Selfless or Selfish? Career Choices and Your Family

July 22, 2010

in Business,Personal

I was surfing the Internets and came across Kohi Vinh’s explanation for quitting his pretty cool job as design director of NYTimes.com:

When your first child arrives, there’s a perfectly valid argument that you should hunker down in your job and emphasize stability. But I started to see it the other way: I started imagining what it would be like to stay in my job for years while also contending with all of my frustrated ambitions. And I realized that I’d be coming home at the end of every workday still bearing those frustrations as they slowly chipped away at my sense of self-worth and my happiness.

Were I to do that, I realized what a terrible example I’d be setting for my child. Plenty of parents make heroic sacrifices for their children, staying in whatever imperfect jobs are available to them so their children can lead better lives. But to stay in a job simply for stability when I knew I had the skill and more importantly the opportunity to try something different seemed like cowardice. I just couldn’t square the idea of the uninhibited woman that I wanted Thuy to grow up to be with the daily lesson I’d be giving her in suppressing one’s dreams. And I just didn’t think I’d be able to hide any of those feelings from her, no matter how brave a face I could put on.

Definitely read the entire post, it’s a good read.

I admire Khoi for coming to this conclusion and for sharing it publicly. As a freelancer whose clientele is riddled with web startups, my work life is rocky. People e-mail me all the time about how inspired they are by my choice and decision to do what I do but it’s not always easy. In fact, I used to lay in bed, crying and staring at the ceiling for hours at a time wondering what did I get myself into. I used to do that a lot (I don’t anymore, and I may share why in another post). This is no picnic. I try to make the best of it, but by no means am I disillusioned. This is full-time risk-living, and not for the faint at heart. Case in point: I have to send one up to The Man Upstairs for getting me through the flu a few weeks ago. I could not afford to see a doctor, and I couldn’t afford to get any ancillary illnesses from the flu, such as bronchitis, whooping cough etc. Self-diagnosis via Google obviously works, people! Don’t fret though, because once I finally pay off my car next month, I can finally afford health insurance! Yay.

Anyway, back to Khoi. A few months ago I was thinking and wondering how long was I going to keep living this rag tag lifestyle I’m living. Part of the reason why I can afford to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and cry about my career for hours on end is because I don’t have any mouths to feed or a partner to pull my weight with. And because those things come into your life whenever they please, rather than on a schedule, I figured I seemingly have an open ended deadline on when to blow the whistle, no? Well, that was my conclusion. I could do all this for as long as I had my singlehood, and then I would buckle down and get one of those real jobs, because that’s what one must do for stability for their families. This became my  default Plan because I couldn’t seem to nail down any other details. Except now, Khoi’s post has me rethinking everything.

I’ve seen people choose the safe career for the sake of family stability, and I applaud those people as well. It’s admirable, but it’s not something I can do. It’s not that I’m selfish, but I know that when things affect me adversely, my world kind of stops (see: crying in bed while staring at the ceiling). I may be able to hold down a job with a company, but if I’m not 100% happy (within reason), my spirit takes a hit. Eventually I’ll feel…soulless. (It’s important to note this can and has happened while working for myself). I am not someone who could suck it up, day in and day out and be a sane parent who also encourages their children to chase their dreams and ambitions. I have to be able to live what I speak, and setting an example for my future children is extremely important to me. And so, I guess this means I really need to work on putting a plan in place for the next season of life. No more wandering aimlessly or working robotically until I get married (or get to a certain age). Take better control of my career destiny.

Is it selfish to want to live this way?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Latoicha July 22, 2010 at 2:28 PM

Is it selfish to live this way? No. Especially when you do not have children. This post is inspiring as well as a “I’m not the only one” moment too. I am too a small business owner, an entrepreneur, but as you stated, it is not for the faint at heart. Chasing clients and money is my daily routine. It becomes exhausting and sometimes I live in a constant state of anxiety and worry. But I love what I do. I really do. But I also have two small kids and constantly think about getting a stable job. So sometimes I do think living this entrepreneur life is selfish when I think of my children. Believe me they are doing fine, but I am always worried about that the day when things just do not go right and they are inadvertently affected. Its tough! However the trade off is I am here and present with them everyday and they see me working hard for our betterment. It is a rocky life full of risk, but also rewarding when you are doing what you love and creating (with God’s help of course) your own destiny.

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Latoya July 22, 2010 at 3:26 PM

Yeah girl – I’ve been thinking the same thing, complete with occassional bouts of panic. I have a settled partner and we have a nice life – but all our convos about kids make me feel like I have to pull a Diddy and dominate the world in three years or else my time is up.

Khoi is making me think though. I don’t know why I feel like kids would kill my career path.

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Liz Burr July 22, 2010 at 3:28 PM

Kids feel like the ultimate career path killer LOL. Poor things. I love them so, and don’t want them to be that way but…argh! In some ways though, I think they force you to shape up and be a little sensible, even before they get here. Which for me, is what I needed.

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Markus July 22, 2010 at 10:51 PM

Selfish.. Nah. Imagine if you chose the alternative. You would be sitting in your cushy office work a 9-5 wondering, what if I chose to follow my dreams. The 9-5 is a trap, once you get in its so hard to get out.

As for the kids, you would be surprised how focus and organize they make you, if you have the support from a great partner. You would be surprised how far you will push yourself when you have other people depending on you. Just a thought.

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oux July 23, 2010 at 3:59 AM

i have the same thoughts.. liz

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keisha brown July 24, 2010 at 12:30 PM

this may be my 1st comment on your blog. wheeeee!!!

it’s easier to do what’s easy, than to do what’s hard. See, James, LeBron.

since you are single, with no kiddies – this is the prime time (no Deion), to do for yourself. if/when attachments should come along, then you will make the decisions you need to make accordingly. at the end of the day – it will eventually work as the decision you will make will ultimately benefit those you love around you.

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Khoi Vinh August 2, 2010 at 10:12 PM

Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Liz. I’m really grateful people found my original post to be of interest, but even better it’s added to my understanding of my own decision and what lies ahead to hear these experiences. Anyway, it sounds like you’re on the right track, as scary as it might be, so congrats on that.

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