Over the last two weeks I have had the priveledge and arduous task of explaining multiple times to multiple people what it is I "do" for a living." I know I have brought this up before, but as I myself try to solidify my work at home career, I am finding it difficult and quite annoying to have to explain what it is that I do from the "comfort" of my home.
When I tell people that I work from home they want to know what I do there. It is not sufficient enough to say simply "I work from home." People want details, but I feel that one simple label or title won't do all of the things I "do" justice. I am beginning to feel quite isolated on this journey, if only because unlike everyone else's chosen careers, my reasons for choosing this lifestyle cannot be adequately explained in a 2 minute conversation to the barista at Starbucks.
My isolation deepens when even the websites that are dedicated to supporting individuals who work from home, only cater to one of the following two groups: "work at home MOMS" or "work at home business MEN." It seems that those are the only people for whom it is acceptable to work from home. I am not a mom or a business man. As a young, married, childless, seemingly healthy woman, my "work at home" status is seen as a luxury to most. People's eyes widen and make comments like: "Oh wow, that must be nice. I wish I could do that." or "Oh, do you get to work in your pajamas?"
The truth is this: Yes, on some days it IS nice to sleep in just a little longer. And YES I do sometimes work in my pajamas. BUT there are also a few other things to be aware of. Things that I myself wasn't even aware of until recently. I do not wish to be envied or judged. I want to be understood and validated. Although I don't get in my car and fight traffic to sit in a cubicle or stand in front of a white board to teach indifferent children, does not mean I have it "easy."
1. To be a successful work at home individual you MUST have self-discipline. You have to get up every morning and pretend as if you actually do have somewhere to go and "get ready" just like a "normal" person. Whether you go to an office space, a different part of the house, a coffee shop etc. You and only you control what and how much work you get done in a day and that requires discipline.
2. If you are working from a home office...guess what? You are the IT guy, the HR department, the administrative assistant etc. etc. etc. I learned this the hard way this past week when my internet modem busted and I was...yes...God forbid it...disconnected from the internet! Instead of getting ANY work done, I actually missed an online tutoring session and had to cancel a meeting because I spent all morning on the phone with AT&T. Followed by THREE trips to Target because I bought the wrong piece of equipment the first two times. All this began at 8:15am...I was not reconnected to the land of the living until 12:30pm. At which point I gave up on "working" for the day and cleaned the house instead. So you see, there is actually a great deal of responsibility and a HUGE learning curve that comes with working from home. You have to learn how to do it all yourself.
3. It is a necessity not a luxury for those of us who suffer from chronic illness or pain to have flexibility in our lives. Working at home provides me with the flexibility I need to address my medical needs and take care of myself the way I need to. Just last week I had to make a trip to the ER because of chronic dizzy spells and shortness of breath. Although I really did not want to spend a whole afternoon and night in the hospital, I knew that I would rather be safe than sorry. So, I packed a backpack with my laptop, my to do list, my pills and my medical records. For the first time ever I felt no guilt about putting myself first because I knew I would have time in the ER waiting room to work on work. I was not letting anyone down, including myself.
4. I am fully aware that it is not acceptable in most social circles to say "I am a housewife." It IS ok to say "I'm a stay at home mom." But the truth is, I am a housewife and that is part of the work that I do at home. I am proud to be a good housewife (although the feminist 16 year old in me would cringe at the thought). It takes skill, energy and love to make healthy meals my husband and I can enjoy and feel good about. It's important to me to live in a home that is clean and clutter free because it helps me think and be creative. I may not earn a paycheck for doing those things but I am fulfilled and happy and that's worth more than the 401k my 20 something friends stress about.
5. I have decided that my work at home status allows me to change my job description at my will. Some days I am online tutor. Some days I am a freelance writer. Some days I am a curriculum specialist. Because on any given day I am doing one or even all three of those things. This fact makes me perhaps more talented and interesting than anyone who treks to work every day, drinking the same cup of coffee while listening to the same NPR broadcast willing it to be Friday already. And although I don't have to shower to do any of these things if I don't want to, I still take pride in the work I do and I expect it to be respected.
I know the general society may never fully accept or understand what I do or why I chose to go this route. Hell, family members are still asking me what I "intend" to do for work. Or what about my "career." I know that I have to ignore their comments and explain that I still have a career and that I am still working, it's just in a different way. It's in a way that makes sense for me and for what has become my "normal." A normal that involves a lot of pills, blood pressure monitoring, a strict diet, time for exercise, meditation, doctor's visits, ER trips and naps in the middle of the day. A lifestyle that is not dictated by a 9 to 5 or 7 to 4 5 day a week job. A lifestyle that allows ME to be in control of my health and my illness and not the other way around.