I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my English degree until the year before I graduated from college. I was walking around in the basement of the best used bookstore in downtown Salt Lake when, I kid you not, a book literally fell off the shelf in front of me and landed at my feet. And I am using the literal meaning of the word “literal” here.
The book was My First Year in Book Publishing, and when I read it everything clicked and I realized I wasn’t simply annoying when I had made grammar corrections to the notes my friends passed me in junior high, I was practicing for my future career as an editor! (Not that this made me any less annoying, mind you.) My favorite chapter—the one with the stars drawn in the margin of almost every paragraph—is called “If I Won the Lottery,” in which the essayist talks about how she knew she had found her perfect job because she’d keep at it even if money were no object.
It’s a good question. What would I do if I won the lottery? Well, I’d buy a new house and some frivolous shoes and throw a fabulous party and hire a housekeeper, and I’d also edit books, just like I do every day of the work week. I really would.
The other day a Twitter friend and I were bemoaning the fact that our salaries are completely eaten up by daycare (it’s that same old working-mom’s ouroboros: we work so someone can take care of our children so we can work), and another friend popped in to ask why we kept working if it wasn’t for the money. Considering that our families’ finances would be the same either way, why did we choose to work instead of stay home with our children?
The answer is obviously different for different people in different situations (and would be different for me if I were in a different situation myself, for instance if I were talking about staying home with an infant versus a preschooler), but in my case it comes down to two things: (1) I’m a healthier, happier mother when I work and (2) my son is a healthier, happier kid when he doesn’t spend all day, every day with me.
At times when I second-guess myself, I rationalize the guilt away by arguing (with myself) that it would actually cost money to keep my child home, since I’d have to spend more on things like play dates and craft supplies, but let’s be honest, it really isn’t about the money at all. It’s about me and my need to work. My want to work.
If I won the lottery…if money weren’t an object…well, lots of other things would be objects in its place: sanity, self-worth, fun (no, really), keeping a foot in the career door for when my kids are both in school, etc. And even though money is still an object in several ways, taking it out of the to-work-or-not-to-work equation (well, pretending to take it out of the equation) at least helps me isolate those other reasons, which in turn influences what decisions I make and how I feel about them.
In the end, if I won the lottery, my top priority would be the same as it is now: to be happy. And here’s the good news: I don’t actually need to win the lottery to make that happen.
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