The past few years I have been wondering what sort of career I want to have. Even though I recently had an online shop where I sold handmade items, I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do forever. There were too many things I didn’t like about it: having to maintain a branded online presence, having to make the same things over and over, having to convince people to buy things they didn’t need, having to think about what would sell rather than what I would like to make, having to deal with tax law and bureaucracy. In the end I finally realized that this list of things I didn’t like adds up to just about everything my shop required.
As a homeschooling mom who plans to homeschool through high school, me working or going to school full-time is not really an option for the next 15ish years. I’ll be almost 50 when my last kid is in high school. That’s a long time to wait to start a career. In a sense, homeschooling is a career. But it’s not the career I wanted. I mean, I wanted to homeschool, but I didn’t consider it my career -more of a lifestyle choice. And anyway, what would I do when my kids all graduated and I couldn’t homeschool anyone? I knew I wanted a personal career separate from homeschool, and I felt a huge drive to decide what it was and get started right away.
In essence, even though I had a lot of things to fill up my time, my life felt incomplete. I started seriously thinking about what I wanted to do as a career. I knew what I didn’t want to do: no academic jobs, fast paced jobs, extroverted jobs, or competitive jobs. That knocks out a lot. Most job ideas fell into two categories: from home and away from home. The main away from home job I considered was library science. I liked the idea of getting a master’s degree, just so I could say I had one. Ha! MLIS degree programs are usually entirely done online, so I could do it from home while homeschooling, and time it so I’d be ready to work when my kids didn’t need me so much. As I looked into the jobs in that field, I liked what I saw. The specific jobs that caught my eye were cataloging and preservation/conservation. Both are pretty introverted jobs. One requires organizing books and data, which sounds fun, and the other requires repairing books and artifacts with skill and patience, which sounds really fun. And wouldn’t it be cool if I worked at the university library where Samuel works? We could drive to work together and eat lunch together every day. I have a local friend who has an MLIS degree, and she told me that the local public library system often pays for its employees’ tuition while they get their degrees and work for the library. That sounded awesome, so I even applied to work at the public library part time, just to get into the system. I applied several times but they never contacted me. That was pretty disappointing.
Meanwhile, another local friend of mine was making a career for herself as an artist. She is also a homeschool mom, so her thoughts and her journey were of particular interest to me. I’ve wanted to be an artist since I was a child. All the career quizzes I take strongly suggest a creative, artistic career. My friend told me about her struggle with allowing herself to even pursue a career while homeschooling. Although she got a degree in illustration many years ago, she hadn’t worked in the field at all. Instead, she had four kids and started homeschooling them. Most of the voices around her were telling her that that was what she needed to do, and to have a career as well would be neglecting what was more important. That didn’t feel right to her though, so she kept searching. A handful of career books inspired her to believe that it was ok to have the career she wanted, and that in order to get it, she needed to take it seriously. Over the course of the few years I’ve known her, she went from beginning to allow herself to have a career, to being a legit freelance illustrator. I remember a couple years ago, before she had any clients, she invested in herself by buying a huge fancy Ipad. She couldn’t afford the whole thing and had to set up a payment plan. The Ipad allowed her to take on real illustration work, which she immediately did, and soon paid off the Ipad. I think she has had a steady stream of work since then. Meanwhile, she still homeschools her kids. So cool!
As I talked to my friend about her journey, I decided I wanted to try being an artist. Not an illustrator like her. In fact, I wasn’t sure what kind of art I wanted to make. Most of my art experience was in the craft realm, and then the academic realm of art history, which I minored in. I knew if I started selling my art, I didn’t want it to be in the craft realm. I just don’t love making the same thing over and over. And it’s hard to scale your business to make a decent income with crafts. Either you work like crazy, or you hire other crafters, at which point you’re not an artist, you’re a manager. I didn’t want to do that. I already have to manage homeschool. So I thought about the fine art realm. No employees, higher price tags, and you don’t have to make the same thing over and over.
I felt like I had a long way to go in the fine art realm. I had no clue how to navigate that field, but the idea of trying was exciting. I decided to start from scratch and treat it like a career by requiring myself to spend ten hours a week in the studio, trying to make fiber art. I also spent time researching current artists, reading academic articles about fine art, and going to local galleries. I felt in over my head a bit, but I loved the world I was in and I wanted to someday be recognized as a part of it.
I had been working on the above goals for a couple months when COVID-19, quarantine, and my gallbladder surgery hit all at once. Due to my surgery I had to take a break from my sewing machine and fiber art studio time. COVID-19 was overwhelming and the idea of trying to break into the fine art world also suddenly felt overwhelming. Then, when I forced myself to have a go, my sewing machine wouldn’t start. Samuel took it to the shop, where it still is, months later! But I do have a backup that works for basic sewing. I did some sewing for myself and my family, but nothing that was fine art. It just seemed too hard. All I really wanted to do was homemaking projects: sewing and quilting, cooking, organizing, minor remodeling, and gardening. And of course reading, homeschooling, and writing on this blog.
