Day 25: The ups and downs of not working

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I don’t have a job. Not a proper job, anyway. It’s my wife who is the breadwinner in the family. My jobs are few and far between, and for the last five years, all of them have been of the freelance variety. I can do what I want to do, more or less, I have more freedom than I have ever had. It sounds like a dream. But according to scientists, my situation is the worst thing that can happen to a man.

My wife’s job takes her around the world. Or, rather, it might: we’ve been to Prague, now we’re in Copenhagen, and that’s it so far. Our plan is to go back to Norway in two years time, and then somewhere else two years after that. But you never know. We might go abroad sooner, or we might never go abroad again.

True, I get to see the world because of her job. At least I got to see Prague during our stay there, and parts of the Czech republic. On the other hand, it was hard for me to find a job in Prague — I never did. I didn’t speak any Czech, my business skills are non-existent, and my education doesn’t make me qualified for anything in particular except work in a publishing house. Preferably a Norwegian one.

If I get a job when we go back to Norway, I’ll probably have to quit when we go abroad again. Would you hire someone who only will stay a couple of years?

When my wife got her job, several of her colleagues told her that their boy-friends broke up with them because of that very job: the boy-friends didn’t want to jeopardise their own careers in Norway. And rumours had it that this job has one of the highest divorce rates in the country.

And yet, I was happy about it. You see, I wanted to freelance. I wanted that freedom, and I want to move somewhere, anywhere, as long as it was different from home. A new language, a new culture? I didn’t mind: my plan was to sit in cafés and write all day long, to visit museums and galleries, to have time to run and row and work with my own projects.

The year before my wife got her job, I was the breadwinner of the family. I worked as a teacher. I hated it. Your job is sending you to Prague? Good, I’ll join you! I’ll have to quit my job? No problem. I’ll have to find something to do? Don’t worry, it’ll work out just fine.

Four years later, I still haven’t found a way of making money on a regular basis. When I publish texts, I seldom get money. (A combination of my lack of business skills and my texts being slightly too idiosyncratic for the standard magazines.)  I used to translate and proof-read, but it’s more difficult to do it from abroad, and my Norwegian skills are dwindling (especially in Denmark, I mix the two languages already), and anyway, what I want to do, what I really want to do, is to create my own projects. And that takes time, and many projects amount to nothing in the end anyway.

I should be able to get a job in Denmark, I suppose. This fall, I studied instead. This spring, I’ll be with my family when the new baby arrives, and I’ll go to Norway to talk about swearing (a proper job!), and perhaps study some more, and continue with my projects, and…

I am not the breadwinner, and I won’t be the breadwinner as long as we’re here in Denmark. I can’t have a normal career, where you stay in the same city for at least a couple of years. The only way it can happen, is if I continue with my projects and one of them suddenly for some reason turn into something, I wouldn’t say lucrative, but at least something more than nothing.

Continue with my projects? But that’s what I want to do!

It is a match made in heaven, then: I get to work with whatever I want to, since that’s the best shot I have at making any money, and my wife understands that and lets me do whatever I want to do while she makes money the normal way, going to her office every day.

And yet, scientists tell us that this is the one thing that makes people, especially men, permanently unhappy: unemployment. You become a widow(er), you divorce, you get laid off — all potentially scarring experiences, and yet life goes on and you somehow manage to bounce back to the same level of happiness after a few years. When you remain unemployed, though, you never bounce back.

I don’t think of myself as unemployed, I work a lot with my projects. But I don’t make any money. And when people ask me what my job is, what I do, I don’t have any good answers. Well, I write a bit, and I have some plans, and, er … I pick up the kids from school.

Aha, they say, so you’re a full-time stay at home dad? And it’s OK not to have a proper job?

No, I want to say, I am a world-famous something, I am an expert in something, I am part of an elite group of people, you should see me and say “Ooh, is it really him?”, I am somebody important!

But I can only say Well, yes, sort of, but it’s OK. I like it.

Alright, they say, but your wife, she has a good job, right? She works in an office downtown, doesn’t she?

She does, I say. And my ego takes another beating.

On paper, I have a great life. In reality, I have a great life. I am a very lucky man, and I know that. It’s only when people don’t see that, that it feels slightly less than perfect. Or when I try to measure my career, or lack thereof, with the careers of others.

If there is anything a wise old man is not, it’s bitter. It’s not about what could have been, it’s about what he is. It’s not about the opportunities you didn’t grab, it’s about the opportunities you still can grab. If there is anything a wise old man doesn’t do, it’s comparing himself to others. He is what he is, and he tries to be the best he can be. If there’s anything a wise old man doesn’t mind, it’s his ego being beaten. He knows who he is, and that’s enough.

You shouldn’t measure your (lack of) career with others’. You shouldn’t care about how some people react to you not going to an office every day. But you should still continue to look for ways to make money. After all, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a proper job.

Today’s task: Look for jobs in which you are charged with acquiring new information daily, such as journalism, research, teaching, etc. Todays answer: I am. I do that all the time, it’s my job already, although I don’t get paid that much. And every time I read (should be past tense) an article in a newspaper or go to a lecture, I always think about how it’s done and how I would have done it differently — and I try to acquire any new information. I would say that’s enough for getting a DONE for this task.

Sometimes I find too much information, though. The same research that shows how tough unemployment is for men, also shows that divorce makes women happier.

But please don’t tell my wife that.

One thought on “Day 25: The ups and downs of not working

  1. Pingback: Day 28: Why? When? How? | On Old Age

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