Monday, April 26, 2010

End of the Tunnel?

I really would like to be able to ride more often, and I'd like to take care of myself better, but a lack of time always seems to get in the way. Obviously, I have time to blog, but that is because I'm always sitting at a computer with my job. I'm blogging in the few seconds of wait time I have here and there in increments throughout the day with my job, or I'm blogging late at night before bed or on the weekends and scheduling future publish times.

The biggest time hog is my job. It's almost impossible to just start work at 8:00 AM, take an hour lunch break and end work at 5:00 PM. I am often given more tasks than can be done in 40 hours a week, and they are all urgent. I am handed more "emergencies" in the software industry than I'd see as a trauma surgeon. If I start work at 5:00 AM, log in again late at night, work holidays or work weekends to try to catch up without interruptions, my boss sees me online and starts giving me additional tasks. The work never slows. Each time I try to take a bathroom or snack break, I get called into a meeting in which I am told that I have to complete the impossible within the next two hours or the world will self-destruct. I know from experience that this is the norm for my field. Changing companies won't improve my hours. I have to change careers.

I've actually been trying to break out of the software industry for many years now, but bad luck keeps hassling me each time I come close to escaping. At one point in time I had set several thousand dollars aside to start my own publishing business, and then our septic system bit the dust and we had to install a whole new leach field, which ate up all the money I had set aside to start my own business. That's just one of many examples of how my efforts to change careers have been thwarted.

I want to do something I enjoy, so that I don't have to hate waking up every morning to face another work day. To know what I enjoy, I have to look at how I choose to spend my free time. I like working with horses, but I'm really too old and my bones are too brittle to start a career as a horse trainer. Most horse trainers have been riding since young children and have had many mentors. I still have a lot to learn and it's mostly stuff I should have learned when I was 12.

I like fabric art, but most cotton fabric costs $10 a yard and thread isn't cheap either. Tack some labor onto that and equate it into how many hours it takes to construct an art quilt, and no one could pay me enough to help me break even. In fact, I doubt anyone would pay me since it's easier to just pick up a mass-made quilt at your local department store for $100 or so. So, starting a fabric arts business is out of the question.

I like to write, but writing pays peanuts unless you can strike gold like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. I looked around at freelance writing websites and was shocked by the low pay. I would have to crank out a dozen articles a day to even come close to earning my current salary. I've started several novels during my lifetime and have finished none. Life always tears me away from my projects before they can reach completion. The last time I left my job for three months to try to rekindle my writing career, I earned nothing except some praise and encouragement to keep going from editors and even a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. However, praise doesn't pay the bills.

So, I've been scratching my head over what I can do that I know I will love doing that will also pay the bills. My husband pointed out that I spend a lot of time taking pictures with my camera, and I seem to enjoy analyzing and experimenting with the art. I usually just upload pictures straight from my camera, because I never have time to play around with PhotoShop. However, I started thinking about how fun it would be to have a photography business. I wouldn't have to sit at a desk all day. I could choose how much variety I do or don't want by deciding what to specialize in. I could be in charge of my own schedule, and I could even work all my other loves into the picture by photographing horses, art quilts, and helping out the publishing industry.

My husband offered to invest in some professional camera equipment, so we have spent the past couple of months gathering the supplies I need. I am taking an online photography course that is surprisingly difficult. Even though I don't have to deal with developing film in a darkroom with a DSLR camera, there is still a lot of math and science involved in the art of photography. It's not enough just to have an eye for material. You have to understand how to optimize your camera, and every camera is different -- even two of the same model.

I had hoped to be able to leave my job some time after June 1st, when we can switch the kids and I over to my husband's employer's health insurance plan, however I've already run into some snags. My current employer pays 100% of my family's health insurance, and it is one of the best plans you can get, while my husband has to pay the majority of his employer's health insurance out of his pocket, and we just received notice that they are raising their rates. The changeover in insurance will be a very expensive move. Also, we were denied a student loan for my daughter's junior year in college next year. I rely on those loans to be able to pay at a comfortable rate, as opposed to having to pay in large chunks over a short period of time. In a year and a half, both my kids will be in college. If I'm working in a career that pays less money, a large amount of our income is going to pay for health insurance, and we have two college tuitions to cover, we'll really be in trouble if we get denied a loan.

I'm not ready to give up yet, but am feeling worn out from all the snags I must endure in my effort to improve my quality of life. Those days of people telling me that "anything is possible" and "you can be whatever you want to be" seem silly. Anything is possible if you are young and single and have no responsibilities. However, once you gather a family, a home, pets, material belongings, and your children's futures, you can't just throw it all to the wind and do what you want. You have to put others ahead of yourself. All I can really visualize at the moment is keeping my current job and perhaps doing some photography assignments on the weekends to build a clientele base and gain a supplemental income.