As I wrote in my first blog post, this time period shifted from being overwhelming to extremely creatively productive. At this time, I had this constant feeling that something exciting was going to happen, and it was career related. I felt like I was approaching something really exciting and meaningful. One milestone was that I realized that I am really good at staying home. Like, really good. I was reminded of a unique life purpose questionnaire I stumbled upon back in January of 2019. It was very helpful to me. You can read it at https://markmanson.net/life-purpose
I’m going to paste the questions and my answers below.
1. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR OF SHIT SANDWICH AND DOES IT COME WITH AN OLIVE? (AKA, all jobs have undesireable parts. Which ones can you put up with and maybe even enjoy?)
-bad weather, being stuck at home, being creative with limited resources and materials, isolation
2. WHAT’S TRUE ABOUT YOU TODAY THAT WOULD MAKE YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD SELF CRY?
-not outside often enough, not enough pets/farm animals
3. WHAT MAKES YOU FORGET TO EAT AND POOP?
-obsessing over and planning future possibilities, planning systems and methods, researching new ideas and philosophies, planning for a big change
(I couldn’t think of answers for the next two questions, and I skipped them.)
6. GUN TO YOUR HEAD, IF YOU HAD TO LEAVE THE HOUSE ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, WHERE WOULD YOU GO AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
-I would hike trails and be outside with my kids. paint landscapes, become a naturalist, make art in a studio, preserve artifacts or textiles in a museum
7. IF YOU KNOW YOU WERE GOING TO DIE ONE YEAR FROM TODAY, WHAT WOULD YOU DO AND HOW WOULD YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?
-homeschool my kids and spend time with them and Samuel doing creative things and being outside every day. I would want them to remember that. I don’t really care how others remember me.
Anyway, quarantine and this questionnaire helped me realize that I really like staying home, and I am really good at it. I realized I would prefer a career I could do at home, and that nixed the library science job. When I realized this, it’s like the career just disappeared with a poof and I stopped thinking about it immediately. I’m just no longer interested. I do think it might be a good option if Samuel died and I had to get a breadwinning career ASAP. Or if I become physically disabled and need an intellectual career. But other than those circumstances coming about, I don’t see myself pursuing that career.
The other thing quarantine helped me realize is that I really like gardening. I had a very successful garden this summer. I took an online class from the LSU Ag Center about home vegetable gardening. It was a legit class -about 3 hours a week of lectures and then lab work, plus putting things into practice in my own garden. I took it very seriously and did all I could to invest in my garden and myself. I bought a second fridge to hold produce and pickles. I broke out the canner for the first time in 8 years. I stayed on top of weeds, pests, and disease insofar as I could with organic methods. I spent a lot of money on scaling things up, irrigation systems, reference books, season extension materials, and more. I spent hours and hours researching, reading, learning, and planning. The reason I did all this is because I love it. Gardening is ALWAYS exciting to me. It’s not mentally exhausting, it’s satisfying, it’s outside, it’s creating beauty, it’s creating delicious food, it’s eco-friendly, and you don’t have to deal with any bureaucracy, coworkers, policies, taxes, or asking people to buy your stuff.
The garden led organically to me deciding that I was finally ready to get chickens. Besides the eggs, I wanted a natural fertilizer source besides compost (there’s just not enough compost!) And because I like to plan out big changes, within days (hours?) of the chickens idea I had tacked on bees and dairy/meat goats. Maybe pigs? Maybe sheep? Samuel helped me measure and draw a map of our property and began to plan out a legit backyard homestead with corrals, an orchard, etc. A goal was percolating in my head -growing all our own veggies, dairy, meat and eggs. It’s a lofty goal, but it filled me with excitement and I began to do the research and planning to make it happen.
While researching and planning, I kept having thoughts about how I was treating this like a career. Maybe homesteading isn’t exactly a career, but it fills that empty space I have been feeling in my life and seeing in my future that I call “my career.” It fits that space so perfectly that I keep mentioning little “perfect” things about it to Samuel. It checks off many of my desired career traits. It also has unique traits that I love, that are hard to get in any other job:
-staying at home REQUIRED
-works well with homeschooling
-creative, as in, you create things and plans and solutions.
-making things more beautiful
-being outside daily in all weather
-doesn’t involve selling things or bureaucracy (unless you want to go that route)
-lots of creative problem solving involved, on a daily basis
-planning required -big and small plans (bring on the spreadsheets!)
-working with animals (I did this a lot as a child and teen but have gotten away from it. I absolutely love working with animals.)
-being fairly isolated from the drama of the outside world
-being a naturalist/aware of nature and the seasons and weather
-keeping detailed, organized records (spreadsheets again! yay!)
-cooking, storing, and eating delicious food (this takes a big chunk of time, and I love it)
-gives you a sense of abundance (hard to explain, but I’m drawn to abundance in many forms)
-seeing things improve over time, feeling that satisfaction as you learn from mistakes and gain skills, and yet no one is evaluating you but yourself. yes!
-potential to feed artistic endeavors with natural dye plants, wool, or just inspiration
And now, I must bring this blog post to a close, because I have a lot of work to do, including potting up a jillion fall crop seedlings, planting more seeds, working on setting up my record keeping system, shaping a new garden bed, making jam, and roasting a chicken. I probably can’t do it all today, but I’m excited to work through the list.