This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, and finally decided to make a post/braindump out of it.
As some of you know, in 2009 (wow, has it really been that long?) I quit my well-paying 9-to-5 job, first of all to go back to school, and subsequently to try to make a go at freelancing and novel-writing. (This part is still a work in progress.) I’m a fairly risk-averse person, have always been, and this was terrifying to me. Since I started working at the News-Miner in 1998, there had only been a period of a few months when I was unemployed, while I was changing jobs after moving to Illinois. This is mostly a case of “right place, right time” luck, as well as having a skill set, as a newspaper layout artist, that was, up to the mid-2000s, highly employable. (The fact that by the late 2000s this had stopped being true was one of the main factors in my decision to go back to college and finish my degree. A career that had seemed a guaranteed job ticket a decade earlier was now teetering on the brink of going the way of buggy whip manufacturers.)
I’d occasionally worked part-time while freelancing or working on my creative projects in my spare time, but not having a regular job at all was an order of magnitude more intimidating. I have a TON of respect for people who start their own businesses, all the more so for those who are single or the family’s major breadwinner, because I was in basically the best of all possible worlds as far as doing this (my spouse has a good-paying job with excellent job security and benefits) and it still felt like stepping off a cliff. Stepping off that cliff while being entirely responsible for keeping a roof over your head is something I have trouble contemplating.
Still, it’s been very interesting to suddenly, in my mid-30s, have a whole new world open up in front of me: the world of people who aren’t tied to a 9-to-5 work schedule. You wouldn’t think this would feel so life-changing for me, because I grew up in a household in which my parents were largely unemployed or self-employed throughout my entire childhood. As an adult, though, I had primarily been around other adults who were white-collar workers, like me. And I was married to one. It’s an oddly self-selecting thing, because when you work a 9 to 5, you mostly associate with other 9-to-5ers by pure happenstance. You’re just not in a position to meet people who are on a radically different schedule. I did, of course, have self-employed friends who were artists or old school buddies or whatnot, but I tended to see them on my schedule, rather than theirs. In a way, the difference between their lives and mine was largely invisible to me, because I was fixed to my schedule (free only on evenings and weekends; had to get to bed early to get up for work, etc).
And it’s a startling thing, now, to be exposed to a whole new demographic, a whole world of people who (for example) shop at the grocery store at 2 in the afternoon or 10 p.m. on a weeknight. And there are a lot of them! I don’t think I’d ever realized how many. There’s an interesting kind of tunnel vision you develop when you work a 9-to-5 job, where it feels like everyone else is doing the same thing (but only because that’s the people you largely associate with) and it seems as if having an employer and a 401K and a steady paycheck is the only path to adulthood. It’s not, of course, but once you’ve gotten into that lifestyle, it’s strangely difficult to think outside that box until you get out of it.
Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.