“I’ve got to get home for a phone call, ” said my friend. I’ll call her Melanie. We’d been having an editorial meeting for the preview issue of the parenting literary magazine that we’re launching.
The dream job
As projects go, this was a dream for all of us; we’d raised a bunch of money on Kickstarter and had enough to print the first issue. Enthusiasm and momentum being what they were, I saw the possibility of turning this into a fully-engaging, part-time job for six of us, something we could and would weave into our roles as mothers.
Because of where we all were in our lives, we could all survive on less than full-time pay. My husband had just agreed to serve another year in the Army in Kuwait, leaving me little room for any sort of full-time job while I care for my three boys. Our managing editor’s husband is an engineer with long hours and a salary sufficient to support both of them while her two children are small. Each one of us had some similar situation.
We were six women in a room with a dream and real commitment. We didn’t need to take a pledge or sign a contract: we were all in this with all our chips.
The “real” job
“I’m going to be offered a job, ” Melanie said. “Should I take it?” She went on to describe the position; it was pretty high-intensity and a lot of hours. She was worried it would detract from her relationship with her son. She was worried that the work, while respectable, would leave her drained for the creative projects that she loved.
But it was a salary, with benefits, and if she didn’t take it now — it might not be there in six months? She had budgeted for a transition between finishing a Master’s degree and finding just the right job, but eventually her money would run out. What if she said “no” and she got neither this, nor anything else?
Another dream/reality sequence
Only a week later I was chatting with another friend. I’ll call him Dan. He had just gone to great effort to create a position that he funded with some money he’d saved up from the sale of a house. It was the perfect spot; a chance to have an important position in a non-profit with some real room to grow. Of course, he had to not just make the organization grow but to raise funds to continue paying his salary.
About this time he got an offer from a perfectly acceptable organization. It would be full-time, and he’d been through so many interviews it was almost like he’d paid his dues already. It would be practical and ordinary and would neither enhance nor detract from his future prospects. A smart option. But not the one he’d love.
What I told them both: Dream big
I’ve been through the valley of the shadow of death jobs. I’ve seen how this goes. You take a job that seems the sensible financial choice. And for a while, it is; you work hard. You work SO hard. You give 100%. You wonder if you are really giving more than 100%. You rack up fancy numbers and you launch things and you break records.
Then, something happens. Maybe it’s a kid who goes through a crisis that can’t be juggled along with a 110% job. (This was me.) Maybe the CEO is forced out in a scandal and a rabble-rouser takes over. (Watched this happen twice.) Maybe a brash young entrepreneur, along his with company, is acquired and he decides your whole department should be fired in a conference room to make room for his own givers-of-110%. (This too happened twice to good friends.)
The nut is that you never know. There is no safe job. There is no risk-free choice.
I only bet when I’m in control
A long time ago, I realized why I hated playing the lottery or gambling on the outcome of sports games or, really, any betting unless it’s “I bet you can’t climb that tree.” I only feel like it’s worth betting when I am in control of the outcome; if my choices and talents are going to determine whether my bet pays off.
Of course, this kind of betting is risky too, but if it doesn’t work out I can point to my own failings and improve my performance or get out of the game. I haven’t put all my money on red and watched statistics take my money away.
It’s like this with jobs, and that’s why I’ve chosen over the past few years to go the dream route. My skill, my hard work, my enthusiasm, my own whim will make this job (my writing, or the magazine) swim (if it swims) and I’ll get to divvy up the gold medals as I choose.
It’s not for the faint of heart
I am brave and foolhardy. This allows me to go forth and launch into careers-that-are-not-yet-careers, and to quit jobs when a “smart person” wouldn’t. I’ve always seen the other side of this, so far, and been pleased with the result. But if it makes you crazy from stress, it is not the path for you.
I’d love to hear your dream-vs.-reality choices. What did you go with? Did you find the right path for you?