Weird that today’s daily prompt happens to be the word “cowardice”.
Weird because I’ve been wrestling with a dilemma that involves that word. Namely, whether or not to venture back out into the “real world” work force.
We are in a bit of a financial bind, my husband and I. Debts, bills, the usual stuff. And I have been an at-home-full-time mom for the last 15 years. I am up there in age. (Okay, fine, just turned 50). I never finished college because I could never decide what degree to go for. Years of clinical depression never helped much either. Work is pretty hard to come by for someone like me, I imagine.
However, like rain in a time of drought, an offer has fallen into my lap at my old job. The pay is great (greater than when I left!). Part-time is really what they’re looking for, which is perfect for me with my kids who are still in school. I would be foolish not to jump at it. Stupid not to jump at it! And at first, I felt like rejoicing.
But here’s the thing. I really don’t want to go back. I get sick in the stomach at the thought. I never, ever, ever, liked working for anyone else. . I know, most people probably don’t relish it either. The last job grew on me more than any other…but still; if I didn’t feel I HAD to go back, I wouldn’t. I’m sure that this statement belongs in the First World Problem and even more possibly Spoiled Person Problem category. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind work and when I do, I put my all into it…until I burn out. I don’t come from a wealthy, privileged background. Hard work has always been my family’s motto. Like I said, when I work, I work hard. But working with people? In the interests of other people? It exhausts me. It exhausts me mentally and physically and emotionally. When my time belongs to others, it takes everything out of me until I feel like I am slowly being choked to death. There hasn’t been one job in my life that I didn’t come home from with either smoke coming out my ears or tears coming out my eyes. Not. One. Physical work is actually much easier for me to deal with than working with other people, and the only way I burn out on that is if I simply become physically exhausted.
For some reason, volunteering in some common goal with other people doesn’t bother me. Having to do it for a paycheck? Mmn. Ugh.
Here’s another thing. I believe that we all have different temperaments. I’m pretty sure that’s been proven. Analytical temperaments, social temperaments, creative temperaments, shy, bold, bossy, introvert, extrovert, diplomatic, problem solving…you-name-it temperaments. And I think that I’ve been running from my temperament for a long, long time.
When I was little and people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would answer with one of two things: an artist or a nurse. An artist because a love of drawing and painting and making up stories and creating has always been there as long as I can remember. A nurse, because that’s what my mom was at the time and I admired her greatly for it.
The proudest elementary school moment that I can remember as a painfully shy and introverted student was when my teacher chose my drawing of an Autumn path to display above the blackboard in front of the class. Sadly, to tell the truth, I think that was the ONLY proud moment of my school years. Oh wait, being inducted into the National Honor Society in Junior High and receiving top medals in band competitions were perhaps the others. I guess I could count those.
At twelve, I decided I wanted to be a writer, and that stuck in my head as what I would pursue for my entire life, until the problems with time management and with confidence in my mental abilities began to falter in high school (wish we’d known about ADD back then!) and the black cloud of depression began rolling into my brain. Until I was headed off to college with everyone else’s voices giving me “honest, prudent, realistic” advice that a degree in Literature or English or Art would get me NOWHERE in life and visions of myself alone and starving began to fill my head. Until fear and doubt and perfectionism and self-hatred dried up all the words. I decided that I would not be a writer. I would not be an artist. I deliberately gave up. I thought that maybe I would go into Social Work because I’d also always had an extreme sense of justice and equality and compassion. Then I was told by someone on a plane that to be in Social Work one had to have a very, very thick skin because it was a depressing field to work in. And I had just gotten over being suicidal.
Shit. Now what?
What do I do with my life when what I had identified with for so long, when what I had wanted to pursue for so long, when the only things for which I had shown any proficiency whatsoever, were stripped away?
I NEVER thought I’d be a housewife for so many years! Was most definitely not in my plans.
(And the thing is, despite my bouts of depression, being a stay-at-home mom has been the best position I’ve ever held).
