Updated: Jul 20
This blog post was going to open with a sentence like, "Social norms about men's roles and responsibilities limit our options for creating fulfilling, satisfying lives." If I'm being honest, this sentence is chickenshit!! Don't get me wrong, it's true. Rigid social scripts threaten to limit options and possibilities for virtually every group and demographic you can imagine. That's not the point of this post, though.
In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz recommends that we become "impeccable with [our] word." This means not hiding behind "we" when "I" is more honest. In this case, bitching about social norms seems less honest than admitting that I am struggling with an internal conflict. Crazy as it sounds, even though I recognize social scripts as bullshit and encourage others to follow their bliss, not allowing societal norms to limit their options, I find myself suffering from self-imposed criticism and perceived judgement from others as I return to a career I love.
I stopped working last June. Following a difficult family situation, I decided to be more available for my kids.
Before resigning, I was working as a contract psychologist at a local military installation. The money was fucking incredible, but everything comes at a cost. For example, every year or two, my contract would be up for re-bid. When a new company won the bid, I would have to transfer to their employ. Invariably, they would want to reduce my pay or benefits in order to increase their profit margin and I would have to fight a war, defending my worth, in order to remain employed without incurring a possible 30% pay cut.
There were things I liked about this job, but there plenty of other things I disliked and tolerated because they paid me well. It was a very high-stress environment. I felt exhausted and overwhelmed virtually all of the time. The days were fucking long, too. I left home by 7am and typically returned home around 5:30pm. I had to hire nanny's to help me get my kids to and from school. I missed every sporting event, awards ceremony and parent-teacher night.
In some ways, leaving work proved an incredibly easy decision. My kids needed me around - end of story. In other ways, it really fucked me up. I started working when I was 12-years-old, cleaning dishes in a Chinese restaurant for a dollar an hour, and I have not been without a job since...until last June, anyway. I felt so much shame explaining that I was not working, regardless of my reason. People always ask, "So, what do you do?" I wanted to retreat and hide every single time.
Many folks were incredibly supportive, praising me for prioritizing my kids over my bank account. Some folks, less so. Some seemed incredulous. "Really? So, you just don't work?" "I wish I could just stay home all day," and so on. Still others said nothing, a silence that I interpreted as deeply judgmental and critical.
Why do I care? I have no fucking clue. I see through the bullshit and recognize the judgement as either jealousy or unexamined, rigid adherence to social norms about breadwinning and idle hands. Despite seeing through the Matrix, I'm still overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment about being a grown man without a job, let alone a "respectable career." Despite having taken the red pill, I still suffer reactions and feelings from the blue one. Fucking Morpheus.
In order to keep busy and feel like I contribute something, I started my podcast (https://open.spotify.com/show/6zkm9EkUb7vJ96dhXXWV2r or on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVqRlRBm87GgSsR62amKz7A) and this blog while my kids were at school. I decided to use my GI Bill and go back to school for culinary arts so that I could have a little bit of income from the housing allowance. Two semester later, I have to admit, my heart just isn't in it. The effort and time invested in weekly school work is just not worth the amount of money I receive as a housing allowance. After much thought and deliberation, I have decided to stop attending school after this semester and return to work.
Before I was a psychologist, I worked as a personal trainer. I loved that job. As a trainer, I felt like I contributed to peoples' lives in a meaningful way. I made decent money and had very little work-related stress. Training was interesting and challenging and I was happy and fulfilled in this career. Accordingly, I am returning to work as a personal trainer.
With my new job:
my schedule allows me to be available for my kids - no more nannies
I can earn enough money to manage my expenses, save for retirement, and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle
perform work that I find meaningful and enjoyable
have a 401k with a company match
have health insurance including dental and vision
have minimal work-related stress
wear shorts and sneakers to work every day
Sounds great, right? Then, why the fuck do I feel like I'm doing something wrong? Just like when I was not working, some people are incredibly supportive of me doing what I love. Some people have said things like, "After all that work and effort to get a PhD in psychology, you're going to just be a trainer?" Some people have said nothing and I have interpreted their silence as critical judgement. In response, I feel the same old guilt and shame. God, I wish I didn't care.
I believe that some people have the ability to follow their bliss, make the decisions that they think best and remain unfazed by outside opinions. For certain, there are others who sacrifice their happiness in order to fulfill other peoples' expectations. I fall somewhere in the middle. Because I see other peoples' expectations and judgments as bullshit, I still make my own decisions and follow the path that I think best. Yet, I suffer so much shame and self-criticism for not choosing what's expected, whether I like what's expected or not. Fuck!
At the end of the day, it's my family's health and happiness that matter most, and I know that. I think that this new job will enable me to be physically and emotionally present for my loved ones in a meaningful way while still affording our expenses. Seems to me, that should be the end of the discussion. I wish it were. I'll keep working on it - trying to build a callous for other peoples' opinions. In the meantime, just know that if you are one of the few who openly offer their support and encouragement even though my choices might be somewhat nontraditional, I fucking love you all.
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