Not Having a “Real Job”

Someone asked me recently what I thought about following an alternative career path in life, and I told them about how while I’d been driving my son to school that morning, I’d looked out of the car window while we were stopped at a traffic light to see a woman entering an office building. “She’s got a real job, not like me,” I caught myself thinking – then I smiled, because it was about the millionth time I’d repeated that ridiculous idea to myself!

I quickly realised that all jobs are “real jobs” – the world needs painters and writers and poets and entrepreneurs just as much as it needs lawyers and architects and administrative staff and directors of big companies – each of which is a perfectly valid and great profession, and what I’d been brought up to consider a “real job”.

Nothing is better or worse, yet still the old received messages linger on in my 40-year-old head, “Get a real job… be resonponsible…” etc etc.

When my son started school 2 years ago we had to fill out a form that asked for our profession. I had absolutely no idea what to put. I run a small internet company with my wife, and write blogs. But I don’t really consider myself a businessman or a writer! So what to put? In the end I decided to stop overthinking it and did just put both: company director and writer – what a funny mix! But why not? Why do there need to be rules about this?

A friend I had a coffee with this morning is a painter and designs typography. He was saying how odd it sounded recently when someone he’d gone to school with had described himself as an ‘artist’ (that is was as funny as saying you were, for example, a ‘philosopher’), so I asked him how he described himself, and he said, as an ‘illustrator’, but that he’d spent most of the last ten years saying that word under his breath, as if it were a bad word – or an unworthy life pursuit. Finally he’d only recently got to the point where he could say it right out loud.

It’s amazing how these received messages about what the ‘right thing to do’ is take hold over us and can last a lifetime. And how hard it is to shake them off. For now I’m sticking with the idea I came away with as I watched that woman walk into the office building, to do her perfectly great job.

That her role is perfectly OK, but it’s also perfectly OK to be an artist, an illustrator, a writer, a photographer, a poet, a singer, a dancer, an explorer, an entrepreneur… imagine a world without any of those, and you’ve got all the justification you’ll ever need to take whatever path you like.

4 thoughts on “Not Having a “Real Job”

  1. After graduating college, I worked for several years managing a cafe in the same town I went to college in. My friends who left town for “real” jobs after graduating would occasionally return for a weekend visit. They would come into the cafe and invariably say, “james, you’re still here? Haven’t entered the “real” world yet, huh?”

    This comment quickly began to irritate me, to the point where I dreaded old friends’ visits. At one point, though, it dawned on me that what I was doing was no less “real” than what they or anyone else was doing. Suddenly, I no longer dreaded seeing old friends come to town. I smiled and let the comment roll right off me, and down the beautiful tree-lined streets of a town I was lucky to still be in, until it disappeared from sight and mind.


    1. Hi James,
      Thanks as always for your comment – I love the last line – you write wonderfully about your experiences of finding peace with things.


  2. This post made me stop and think about how, instead of proudly telling people that I’m a stay-at-home father for our two-year-old daughter, I often find myself saying, “Professionally, I’m a pharmacist, but…”

    I’m absolutely content staying home as the primary care-giver, but I feel like the rest of society finds it odd and emasculating. Sometimes I feel pressure to go back to my “real” job just so I can play the role society expects of me. Fortunately, I’ve resisted the urge and have been happier for it.



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