So, after giving up on college when I caved into my writer’s paralysis, and when I submitted to everyone’s “sage” and future-predicting advice that a degree in Art was “not a useful degree”, I stumbled into whatever job I could get: photography studio lab, retail, temp work, records management in a law firm, admin in a law firm, office manager of a recruitment firm, receptionist at a Veterinarian’s clinic. At the same time, I did take a few classes in metal smithing, all the while dreaming that someday, maybe, I could make some kind of living with it.
And then came marriage, and then came children.
Etsy came along and seemed like it sprung from out of my dreams. I PINED to go for it. For years, I’d been wanting to try my hand. Depression would pop in almost like clockwork and derail me, but just when I gathered up some hope, when I had set up shop and was about to make and list things, I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. All my attention and energy was, of course, diverted. But I didn’t give up the idea.
We moved into our new house last year and it seemed like providence to me. It was bigger to accommodate us and our growing menagerie of pets, it was closer to my husband’s job, it was closer to the new school that we enrolled my ADHD son in so that he could regain some joy in going to school, it was closer to our place of worship, it was closer to my kid’s only cousin, it was closer to just about everyone in my book club, I would be just around the corner to one of my best friends (even though it broke our heart to leave living next to one of my other best friends) AND the most magical thing of all was that it had a space to call a real studio! A place where I could work without interruptions (for the most part), where I wouldn’t have to shoo away cats and dogs who just wanted to “help” with my projects, where I could store all of the craft and art supplies that I had been building up for so many years, itching to get to, where I could leave everything sprawled and strewn across the table exactly where it was and pick up where I left off later. It was like it was MEANT TO BE!
What does this have to do with cowardice?
Well, I can’t help but wonder – a lot lately – about what my path might have been if I had had the moxie and the determination and the bravery to tell everyone and their “real world” advice to go and shove it. If I’d had the bravery to listen to my gut and my heart about what path I should follow. If I hadn’t meekly followed the herd off to college like I was “supposed to do”, because everyone else was doing it. If, when I had gotten into college I had said, “Fuck it, I’m going to study what I WANT to study and not give a shit about where it will “get me in Life”. I mean, it’s, of course, the typical woulda/coulda/shoulda thinking.
But now I’m faced with entering the regular 9-5 job world again.
Right when I have my supplies, I have my ideas, I have my work space, my kids are older and requiring less attention.
I know who I am now and what my temperament has ALWAYS been.
I KNOW how I work best.
I KNOW what I want and I KNOW that it’s a risk.
There was a voice that whispered in my head a day after I got that suggestion to come back to work. It said, “Maybe this is a test. A test to see how dedicated I am to what I really want to do. A test to see how serious. A second chance to take a different way.”
I know how I work when I’m working on something I want to be working on; when I’m working on something creative. I become obsessed. And that obsession that fuels the work doesn’t operate very well with stops and starts. Or when I’m overloaded and exhausted and physically drained. That’s me. That’s my temperament. That’s how I tick. And I feel like I’ve been fighting it almost all my life in order to fit in and “do well” by society’s standards.
So, do I take this job, afraid that it will quash my dreams? Or do I not take this job and finally overcome the cowardice I succumbed to in my youth? Do I risk losing out on the only job that will pay me immediate financial returns; the only job that would probably hire me to begin with?
Everyone tells me that I can do both. In my gut, I know that’s not true. Unless, of course, I give up sleeping…and that, as I’ve learned too many times, especially when I was a new mom, is never a good idea. I am not a regimented, jump from one mode to another on a precise schedule personality. I’m old and set in my ways.
Also, I often have the paranoid thought (though not so paranoid, really) that my cancer could come back. And if it did, I would deeply regret not trying my hand at what I really wanted to do. Work alone, as much as possible, creating.
I was a coward then. Am I a coward now?
Cowardice. I’m wrestling with it these days.