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.
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.
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.