Someone left a comment on my first pregnancy post that went “Oh good, now you’ll never have to get a job. Perfect.”
I’d been waiting for it. I deleted it quickly, as though I could unsee it. And then I sat, paralyzed, and tried not to cry.
My biggest immediate fear about this baby is that I won’t be able to work for a while afterward. Or, more confusingly, that maybe I won’t feel the incessant push to work. I’ve had a regular job since I was fifteen. Before that, I babysat a lot and ran this summer day camp for little kids with my friend Meg (our schedule was DETAILED). I tracked every dollar I earned in a journal with a shiny blue cover. The first serious purchase I ever made was a giant purple trampoline from Sam’s Club, when I was ten, and it was very upsetting when our dog bit holes in the tough, black fabric, in her desperate effort to participate in the fun as we bounced.
(I kind of miss it now…source)
So many people my age are not doing what they think they should be doing with their lives. I know lots of people who are working a job that isn’t a “real job,” yet, and they’re unhappy. I am not exactly sure what I should be doing, but I am usually sure I’m not doing enough. That I should have more to show. I have this urge to apologize to the world for not being far enough along. For not being obvious enough in my successes. You know, like Lena Dunham. We writers and creative types are always talking about her. She’s so conveniently successful! We all want to be her a little, so that we can relax. We imagine that we could relax at that point.
There’s lots of talk about women “having it all” or not being able to “have it all” these days. Arguments back and forth about what that even means, and if it is indeed possible, and for whom it’s actually possible if it’s at all possible. Really, I think we’re expected to do it all, whether or not we have it all.
I feel guilty when I am not working. I have since I was a teenager. My parents are entrepreneurs who started a business from nothing and nursed it to viability and clung to it when it plummeted close to bankruptcy and dragged it back up again. They didn’t go to college—my dad realized he wouldn’t get in and he decided not to try. They just worked their asses off. Work has never stopped on the weekends in my family. My brothers and I didn’t go to school, and homeschooling for us meant that you are always working. Working is a part of life—it gets mixed up in play, sometimes they’re indistinguishable from one another, when you’re a kid without classes and grades. You can make money, too, during the day, on any day, if you can figure out what skills people will pay you for. I taught lessons in just about everything I could do reasonably well. I loved it.
I had an unusual upbringing, but I learned some of the same lessons that the rest of my peers seem to have internalized: you need to make something of yourself. And you need to do it now.
And it occurs to me that sometimes just showing the world that you’re running around working as hard and as fast as you can is the most important thing. The worst thing is looking lazy, or entitled, or privileged (people apologize for their privilege if they are receiving even the tiniest bit of support from their families or partners). The worst thing is looking like you’re doing nothing. If you haven’t made it to wherever “it” is, you should at least be sweating profusely from the effort of the climb.
I am realizing more and more that I am intensely afraid of appearing to not be throwing myself into my career, the way every self-respecting, educated, enlightened twenty-something woman should be. God forbid, I should look as though I am not doing enough. God forbid I should fail to scramble up higher and higher on the ladder of life until my accomplishments speak so clearly for themselves that I never again need to explain that, yes, I am working. I am always working.
And I am scared of what people will say when I have a baby. What if I stop doing everything else for a while and I spend time with that baby? Will I then be doing nothing?
More than anything, I would like to not have to try to explain.
I would like my friend who works at a coffee shop to not try to explain, constantly, that she will someday soon make sure to be at a different job, a job that commands more respect, even though she hates the thought of sitting in an office and loves the freedom of being able to dance in her spare time.
I would like all of us to stop trying to explain that this place, where we are, it is only temporary, we’re going somewhere grander, somewhere more serious, somewhere with a better view and a fitted suit and a title so gloriously simple that we only have to say it to be appreciated.
I was talking with a woman who just had a baby, and I asked her how she felt, professionally. She said she was going to figure that part out later, but that she was really happy to have a baby right now. And she seemed to trust herself completely. For a second, I wanted to be her more than anything else.
* * *
Are you where you want to be in your career? Are you proud of what you do for a living?
Unroast: Today I love the way I feel when I can see a river. There is nothing like a river to put things in perspective.
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