The featured photo comes courtesy of Pinterest.
I was about to title this post “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”, but I figured it would be better to use an animal friendly alternative. One of my particular gifts is a love for animals, after all. Even if I weren’t an animal lover, that particular expression would make me cringe at the violent imagery of it. Besides, who the hell is skinning cats these days? Certainly not anyone I’d want to know.
Since I’m a singer, I happen to know there’s more than one way to sing a song. In fact, as I write this post, I’m listening to Kenny Rogers sing “Desperado”, a song that was made famous by its composers, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, and their celebrated band, The Eagles. It has also been done beautifully by many different performers… Linda Ronstadt comes to mind. Karen Carpenter sang it with her brother, who reportedly felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end when he heard it the first time. Clint Black also sang it for an Eagles tribute album. I do a pretty mean rendition myself, if I may be so bold. However, I won’t be recording it for YouTube, because Don Henley is a bastard about copyright claims. 😉 Not that he doesn’t have the right to be…
I often read articles to Bill– ones I’ve written, or ones I’ve found in any of the newspapers I regularly read. This morning, I came across “The R.T.O. Whisperers Have a Plan”, a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine (unlocked) by Emma Goldberg about managers who have been trying to get people to stop wanting to work remotely and come back to the office. Instead of reading the article, I decided to play it– listen to it being read by a narrator.
The well written piece was all about how some workers are rebelling against the traditional requirement to work in an office setting. The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily made remote working a necessity. Now, people are finding that they don’t want to go back to the old way of doing things, and office managers are having to adjust. They’re even bringing in “whisperers” to try to figure out how to lure workers back into the traditional office environment, and doing everything from making goodie bags to hosting yoga classes. They’re finding that some people would rather quit than go back to the daily office grind, while others are much happier working away from home.
I knew this was going to happen years ago, though not because of a pandemic. I just realized, even back in 2000 or so, that people would one day be able to work from home with ease. Sure enough, I was right. Some managers are now having to change their perspectives and their attitudes to maintain competent staffing.
There’s more than one way to sing a song…
My first experience with remote work was when I was a graduate student at the University of South Carolina. I was a graduate assistant, and my boss, a very progressive nurse who had gone into working in public health legislation, hired me to help her research legislative and maternal and child health issues. After some time, she started telling me to work from home, which worked great for me. Looking back on it, she may have done that because she didn’t like having me around the office. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t always have the easiest personality for some people to take.
Not surprisingly, I loved remote working. I am able to be very productive in my home office. It’s an environment that works best for me. Much of what I did for that job involved writing and research, and working from home made it easier to concentrate. I also loved not having to get dressed up, sit in traffic, or deal with interpersonal conflicts and personality clashes with others.
After I graduated, I went looking for work in the Washington, DC area. Because I was an Army wife, I knew that the clock was ticking, because military families move a lot. I remember suggesting remote work to a hiring manager, who had a very strong reaction against the idea. I remember thinking that guy was going to be in for a rude awakening, because even in the early 00s, I could see that remote work was going to be a wave of the future. There’s a lot good to be said about it.
Yes, it’s hard for some managers to trust that their employees are going to be productive when they can’t actually watch them working. But people who can work from home don’t have to waste two hours a day in traffic. They don’t contribute to road rage, traffic accidents, or air pollution. They don’t spend as much money on dry cleaning or child care. Those who like remote working, whose jobs can be done remotely, and are capable of handling the responsibility, can be very productive and, more importantly, much more satisfied with their work. Moreover, a lot of time is wasted in office environments. Some people in offices spend time chit chatting and doing other stuff rather than doing their work.
The article that I linked specified other reasons why some people prefer remote work. Some of the reasons are issues that might not immediately seem obvious. For instance, the article mentioned that some people feel more comfortable working at home because of racial tensions in the workplace, or having to deal with people who are intolerant about other things they can’t help, like their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Or, perhaps they are more comfortable at home for other reasons. Recently, I watched the film, The Whale, which starred Brendan Fraser, who worked at home as an English professor teaching online classes. Fraser’s character, Charlie, was enormous, and he was ashamed of his appearance, so he turned off his camera, so his students couldn’t see him. This allowed him to earn a living, without having to endure the pain of his students visibly regarding him with disgust, or trying to maneuver in a world that doesn’t accommodate people who are literally huge. I’m not saying that’s the healthiest attitude to adopt. However, that movie does present a fairly realistic scenario highlighting a reason why some people would rather do their jobs from home. Some people work best on their own.
As for me, after that interview in which my suggestion to remote work was quickly shot down, I later scored some remote writing assignments. I found that I was able to complete them quickly, and well enough to earn bonuses. If we had stayed in the DC area a bit longer, I might have carved out an actual career, complete with a livable salary and benefits. 😉 As it was, I ended up leaving the formal workforce altogether.
