Work is one of those areas we tend to ruin for kids, like healthy eating and time management. We act like we’ve got it together, and in reality, we’re just feeling our way along with a handful of principles and a heartful of hope. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask, like it’s a simple decision to make and a simple path that stretches forward from there. Ah, for the good old days when the choice seemed feasible and easy. A doctor. No, today I want to be a teacher. An ice-skater. An airplane pilot.
The challenge arises when you’re 39 with two kids, three degrees, and fifteen years of solid work in a given field under your belt, and you’re trying to broaden your thinking. You’re just dripping with intentionality, and it’s starting to get annoying. Not as annoying as the disabling sonar of your three-year-old’s wail or the baby’s uncanny persistence in the face of what he KNOWS is off-limits — but annoying. Get a job, you hear some cruel voice say in the back of your head. It’s hard to know, though, which of these that voice really means:
- Get paid; stop being a drain on resources. (To which I say: do the damn math. Stay-at-home moms are worth about $110 K/year, according to Salary.com and other sources. And yet, I miss our DINK days, no doubt.)
- Get validation. (To which I say: yes, please. I could use that. But validation comes in many forms.)
- Get out of the house. (Indeed. Good plan.)
- Get involved in work that makes a bigger difference. (But I AM! I serve on boards and write and am raising feminist boys, and…well, yeah, I miss that, too.)
So you need a strategy, but not the old kind, where you shake every job-hunt tree in reach and see what falls out. No, this kind of strategy needs multiple prongs and greater strategery. Here, you need to honor (with a straight face, if possible) the multiple facets of your life, the many skills you have, the many longings. You need to quiet the voices of criticism and their obnoxious reminders that those wasted degrees are IVY LEAGUE degrees. Put differently, you don’t want to end up charging full-bore at something you THINK you want, only to find out you’re wrong. So now you do this:
- Job-hunt in the conventional ways, for work in your field and close to your field and close enough that you think you’d like it.
- Develop the writing: seek publishers and editors and contacts and assignments. Take workshops. Jump in.
- Develop the crafting: remember that not everyone is out making cool scarves from recycled velvet dresses, or sweet hats from old sweaters. You do have vision and you do have skill, and there are folks close to home who are creating markets that might sell your stuff.
- Network, broadly and openly, about the Search. Acknowledge its multiplicity. Own its complexity. People love to give advice and to help — take it. All of it.
- Work hard not to resent your children for needing you or your spouse for having a daily life that involves silence, reading, professional respect, and music of his choosing. Work hard to stay centered and limber and whole.
Good plan, no? The devil (or at the very least, the wee cherubs and their noiseful chaos) is in the implementation.