with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
Whenever someone wants to talk to me about my career as a writer, they invariably want to know how I got started, what my plan was, and/or if I “always knew” I wanted to write.
I seem to end up answering these questions in bits and pieces. Have I “always” been a writer? Sure, if you count journaling, rambling letters and/or emails, and the fact that I’ve always enjoyed putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). It’s something I’ve always done in one form or another. But did I always plan to be a writer? Of course not. That’s not a practical career goal, you know. No, when I went to college, I planned to be an actress.
It’s true. Right up until my senior year, my plan was to get my degree in theater and then move to New York City and go on cattle calls until I hit it big and lived happily ever after. Or something. Only, I discovered that I had no desire to live in New York City (or any other giant city), and also that I probably didn’t have the patience and perseverance to try to “make it in the biz” when I’d already spent years being told by my theater professors that I wasn’t pretty enough to get good roles, anyway. (This is true—both that I was told that, and that it was the truth.)
That’s how I started looking for a “more practical” career by my senior year in college. What else did I like to do? Well, I enjoyed my psychology classes. Psychology was my minor and I’d always done well in it. Maybe I could take a few extra classes and turn it into a second major…? It turned out that I could. In fact, to get those extra credits, I ended up doing an independent study in a psycholinguistics laboratory, and that was downright fascinating. By the time I graduated, I’d decided I should go to grad school and continue to study it.
I worked for a year, both to save up money and to give myself time to take the GREs, apply to schools, etc. I could go get my Ph.D. and then I could… well, I’d figure that out later. I could teach, maybe, or do something else. Details!
Grad school was great, for the first semester. By the second semester, I’d already figured out that I had no interest in being a career academic, so the question became what in the world can I do with this education that won’t bore me silly? The answer—I thought—came along when I started taking human-computer interaction classes. Hey! That was really interesting! And I was in Silicon Valley and there were all of these places doing all sorts of human-computer interaction-y sorts of things, and I could go be a human factors engineer and that would be fascinating!
I dropped out of my Ph.D. program with a Master’s degree and went to work for IBM. And it was great. I loved it! For about a year.
And then I got bored. Honestly, by this time, I was beginning to suspect I might have adult ADHD. Didn’t… you know… normal people find a career and enjoy it for the rest of their lives? Maybe it was just that particular job I was at…?
Lucky for me, my then-husband finished up his degree and got a job offer across the country. My manager at IBM offered to help me figure out a transfer to one of their East Coast offices, but I decided I should make a clean break, and try someplace else. After a bunch of interviews, I received two offers and agonized over which one to take. Both jobs sounded way more interesting than my current position. Finally I chose one, and we moved, and I lived happily ever after.
The new job was great… for about a year. But I stayed for a lot longer than that. Part of how I lasted was that I dropped down to half-time after I had my first baby. But a little while after I had my son, I quit altogether. It was an easy choice to make, because I sort of hated it by then, anyway.
Fast forward: after years of staying home and changing diapers, I began to suspect my marriage was in trouble, and I knew I needed to start working again, but I no longer wanted to be an engineer. And I wasn’t qualified to do anything else. So… I started working for a mortgage broker. (No, I don’t really know how that happened. But before the housing market collapsed, basically anyone could be a mortgage broker.) That was a job I never liked, but I was able to set my own hours, make some decent money, and it at least showed me that I could still get out there.
Shortly after my divorce, I was “restructured” out of that job. It was a blessing in disguise, but it didn’t feel that way at the time.
A million aimless job applications later, I started working as a marketing assistant at a small tech company, and it was great for about the first six months. When things started going downhill there, I was really starting to believe I might be constitutionally incapable of enjoying any job long-term. I mean, sure, the company was basically a dysfunctional family and as the most recent hire I spent a lot of time feeling like the proverbial red-headed stepchild, but still. What intelligent adult has this much trouble finding and keeping a decent job?
By the time I was laid off from there, I had to do some serious soul-searching. Not only was it stressful to not have a steady income, my self-esteem was taking a beating from all of these attempts to smush myself into a job-shaped box that simply didn’t fit me. There had to be a better way.
I was already blogging, by then. Just my personal blog, of course, and I wasn’t making any money on it. But I had an audience. And I’d been writing steadily for about a year. And I loved it. A lot.
So I put it out there to the universe, mentally crossing my fingers and hoping that Oprah and all of those other “follow your passion” folks were right. “I’m going to pursue a career as a freelancer writer,” I said on my blog. “No more fooling around. This is the only thing I’m good at. I’m going to do it.”
It didn’t happen overnight. One of my very first gigs, goodness, I laugh now at how green and awful I was, at how slow and inept. By the time I turned in each assignment, I was earning well under minimum wage, all things considered. But I did it. But the first gig gave way to a second, and then a third, and so on. I’ve had some great writing gigs over the years, and some terrible ones. I’ve met incredible people and run across a few who made big promises and left me hanging. It hasn’t been easy and it definitely hasn’t all been good, but I still love it.
I’ve been supporting myself via my writing for over six years, now, and there’s nothing I’d rather do. And that still kind of amazes me.
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