Ah well. Maybe I could have had a conventional job until 2007. But then, we moved to Germany, and after that, moved three more times until Bill retired in 2014. Then we moved BACK to Germany. It would have been hard to build an in person work history when we were constantly moving. By the time Bill left the Army, we had truly made things work so that I didn’t really have to worry about working for money. Bill gradually proved himself over here, earned a couple of raises and promotions, and then started drawing his military retirement, which is literally like a second salary. We don’t own a home or other expensive property, and we’ve paid off most of our debts. So here I sit… a “professional” blogger and mediocre housewife. 😉
There’s more than one way to sing a song…
This certainly wasn’t what I had planned for myself. I did try to find a conventional job for several years. One day, Bill told me to stop trying to find a “real job”, because the process was really making me miserable, and we had enough money to make the household work. I remember, back in 2005, sitting in our Army provided house at the card table that served as our dining table. I said, “This is temporary. We are going to have a good life. It’s just going to take some time and discipline.”
Not long after that, I got a lucrative writing job that paid for a new dining table, a couch, and loveseat. I was able to do the whole project from home.
We’ve had some genuine perks related to my not having a “real job”, too. My not having a job meant that someone was there to take care of the dogs, do the household chores, and be available to deal with other domestic issues. It also meant that we only had to consider one work schedule when it came time to travel somewhere. Granted, during the early years of our marriage, we didn’t have much money for travel. But, when Bill went to Iraq, we had some extra money, which I used to pay off debt. I paid off all of his high interest credit cards (which he had because of the financial hell of his first marriage). I started paying extra on my student loans. Before long, we were ahead on our bills, and had some extra. I started saving and investing it. I supported Bill in his work, which meant I spent a lot of nights alone. I continued to write and made some money… not a lot, but something.
As Bill’s Army career came to an end, he worried about what was coming next. Once again, I delivered a prophecy that turned out to come true. I said, “I think your time to shine will be in your post Army life.”
Sure enough, in Germany, Bill has been a bright, shining star… He is much in demand for his diverse, yet hard to find technical skills. He’s also very well-liked and respected by his bosses, co-workers, and his clients. Meanwhile, I started saving and investing more of his salary, growing a modest $1000 investment to fifty times that. Bill opened an IRA. We paid off my student loans in 2018, nine years ahead of time. Last week, he got a nice raise. Now, we’re quite comfortable. My 2005 prediction has come true.
There’s more than one way to sing a song…
Why am I writing this story? Because I want to point out that there’s more than one way to be successful. There’s more than one way to get through life. Just because someone isn’t doing things the conventional way, that doesn’t mean they’re a waste of space or not contributing.
For years, certain people have given me a ration of crap over the way I live my life. Most of the people who have had a negative attitude have been people close to me. My dad had a real problem with the fact that I didn’t work outside the house. One time, when Bill was deployed, he called me and demanded to know what I was going to do with my time while Bill was in Iraq. He suggested that I get a job– even if it was waiting tables, so I might have more self-respect. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that how I spent my time was NONE of his business.
I suspect that he made that suggestion because it was embarrassing for HIM to feel like he needed to tell his friends that I was a housewife. He didn’t accept that I am a writer, or that writing is a “real job” for me, for which I have even earned some money.
After years of hearing my dad’s criticisms of everything from how I laughed, to my appearance, to who I dated (though he ended up loving Bill– probably more than he loved me), to where I worked, I was fed up and not about to take it anymore. So I told him to mind his own business, and stop harassing me about how I lived my life. It felt great, especially since there was nothing he could do but react with appropriate sheepishness and finally, STFU.
I’ve also heard comments from people wondering how we can buy certain things. Like, when we bought my car in 2009, my sister wondered how we could afford it and actually had the nerve to ask me. We got a discount and paid it off early. I still have it 14 years later. Years of paying things on time means that Bill and I both have outstanding credit ratings. When I met Bill years ago, that was not the case for him. His credit rating was in the 400s. I told him we would not be doing things the way they were done in his first marriage. We live within our means, and now we both have credit ratings in the 800s.
Other people– family members, acquaintances, ex landladies 😉 … and strangers– have looked down on me for living life the way I do. They think I’m lazy and don’t contribute, because I don’t obviously pull down a salary, and I’m not raising kids. They don’t realize that I contribute in lots of other ways, nor is it really their business, anyway, as long as the bills are paid.
The way Bill and I have done things doesn’t work for everyone. Not all couples can pull off what we have. However, the point is, our lifestyle HAS worked for us, and I have, actually, used that “fancy” education in making this lifestyle work (the finance classes were helpful). Living this way involves a lot of mutual trust, suppression of egos, and understanding. Frankly, given what Bill went through with his ex wife, I’m surprised he trusted me. It did take some time. But twenty plus years later, here we are, and it all works fine for us.
Now… if I needed to work outside the home for our survival, of course I’d do it. But, in our situation, it’s simply worked better for me to stay home. As I sit here, contemplating where we’re going to go on vacation, I can’t deny that it’s worked out fine.
There’s more than one way to sing a song!
After all these years, I feel kind of vindicated, even if it’s still sometimes hard to accept that in a conventional workplace, I was kind of a failure. But that doesn’t mean I’ve failed at life. I’ve just done things kind of differently than expected. And frankly, I’m grateful I didn’t have to spend the last twenty plus years in a cubicle, trying to think outside the box.
Not having a “real job” has also allowed me to make the video below… my version of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need of Love of Love Today”, a song from 1976 that is sadly still so relevant in 2023..,