Blast From the Past: Get a Real Job?

Since launching this blog, I’ve become reacquainted with Twitter, the social networking and micro-blogging service that I virtually abandoned last year after I stopped publishing WHY. It’s great to be in touch with a lot of old friends and colleagues again and share details of how our lives have changed over the past year. These tweets inspired me to revisit the premier issue of my online magazine. I found the following essay that I wrote in 2007, and it made me smile. My at-home work may be slightly different these days, but the sentiment still rings true.

From the May/June 2007 issue of WHY:
Get a Real Job?

There are some days when I can’t even tell you what the weather is like outside.

Yesterday was one of them. It was a Friday, and I had four articles to file to various newspapers and magazines, and, as usual, I had procrastinated to the very end and then found myself under the gun, ordering pizza for dinner to feed hungry and neglected children and feeling my body fat index rise by the moment as I sat for hours on a folding chair.

It was a crazy, stressful day, and I’d be lying if I told you that somewhere deep inside I didn’t love every minute of it—the rush, the deadlines, the challenge of juggling all these different elements of my life. Everything may not have gone perfectly, but they’d gone well enough to keep everybody pleased.

I was feeling pretty good until I got a call from an old friend. The conversation started out innocuous enough—about how fast all the kids were growing and how time flies—and then the subject turned to work.

“Do you think you’ll be going back to work when Jack goes to full-day kindergarten in the fall?” he asked.

“What do you mean ‘go back to work’?” I said. “I worked 10 hours yesterday.”

The catch of his breath was audible even over the phone line. “You worked 10 hours yesterday?” he said, dare I say, with a slight chuckle. “For who? Newsday?”

“Well, yes,” I said.

“Like Newsday calls you when they need a story,” he said, with an air of sarcasm.

“Yeah, they do,” I said, trying not to sound defensive, but then added, “Actually, that’s not true.”

“Hmpf,” he muttered.

“The editors email me mostly.”

“They email you?”

“Yes. When they need a story.”

“Theeey emaaail youuuuu?” he said again, slowly, as if to a child.

“Yeeeeees,” I answered.

That’s when I felt it. The wedge.

Much in the tradition of breast-feeding versus bottle-feeding moms and stay-at-home moms versus those who work, I found myself on a new team: the work-at-home team, and my adversary? Traditional office workers.

It hadn’t dawned on me that even with the explosive growth of the work-at-home market, there are still a number of office people out there who don’t consider those of us who toil away behind our front doors—particularly those with small children—as really working at all, no matter how many hours we put in or how much money we make. Like we’re really just keeping ourselves busy, occupying the time between filling bathtubs and preparing meals with our little projects, using our spare change to buy ourselves a new pair of jeans.

It certainly was a wake-up call, considering I thought that this particular friend was more in tune with what I did, who I was and what the heck was going on in the real world. I wanted to tell him that, sure, we work-at-homers don’t have that little badge of honor called a “building ID” or a MetroCard or LIRR pass, if you happen to live on Long Island, and we don’t have the war stories of trudging to work in the rain, shoveling out the driveway or battling the broiling heat of summer. But I’d venture to say that I put in more “work” hours than he did the day before, and I’m sure other work-at-homers had done the same.

Hey, I’ve worked in an office. I know about the down time, about the socializing by the copy machine or water cooler, about the long lunches and add-an-extra-day business trips. And I don’t have any of that nonsense as a work-at-homer. Yes, if I want to, I can watch The View, but more often than not, when I’m not meeting deadlines, I’m putting in laundry or picking up children from pre-school. I have no refuge called “the office” that keeps me from my home duties. I can’t even hide in the bathroom without my kids banging on the door.

So needless to say, after that little chat, I was even more motivated to run a successful at-home business and shout out the merits of the work-at-home life. Will that legitimize me in my friend’s eyes? Who knows. But to me, I’m still that same hard-working me that I’ve always been. And I don’t need an umbrella to prove it.

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