom and/or control over how you spend at least 8 hours of your day’. If I ‘apply for a job’ as most people understand it, it will be because I want to, and not because what I do isn’t a job.
‘I’d love to be able to sit and write all day, but I can’t be so self-indulgent – in reality I have to have a proper job’
In ‘reality’, my job is a ‘proper job’. If I don’t do the work, I don’t get paid. It’s as simple as that. There is nothing ‘self-indulgent’ about writing the articles my clients commissioned me for to a good standard and submitting them by the deadline they set. There is nothing ‘self-indulgent’ about writing blog posts or books for my readers that will be useful and helpful in their lives, or even keep them entertained when they read them. There is nothing ‘self-indulgent’ about meeting my responsibilities to my clients, my readers, or to myself. Trust me, it’s work.
‘No one can pay the bills by writing for a living, unless you get lucky’
People do pay the bills by writing for a living. I do. And it isn’t because I’m lucky either. I started as a journalist in 2009 with no contacts, no experience and no bloody idea how to even get started – I’d spent the previous 4 years as a tax accountant, for goodness’ sakes! I didn’t ‘get lucky’, I got persistent – persistent enough to land a fortnight’s unpaid work experience on a national newspaper (so that I would get some experience and articles published under my name to prove it), persistent enough to read every book going on how to write for a living, persistent enough to gain all my contacts from scratch, persistent enough to market myself to the publications I could write for, and persistent enough to keep going when I got turned down and rejected from so many publications… until the day that one agreed to hire me and pay me. I kept going for months until the second agreed to hire and pay me, while still working for the first one, then I got my third client, and my fourth – and it all went from there.
We also have this idea of the ‘starving artist’ in our culture when it comes to people who make their living from their own creative endeavours, yet for many people it just isn’t true. This is one of the myths I intend to go deeper into in a later blog post.
‘I don’t know how you manage to work from home and get your work done – I could never do it’
Working from home does take some time to get used to if you’ve got used to having to commute to an office and stay there from 9am to 5pm to do your work, but you do get used to it. In the early days, for me, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills or feed myself if I didn’t work proved to be a huge motivator to actually getting stuff done – I could work from anywhere after that. Including from the beach!
‘Yeah, but just because you were able to make that career change doesn’t mean it’d work for me – you’re different from me / you have special qualities that I don’t’
I don’t have any special qualities (as people who dislike me would be the first to point out). If anything, there are likely to be ‘advantages’ you have that I don’t. Plus, how do you know changing career ‘won’t work for you’ if you haven’t even tried it? Either you’re making excuses to do and achieve nothing, or you’re allowing your fear (of failure, of change, or of anything else) to do the talking.
If it’s the latter, it’s worth remembering that everyone who has ever succeeded at anything has been scared. Being scared is OK, but you must push through and do it anyway. I was terrified when I changed career. I had no idea if I was ever going to make my new life work – but I kept going and kept doing it regardless of how scared I felt. Sometimes the fear never really goes away, but you have to keep doing things to move yourself forward in spite of it, not stop doing things because of it.
Of course, if you are using the ‘but you’re different from me’ spiel to make excuses to do or achieve nothing with your life, and you’re happy to be the type of person who is full of excuses why you haven’t done or achieved anything with your life, then nothing I or anyone else will say can help you. Good luck with that.
‘It’s not necessary to love what you do for a living, and those who do love their jobs are lucky’
Those who love their jobs are not just ‘lucky’, and as for those who believe you don’t have to do something you love for a living – doing something you don’t love until retirement is far too long to waste your life, and waste your time, hating your life. You owe it to yourself, and to the people who care about you, to lead the best life you can lead, and that includes doing something with your life that gets you fired up and excited. Plus, with talk of the UK retirement age rising to 70, do you really want to do something you hate until you’re 70? Because that’s what you’re saying here.
‘I couldn’t do something I love so much for a living – the moment I start earning money for it, it’ll feel like work and I’ll stop enjoying it’
If anything is a manifestation of the deeply ingrained cultural script that ‘your work/job is not something to be enjoyed’, it’s this one. In my experience, the moment I started earning money to do something I loved – writing – it became even more enjoyable than when I did it for free (and I LOVED writing when I was doing it just for fun, just for me, and not getting paid for it). Are you sure this isn’t just another excuse, or that it isn’t just your fear getting the upper hand again?
‘But being self-employed / owning your own business is really risky – at least being an employee gives me job security’
You have got to be kidding me. Has the fact that there’s been a recession on for the past 4 or 5 years escaped you? Did you see those images of people carrying their possessions out in boxes to the tube station on their way home when global financial giant Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, and all their staff turned up to their offices only to be told that they no longer had jobs anymore?
(If you haven’t seen those images before, then Google is your friend. Enjoy.)
With so many businesses collapsing over the last few years, this exact scenario has happened to thousands up and down the country, if not the world. One day they had a job, the next day (or week) they were told the unexpected news that they didn’t – they weren’t even given time to work out their notice periods, or time to look for other jobs before their current one ended. Do you really think that’s job security?
Being self-employed, or owning your own business, or earning income from any other source than being an employee is actually far less risky, far less insecure, in this economy. Sure, you depend on income from your clients, and some of them may be constrained by their own budgets, but you are the one who has to get these clients and agree your prices, so really your ‘job security’ is dependent on yourself. Even if one of my clients ‘fires’ me, that doesn’t stop me getting another. In my job, I’m not relying from income from just one client anyway. Which is exactly what you’re doing as an employee.
Doing work you love for a living is possible. Your job does not have to be something that you ‘do just to pay the bills’ and nothing else.
It’s time we challenged those cultural scripts. It’s time we thought about work and jobs in a different way. The good thing is that, even with the global recession on, people have already started to think about work and jobs in a different way – and there are people making a living out of doing work they enjoy, and loving every minute. People have already started to realise there is more to life than work you hate. (Especially if you have to do it until you’re 70.) I hope that this blog helps you see that there is a different way, and that it can be done.