working from home
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How to Shut up Friends and Family Who Tell You to “Get a Real Job”

working from home
Credit: BigStockPhoto.com

Are you a webmaster? Are you a freelancer? Do you run a home business? Has anyone ever heard what you do for a living and told you to “get a real job?” Oh, how that used to piss me off! Don’t people understand that working for yourself and working from home still have one key component of work? Apparently not.

Don’t fret too much if you’re in this situation now. You’ll get through it just like I did. My family didn’t understand what I did. They certainly didn’t understand that I was very good at what I did and that there was good money in it. I got grief constantly. My mother would randomly hand me job ads from the local paper as though she was trying to be caring and helpful (and deep down I do think she really believed that). At one point she even told me flat out that a “real job” meant working 9-5, for someone else, doing work that you didn’t really like. My sister would make the occasional comment about how no one wanted her to turn out “like me” (meaning sans employment and supposedly unhappy).

They were pretty clueless. I was extremely happy, even in the earliest days of self-employment before income picked up. It was about freedom. It was about pursuing a dream. I was doing something that none of them were able to do, and I was going to succeed (and have) whether or not they thought it was a good idea. Really, their concerns are understandable. Here’s why:

These people love you and really do want what’s best for you.

 

I know my mom wasn’t trying to piss me off when she’d tell me to get a “real job.” She was worried that I wouldn’t have a stable income and be able to support myself. She was concerned that I’d be lonely working by myself every day. She was afraid that the stress of handling a start-up would manifest itself in depression.

In my case none of that was true. I worked in a field where money was good. I have a large network of clients and colleagues I deal with every day — I probably interact with more people daily than she does in a typical office environment. And I was anything but depressed. Tired? Yes. (Holy friggin’ hell was I tired!) But it was a good kind of tired — an ecstatic exhaustion I suppose you could say.

People really don’t understand what you do.

 

The other common issue is that your friends and family might really not understand the work you do. I mean come on, what exactly does a webmaster do anyway? (Sure, we might know, but your typical John and Jane Doe probably don’t have a clue.)

I’m a full-time writer these days — a business writer. I write press releases, marketing copy, Web content, blog posts, etc. with a business twist or a business-oriented mission. But when people ask what I do, it always scares me. I know the moment I say “writer,” most people will have preconceived notions of a starving artist barely scraping by. That’s why I always qualify “writer” by explaining the business / corporate aspects. Then people don’t glare at me with a look of pity in their eyes.

Before I became a full-time writer, I was an independent PR consultant. You might think that being a consultant would command more respect from friends and family than being a writer or webmaster. It really didn’t. If anything, it just confused them. “What — people pay you to tell them what to do?” Um, yeah, I guess you could put it that way. What made it worse is that most people really don’t understand what PR is. In that sense, becoming a writer was a blessing.

fuzzy slippers
Credit: Rachel D via Flickr

It’s not that people are necessarily trying to be malicious. They really don’t understand. They don’t know what a typical work day is like when you work at home. They assume you watch soap operas and eat bon bons all day. (Ick.) They assume you can take a vacation whenever you please, as though no one is counting on you. (Yeah, right.) They think you spend all day in your pajamas and fuzzy slippers. (Okay. I do this. But I’ve earned that right, and like to think it’s more jealousy than a lack of understanding when people say this.) People just don’t get it, and you can’t let that bother you too much.

How to Convince People You Already Have a “Real Job”

 

I have to tell you, one of the best moments of my self-employed life was the day the “get a real job” speeches stopped once and for all. A family member needed some money for a down payment on a new apartment. We were just casually discussing it, and how frustrated they were, because without finding a way to come up with the money they wouldn’t be able to move as planned.

cash
Credit: penywise via Sxc.hu

I went to my little safe in my office. I opened it. I pulled out a wad of cash ($1000). I handed it over. After a brief moment of bright eyes and hesitation, they took the money. I told them to just pay it back whenever they could. That was the end of it. It finally sunk in that I was making real money. No, not play money, not hobby money — real money. They assumed I was living paycheck to paycheck (or is that client to client), and I was far from it. It took cold, hard cash to wake them up.

That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with people needing to see something concrete. Sometimes that’s what it takes. Yes, it would be nice if they’d stop adding to the stress much earlier so we could get on with business, but the reality is that it’s the norm. As for those with incredibly supportive parents, friends, spouses, and others in their lives, I’m quite envious. For the rest of us, show people something “real” that they can appreciate and understand (money, media coverage, or a contract with an awesome big-name client for example), and you’ll shut up those “get a real job” rants in no time.

How about you? How many times have you been told to “get a real job?” How does it make you feel? Does it make you want to quit? Cry? Scream? Or do you just let the comments roll right off of you? Did you finally find a way to make those comments stop? If so, tell us how you did it by leaving a comment below.

Written by
Jennifer Mattern
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12 comments
  • You’re absolutely right. It finally took telling folks just exactly how much money I make before they shut up. Well, that worked with family.

