Anytime I get disillusioned with my job and daydream about what my "ideal" work life would look like, the picture I see in my head is of me as a writer. I see me spending my time researching cool and interesting topics, weaving together perspectives from multiple different disciplines, and then turning that research into beautifully crafted prose that my adoring fans would pay lots of money to read.
I suspect you can already spot the problem with this daydream: it is utterly unrealistic. I know that being a writer would be a lot harder than the daydream implies. I know that there would be parts of the writer's job that I would be good at (self-motivating, for instance) and parts that I would find quite challenging (having to call people as part of my research, for instance). I know that garnering adoring fans would be no sure thing- and believe me, I harbor no illusions about how easily I would produce beautifully crafted prose. I've been writing this blog for long enough to know that I rarely, if ever, hit that mark.
And yet... the work of a writer, at least of the type of writer I daydream about being, is actually consistent with what I like in a job: as I figured out during my life reorg, I am drawn to the chance to organize information. I do that now, figuring out how to corral the mess of information produced in drug discovery into databases and SharePoint sites and the like. And a good non-fiction writer organizes information, too, but with the added aspect that she needs to then explain that information (and the organizational scheme) to her readers. In that aforementioned beautifully crafted prose.
However, I think that what keeps drawing my daydreaming mind to the idea is that the lifestyle appeals to me. I like the idea of being able to arrange my work week however it suited me, and I like the idea of being judged by my output, and not the hours it took me to produce it. The most appealing aspect of the job may actually be the idea that being efficient could be rewarded in a way that it is not in corporate jobs. In my current line of work, efficiency is generally rewarded with more work. In my writing daydream, it is rewarded with the opportunity to work a little less. Perhaps this is an overly idealistic view of what writing would be like. OK, this is almost certainly an overly idealistic view of what writing would be like. I suspect that I would actually need to fight the urge to work longer hours, to make more money.
But maybe not. The one time I had the opportunity to choose a little more time over more money, I chose the time: I cut my hours to 35 per week for about a year after Pumpkin was born. I felt productive at work in 35 hours- as I alluded to in my post on my work limit, if I try to work too few hours, I don't feel productive. I spend all my work time getting my head back into the work, and not much time actually getting anything done. So I don't want a true part time job. I would just like to redefine full time a bit.
When I think it through, it is not even that I really to work fewer hours on a week by week basis. I don't want to work less. I just want to work different. I want more time to travel. Since both my husband and I have "paid time off" (PTO) instead of vacation time and sick leave, a lot of our time off goes to caring for sick kids (or being sick ourselves with whatever illness the kids have passed on to us). We struggle to take real vacations. When was the last time we both two solid weeks off of work? I'm trying to remember, and I think it was right after Petunia was born- which hardly counts. I think the last time we came close to an actual two week vacation was our trip to Oregon, while I was pregnant with Petunia. And if I remember correctly, the I was only able to take that much time off at that point because I was allowed to take a couple of the days off without pay.
Even once my kids stop sucking all of my PTO into sick days, I suspect it will be hard to take the three week long vacations that Hubby and I took back when we were first together. People are shocked (and a bit horrified) when I say that I used to take a three week vacation every year- without a Blackberry. I don't know if this is a sign of my increased seniority (and responsibilities) or the fact that after years and years of downsizing and productivity increases, corporate America isn't really set up to have people disappear for three weeks. There is very little slack left for anyone to cover anyone else's work for more than a few days. Of course, it can be done. I managed to take a three month maternity leave after the birth of each child. I worked extra hard before and after each leave, organizing things for my upcoming absence and then picking up threads that had gone loose while I was out. I'd be more than willing to do that again in exchange for a proper three week holiday. But everyone seems to think that our work is too important to put on hold for anything as trivial as a vacation.
I know that this is nonsense, but I work in a culture that has bought into the nonsense. I fight it to the extent that I can. I do still take vacations, and I limit the encroachment of work into those vacations. (I work in IT, so even I accept that some situations are better handled from vacation than allowed to fester until I return.) And I daydream about finding a way to define my own work culture. The only way I'm going to get to do that is to be the boss- and I'm not really in the line of work that leads to being the boss in biotech. I have zero interest in the business development side of drug discovery. Perhaps I might someday find myself as the chief operating officer of a small biotech, but I'm pretty sure I'll never be the CEO. I've toyed with the idea of striking out as an independent consultant/contractor in my field, and I may yet do that (I have more thoughts on this coming in a future post on what sort of retirement I may get). In the meantime, I daydream about throwing it all in, and writing.
Why don't I act on my daydream? Well, for one thing, I suspect I'd miss drug discovery. For all its ups and downs and craziness, it is a pretty cool thing to be doing. I've also gotten a bit attached to my paycheck, and we've set up a life that depends on me earning a fair amount of money. All of that could change, but I'm not sure that I want it to. When I layer the hard truths of reality onto my soft-focus daydream, it doesn't look so great anymore. So I'll probably stay in my current field. But maybe, someday, when the kids are out of day care and our mortgage is a little smaller, I might decide to make some changes, and maybe, just maybe, I'll try out that daydream and see what its like.
What about you? What do you daydream about doing instead of your current job? Or are you doing the one and only thing that could ever make you happy?