I get asked on a fairly regular basis why I don't have a 'real job.' (Or told to get a 'real job,' depending on the rude level of the person I'm talking to.) I'll address the use of the term 'real job' later. Their reasons have ranged from: I should get on a career path, I'll have to start at the bottom if I want to go anywhere, waiting tables will never give me benefits and/or a retirement package, I'll never be able to get a job I want if I don't start getting experience, et cetera, adult things, typical rat race mumbo jumbo, et cetera.
My responses have varied each time I've had the conversation. Sometimes I talk about the stark reality: I'm trained for nothing, I have no connections, I don't know where to start with looking/applying and nobody has been able to tell me. Other times I go with the logistical: I probably couldn't find a traditional office job where I'd make more than 10 to 12 dollars an hour, and I can't survive on that right now with my rent where it is.
I also have no particular interest in the jobs that people suggest to me. I don't want to write product descriptions or pamphlets or whatever else copywriters do. I respect it as a profession but unfortunately I don't think I could manage it - my traditional schooling didn't go so well, so I don't think being required to write textbook words about random things would go so great either. The only other job that people have suggested to me is random office jobs, which due to their lack of detail sounds like a not real thing anyway. Even if they do exist, why should I do them over the job I have now? People say it could get my foot in the door somewhere, but where? What is this elusive door and where would my foot be eventually leading to?
I don't see the point of getting a job with the purpose of using it as a stepladder to this idea of a future job, when I know already that I don't want that future job at a random office or copywriting for anyone. I'd rather figure out how to do the things I want for money than get a job that will only lead to working in an office for the man. Sure, there might be office-y real jobs out there that I would enjoy, but a random job as an assistant or copywriter isn't going to put me on the path to those anymore than working consistently on my writing in my spare time is.
These were the reasons I always cited when having this conversation, but I knew that there was something else that made me feel it was the correct choice for me right now. I figured it out the other day: it's the fear. If I put all the energy toward getting a 'real job' that I put toward my writing, my art, and settling into my house, I'm sure that I could find one. I probably wouldn't like it, but sometimes I don't like waiting tables either. Maybe one day I would like it, or at least be content with it. That contentment is what I don't want. If I grew content with a 'real job' that paid well and seemed like it was on a socially acceptable path, I might accept that life for myself, in whatever field I ended up in. I'd have weekends off, so I'd probably spend them hanging out with my friends instead of how I spend my days off now which is generally working on writing. I'd grow used to the 'real job' and the lifestyle it offered, and I might forget how important an artistic life is to me. I'd probably be all set up for a decent life, and I wouldn't be afraid that all my other efforts wouldn't pan out.
That's the thing. I'm terrified that I'll be waiting tables for the rest of my life. I'm terrified about turning 26 and not having health insurance, and that in ten years I'll still be where I am right now. But I need that fear. Because of that fear, I think constantly about how I'm going to get myself to the type of life I want as an artist. Because of ze fear, I spend almost as much time working when I'm not working as I spend at work. (Figure out that tongue twister.) I write, I paint, I read, I try to research how to make these things go anywhere. That research part isn't going so well, so any help there would be appreciated. I look for ways to get involved in the San Diego creative community, I've contacted strangers to ask if I can be involved in a literary magazine. (And they said yes! Stay tuned for future news on this.)
If I got a 'real job,' then I'd know I wouldn't be waiting tables for the rest of my life. But it would be no guarantee that I'll eventually find a way with writing or live the artistic life I want. And in the end, that's the real fear. A 'real job' would be a nice way to placate the fear and learn to accept another life, but I don't want to do that. I want to figure out how to make it work with writing and art, and the fear that waiting tables gives me is the best way I know how to push myself every day. I don't want to get so comfortable that I forget how important this life is to me.
And that's not even touching on the fact that with this supposed 'real job,' I would probably have far less time to pursue art and writing. If in five years I'm still waiting tables but have produced a large body of work, it will have been worth it. There's a grand tradition of creative types supporting themselves in the service industry, and I'm happy to join it even if it's getting less common with the techie-rat race-longing for traditional forms of success-thing that seems to be happening now.
Lastly, fuck 'real job.' I've been using it because it's the most common term, but seriously, fuck that. I not only work hard, I also am becoming practiced in a myriad of skills that although I don't know how to list them on a resume I probably wouldn't get from this elusive office job people tell me to get: dealing with insanely rude people day in and day out, prioritizing six tasks that all basically need to be done immediately, walking and working and smiling through cramps and other forms of pain, sacrificing holidays to go to work and generally have people be assholes. Working with people from very different walks of life than myself and spending 30 hours a week with them, learning just how real this job is in their lives and getting close to them. So let's retire this phrase, yes?