I was feeling positively abysmal yesterday when I started thinking of how much money I make each year.
This might be enough to make anyone down in the dumps, regardless of how many figures are in her salary, because we live in a culture where more is never enough and less is cause for despair. But it got me thinking about the kinds of currency we use to measure our lives.
In July of 2010, I left my corporatesque job with an academic/trade publisher to become a partner in a small, custom-publishing company founded by a dear friend and decade-long professional colleague. It was a leap of faith: I knew it wouldn't be as grand financially or come with benefits (no 401(k), no PTO), but it had other benefits. I would work from home. I would not be required to work mandated hours, fill out a time card, or make requests for time off. I could take some time off every day, if desired. I could work 7 days a week if I wanted. I would be trusted to make decisions and work independently. I would have ownership of the company and my work. I would have a say. I would be allowed to be fully myself.
And in addition to a modest weekly check, I'd have my health insurance paid for, which ended up being key when I needed to have foot surgery. (It is extremely helpful to be able to recover from foot surgery when you have a home office and have no need to leave your house to go to work.) And I'd have partial ownership in the company, increasing every year, as well as extra income depending on how many projects came in. I'd get to do the writing on some of those projects, finally.
I love my work. I no longer feel that I have a job. I have work. It is meaningful, interesting, fulfilling, sometimes mundane and frustrating, at times incredibly stressful, but I never regret making this choice. My worst day now is better than my best day at my last job. There are so many other ways I'm compensated for making this choice.
Why, then, did I allow myself to feel down in the dumps when I thought about the fact that I make less now than I did at the corporatesque job that nearly drove me to insanity? (And I don't mean that entirely metaphorically, as staying there much longer would likely have driven me to a therapist.) Why, when my husband did some calculating and told me that based on a 40-hour work week, what I make hourly averages out to a sum that is a little more than minimum wage, did I feel a roiling in my gut?
Why do we allow ourselves to put a numerical value on what we do? Why do we let dirty green paper dictate our worth, our contribution to society, our mood when we get out of bed?
I don't, usually, and in fact, since I started this work in July 2010, I've never once paused to think about things in these terms. Instead, I've delighted in the fact that I work at home, set my own hours, am valued and trusted by my partners, and no longer feel dread when thinking about the answer to people's question, "What do you do?" I am glad that working at home meant I could heal from my foot surgery in comfort, work during hours that are most productive (hello, nighttime!), take time each day to relax, ease into the day, cook myself lunch. I don't feel guilty or like I'll have a pissed-off boss on days when I'm less productive. I don't count down the hours to Friday or feel soul-shattering dread on Sunday nights. I usually greatly enjoy the things on my to-do list.
Sometimes I get lonely and wish I had colleagues to chat with. Sometimes I have to remind myself to get up and leave the house for a while. Sometimes I am so relieved that I don't have to deal with anyone else's bullshit or printouts or memos or meetings that I could weep in relief. Most days I don't, but on occasional days, I do wear pajamas at my desk. (Today is one of them.)
People are often interested in hearing more about what I do. They think it sounds cool. They think it sounds challenging. They are wistful that they don't work at home, or alternately, in awe that I work at home because they don't think they could ever have the discipline to do it. (Secret: it's mostly not about discipline, but that's a post for another day.)
I am thrilled that I'm finally living my dream of writing and working for a publisher that produces meaningful work and am free of the lunacy of a 9-to-5 office structure. So why use my paycheck as a yardstick to measure my days? I thought about it for a while, and it made me feel bad, and when my husband reminded me of all the things I love about my work life, and how he'd take a pay cut if it meant having the freedom and fulfillment I have, I realized he was right. I realized that dollars are a bad way to value what we do. When you don't dread sitting at your desk, when you feel fulfilled at least a bit every day, when you think of it as work you want to do and not just a job you have to do, you have won. You have all the riches you could desire. You have a life that is priceless.
Whether it is a hobby, a job, a family role, or a cause you passionately support, what brings joy and meaning to your days should be measured in spiritual, emotional, or mental currency. Don't measure the worth of your days by your paycheck.
It seems obvious, but it clearly bears repeating. Sometimes it's good to remind our minds of what our hearts already know.