    I really, really don’t want my friends knowing how much money I make, so I don’t tell them. Of course, that leads to situations like the other day when I told a friend on the phone I couldn’t talk to her, even though it was after normal business hours.

    Me: Normally I could talk, but my intern is here
    Friend: I still can’t believe you have an intern
    Me: Oh? Why not?
    Friend: I mean, what exactly could you be teaching her?

    I guess my friend thought I was teaching a new generation of slackers how to lounge in her slippers and eat bonbons?

    I still don’t have a tried and true way to shut people up without pulling out a stack of money like you did, Jenn, but until then, I can always just make new friends. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Brian – Before freelance writing full-time, I ran a small PR firm.

    Jenn – Fortunately for me, friends tend to “get it” much better than some family members do (and a few family members really do too). That’s because I tend to surround myself with independent and creative people who have either done similar things or who want to. And given how much of my time these days is spent socializing with other freelancers, fortunately it’s even less of a problem. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • The situation is different and funny for me because I am in Pakistan an
    d and almost 40% of people here know nothing about a webmaster or web marketing or anything web. At times, I get confused and ask myself if I really do anything at all ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hi Jennifer, nice article, what you wrote is perfect for my situation: my father still gives me phone numbers of his friends to get me a “real job” and I’m sure he does it because he tries to take care of me. On the other side my husband supports me and my job (I’m a web designer & application developer) with a big enthusiasm and this make me even more confident. I think the most difficult part is the beginning (as usual) and once you’re gone and happy with it your family and friends will accept, if not understand, that what you’re doing is the right thing for you and your future.

  • Hasan – Surprisingly, it’s not much better in the U.S. It’s strange because when you work with a lot of webmasters, the people you deal with all know what that is. But outside of work, people are amazingly clueless. They don’t understand what webmasters do. They don’t understand what self-employment is like unless they’ve been there (and in the same capacity — traditional small business owners with brick and mortar businesses can be just as bad about understanding the work from home lifestyle). While it’s nice being part of a rather entrepreneurial generation, there’s a long way to go before people lose their prejudices about those working from home. And really… you should talk to my mom about the Web for an idea of how clueless people here can be. She thinks IE is “the Internet,” and you’d practically assume the Web was brand new. lol ๐Ÿ™‚

    jeprie – It’s just sad that you feel like you have to almost put yourself down and call yourself unemployed just to get them off your back. I hope that changes for you sooner rather than later.

    federica — I’m glad to hear you have a supportive spouse on your side. I’m actually jealous! In my last two serious relationships, I definitely didn’t have that. One guy thought that since I was “home all day,” that meant I should be cooking and cleaning and playing the good little house wench role. This was back when I was starting up my PR firm and working 12+ hours every day. Needless to day, that was a bad situation. In the more recent case, the guy thought he should control all of my money and all financial decisions because A) he earned more at the time and B) given my line of work I couldn’t possibly know anything about money. (I’m happy to say my income now far exceeds his — is it wrong to take delight in things like that? lol) I have some aunts and uncles who are supportive, always asking how business is going. But you can still sense the slight concern that one day I’ll say it’s not going to hot. Friends are better — but it definitely helps when you make an effort to befriend people in similar situations. And frankly, I think if I ever do settle down, it’ll have to be with someone who’s either a creative or independent professional (musician, writer, designer, programmer, etc.) who understands the lifestyle. I’ve already wasted too much of my life trying to explain it to people who don’t understand. Now it’s better to just grin and nod sometimes, and then get back to work making money. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hello, Jennifer; great post! I am beginning a freelance writing career and would love to get some of the more corporate work you mention above — but don’t know where to start. There is no “Writer’s Marketplace” for corporate work, is there? Thanks!

    • No. There is definitely no marketplace out there specializing in high paying corporate work. The issue is that if people advertise these gigs, they get bombarded with unqualified applicants who only care about the money (because it’s such a contrast to most writing jobs advertised on the Web). So these gigs are usually gotten through search, referrals, or direct pitching. I give a lot of information about this on my freelance writing blog at AllFreelanceWriting.com, so that’s a place you can start. Some quick tips though:

      1. Get a professional site set up if you don’t have one yet, and optimize it for keywords your target market will actually be searching for when looking for a writer.

      2. Build a solid network of writing colleagues. When we turn down projects we very often refer people in our network for those gigs.

      3. If there is a company you’d like to work for, don’t hesitate to pitch them directly. The worst they can do is say “no,” and you end up where you started. But there’s always the chance they’ll say “yes.” ๐Ÿ™‚

  • tell them that their own job is on the line because of bad economy .they are going to lose their jobs too to such and so policy.

  • It can be v irritating to have to constantly justify oneself, but the opportunity could be used to tell ppl about your work in more detail – because, in freelancing, networking means a lot. You never know which ignorant aunt could pass on your name to a potential client!