work_for_myself_bannerA while ago, a friend of mine did a radio piece about crappy jobs.  I helped out and told her some stories about my more colorful experiences. Once it was all edited, a group of people met  in the basement of a restaurant to listen it the finished product.  It was interesting, hilarious at times, but I found myself annoyed on more than one occasion with the attitude of the some people interviewed.

At least two people described hateful work experiences, and then said “it was then that I decided to work for myself.”  The tone used to say that was a sort of smug “I can’t be penned in by others’ expectations and rules,” and it just grated on me.  It sounded spoiled, obnoxious, and immature.  Isn’t working for yourself the dream of many people that they never quite get to realize, or have to work very hard for years to achieve?  Somehow these 20-something hipsters have one lousy experience and then decide to shrug off the yoke of oppression, and answer to no one. Of course these are all assumptions about the people who said that–I don’t know who they are, but I picture someone who still receives a healthy allowance from his or her parents, and earns little-to-no-money making eco-friendly shoes or being an urban farmer.

Around the time I heard this radio piece, I read a short article about entrepreneurs who have manage to successfully work for themselves because they simply did not have the temperament to work for other people.  One example was Penelope Trunk, whose blog I actually read because despite her rampant narcissism, she makes some good points.  She recounted how she was fired from an ice cream shop for refusing to scoop flavors she disliked (something like that, anyway). To that I say: what the hell is wrong with you?  Did you not expect that that would become an issue before even applying for the position?

This may be my Midwestern work ethic is showing, but I’ve always had the attitude– do your job.  The article was praising people who refuse to fall in line, or who are too creative to work for “the man.”  I’m pretty creative, but I also live in the real world, and know I need to get paid.  I’ve had terrible jobs, jobs that I hated more than I even believed I was capable of; jobs that sent me into a depression and made me question everything in addition to being low-paying and soulless— but I had to do them, because I had pay rent and eat.

Maybe I don’t understand all of this because I’ve never had a full-time job.  There’s a chance that going to a hateful 9-5 would make something snap in my brain that drives me to create a career where I work for myself, but more than likely I would starve and be homeless before getting that career going.  In my first interview for a library job, they asked me why I wasn’t pursuing writing.  I said that I was, but I’m also realistic enough to know that while I’ll always be a writer, I may never make a liveable wage doing it.

I’ve been working for myself (in a way) all summer, and I’ve never been so bored.  The reason I’m bored, is that I’m learning very little and I never leave the house.  Everything I need to accomplish can be done from my laptop, and so I sit in my chair all day.  I love being able to roll out of bed, work in my pjs drinking my coffee, and still accomplish things; but making my home into a workspace makes me feel like I’m always working or should be working, and also gives me license to take many, many breaks.

I need interaction to feel creative; I need pressure from outside sources; I need to actually make enough money so I can play a little bit as well as work.  Everyone (or maybe just Oprah) says follow your passion, and I’m fine with that, but what I’m passionate about (and I suspect that I’m not alone in this) is not a real job.  Librarianship is something I care about very much, and I’m passionate about certain aspects of it, but when you ask someone “what’s your passion?” it makes the ordeal of figuring out what you want to do with your life that much more difficult. My cat gets to follow his passion, because he will be taken care of no matter what, but that’s not how people should live.  In return for his care, I expect him to pay attention to me when I want him to, and wait to be fed until I feel like getting up–he has no control.  You should have to deal with something unpleasant to get to the good–otherwise how do you do tell the difference?

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs said something similar, a lot more articulately at a TED conference recently–you should watch the video, he’s pretty dreamy and has a great voice.