A real job. As a creative, these words have taunted me for decades. My main goal in life used to be to finally, one day, land a real job. A lot has changed since then.
Searching for the ‘real job’
When I was 16, I started working at an ice cream shop down the road. I wore a visor and a cow apron. I reeked of caramel sauce and waffle cones and wore the stains to match. I got an early dose of carpal tunnel from scooping and smashing, scooping and smashing, day in and day out. It’s just your first job, not your real job, they would always say. And so I pressed on.
I traded in my cow apron for the ruthless world of retail. I bounced around from store to store and climbed the ladder from associate to manager. I folded clothes till the tags made my hands bleed, rang up orders and fought with customers, and chased little thieves. It was an industry that sucked my soul and encouraged discrimination. It’s just a job, not your real job, they would say. And so I pressed on.
I traded in my manager badge to brand myself a social worker. I moved across the country to chase young adults throughout the streets of Boston. I bribed them with coffee and sweet treats to meet with me to talk about their future. I rescued them from the loved ones who harmed them or from when they felt they had to harm themselves, at all hours of the night and on weekends. It’s just your first job out of college, not your real job, they would say. And so I pressed on.
I moved to New York to start my life again. To find the real job others had always alluded to. The job I would finally be able to hang my hat on and call my career. A job that would allow me to enjoy my nights and weekends. But a surprise baby made the job search a job rush. I took the first job I could get as a random office lady in an industry I had no interest in. It’s just a job for now, not your real job, they would say. And so I pressed on.
Enter the motherhood years
One baby, two babies, one baby more meant the jobs outside of motherhood stopped for a while. (Being a mother is not a job you know, in case you hadn’t heard). It’s been almost 20 years since my first ‘not real job’ and I’m still nowhere close. I have seen jobs flit before my eyes that others have made a career. I stare at them from under the pedestal I’ve raised them on and wondered why it couldn’t be me.
So I started to write. Something I was always good at, something I enjoyed. I thought, why not make this my real job? I love it, and people do this as a living. I can do this too.
It was the first time I had been passionate about the possibility of a career in a very long time. Finally, I had the prospect of a job that spoke to my talent and enjoyment. I joined Moms Who Write and gained a team of other mom writers who understood me and supported me. We started small and grew and grew. Our aspirations grew and grew. We created websites and products and a book, with several more on the way. Between my personal writing and Moms Who Write, I was busy and working. I felt needed and successful.
Ask me what I do now!
This was the real job I was looking for. I couldn’t wait to tell the world. I couldn’t wait for someone to ask me what I was doing so I could stop saying nothing, or job searching, or just trying to pay the bills.
The first time someone asked me I laid it all out on the table, exactly what I was spending my time on. This is who we are and what we do and what I’m doing and how I’m involved. I’m so passionate about it and our members and everything they are accomplishing. I feel as if it encompasses everything I have been looking for and I can’t wait to grow even more.
The response? What a nice hobby. Just a job for now till the real job, huh?
The real job…
Yes, the real job that I have been searching for my entire life that I just cannot seem to find. I’m almost 35 years old and people are still reminding me that it’s right around the corner, it’s almost here. I just have to keep looking for it.
No. I’m done. This is the end of the line.
As Moms Who Write, we get hit by both ends of the blade. We get told that being a mother is not a real job. We get told that writing is not a real job. Forget the fact that both of these roles require our full attention, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears. Despite that without mothers or writers the world we know would cease to exist (literally), we have yet to be taken under the societal fold or respected for our efforts. The pay is zero to scarce. The benefits are zero to scarce. The personal time, the vacation time, the family leave…what’s that?
But that’s not on us. It’s not our responsibility to get others to value what we do. It’s up to us to value ourselves and our roles. To surround ourselves with others who feel the same.
So I’m taking a stance. The real job is the job I choose, and right now, it’s being a creative parent. Period.
Your real job is what you make it
Whether it’s choosing to be a mom today or choosing to be a writer today or choosing to be an admin team member today or choosing a combination, it doesn’t matter. I’m done reaching for the job expectations designed by the generations before me who only valued doctors and lawyers and white-collar professions as real jobs and labeled everything else as a missed step.
The world needs creatives and mothers and individuals who live outside of the box. I’ve tried very hard to fit into the box for so long, just to be told I wasn’t quite there, it wasn’t quite time, or that I was climbing into the wrong box– best try the one next door.
I’m done trying to fit into boxes. The theory of searching for a ‘real job’ and paying the dues till I get there no longer exists to me. I’ll search for passion. I’ll search for a mode of income that fits the needs of my family. I’ll search for meaningful work I can be proud of.
That’s as far as it goes. This is what’s real to me now.
About the Writer: Shell Sherwood is a poet, fiction writer, freelancer, and creator of silly children’s stories, who could live on coffee, pastries, and romantic tragedies. She lives in Hudson Valley, NY with her fiancé and three boys, and aspires to own a small writing getaway in every climate. Shell is currently working on her debut poetry collection. Learn more about Shell and follow her writing journey via her author blog, Instagram, and TikTok.