Anyway, if you've been wondering why I haven't been leaving many comments on blogs these past couple of months, it's because in addition to working 60 hours a week, I'm taking a college course. Every homework assignment seems so simple, but I always somehow manage to botch it and end up re-doing the task a dozen times until I get it right. I got so busy creating a gray scale for my camera this past weekend that I had to sacrifice cleaning the horses' stalls. The poor kids had to sleep in their own poop. There really aren't enough hours in the day for work and school and responsibilities at home, but hopefully when all is said and done, this project will pay off in more free time for me, and perhaps waking up with a smile on my face each day, because I get to go do a job that I love.


Dreaming said...

Ohhh, you sound so frustrated, and no wonder - the choices are tough.
I do want to say that my sister-in-law began showing her photos at small craft fairs a few years ago. It's taken a while, but she has now had her own shows and has been doing quite well. She, too, is thinking of chucking her current job and turning to photography.
Choosing the path is the hardest part of the journey.
Good luck!

fernvalley01 said...

Sounds exciting , I do hope you are able to find a balance with work you enjoy and a reasonable quality of life

Judi said...

My boyfriend and I were just tlaking last night about how wonderful it would be to have a job doing something you love. I haven't found the answer, either. Since I am single, I just try saving to retire early. I don't know what else to do!! I haven't come up with anything else that will work.

I don't get paid that much, but I have managed to keep my work to 8 hours a day. If I had to work much more, I would go nuts. It must be really tough to have so little free time.

Promise said...

I am a Graphic Designer. And I think I am one of the lucky few that has found a career I love that also pays the bills, with the added bonus of plenty of room to grow as I gain more experience. I have mostly outgrown the current job, but it is a matter of boredom and feeling stagnant as a creative person. I still love what I do.

It is certainly worth it to find that balance of having a career (something you love that pays) versus a job (something that pays that you don't love).

If photography is "it," I know you'll find a way to do it. And I think starting a small freelance biz on the side to get your feet wet is a great way to start. I freelance a lot, and have one steady client with several that come to me for quick projects here and there. It is a great source of extra income, and can be pretty fun, too.

I can't wait to see more of your photos as you build your portfolio. :)

Grey Horse Matters said...

Your current job sounds like it's wearing you out. Just wondering if you could still keep your job but only do it on a part time basis each day. This would leave some time for other interests and you would still get the health insurance benefits?

While the kids are home from college/school for the summer wonder if they would be interested in helping out by getting their own jobs for some extra income towards college. Even if it just pays for odds and ends that would help.a

The photography sounds like a great idea.Since you love horses why don't you see if you could hook up with local horse shows and take pictures of the entrants during their classes or before. We always bought a good picture over jumps. You could also make contacts there and set up a booth offering to take pictures of horses and their humans at their barns. Instead of trying to write the great American novel or start a publishing company, maybe you could do a picture book of the scenery around you with and without horses with small captions. You can publish it yourself at Amazon and bring some copies to the shows with you to sell.

Just a few thoughts hope you eventually get to do what you want.

Sydney said...

Online courses are very hard. A lot of people do not understand that, especially if they have never taken anything out of highschool.
What photography course are you taking if you don't mind me asking. I was looking at one in the summer in the city but since my allergies have been checked I really should not be where the class is supposed to be heald. Online is an option.
I did a journalism course though. They skimmed the surface of photography.

Paint Girl said...

I know what you mean about wanting a job that you can wake up to and smile because you are happy to go to work!
It is so frustrating being in a job you hate, I have been there. I totally understand. I wouldn't have left my job if my company hadn't gone out of business, and I would probably still be working there today if they were still around. I didn't want to take a pay cut, couldn't afford it. But then ended up having to take a pay cut to do what I love to do. But it is all working out.
That is exciting that you are going to try the photography route. I really hope you can get it going, and I hope you can get out of that miserable job you have. Hang in there!!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Arlene - I would have to give up the benefits to work part-time. I actually started out working part-time, but they made me work 40 hours a week and paid me for only 20, so I said that if they were going to make me work 40, then they may as well pay me for it and give me benefits. Next thing I knew I was working 60 hours a week and getting paid for 40. Our state has a law that salaried employees don't have to be paid compensation for overtime. Also, my kids both have summer jobs. College is extremely expensive compared to when my father worked to put himself through school. Thanks for the suggestions.

Sydney - I rather not say which course I'm taking, because right now I'm not happy with it. Twice now, I've asked for help, and in one case I got a snotty response while in the other case, I got text from my textbook pasted into the email and none of my questions were answered.

Stephanie said...

You sound so very frustrated. I wish I had some great pearls of wisdom to share... All I can say is that I used to wake up hating my job every morning and felt so traped by everything. Being in a specialized field sometimes leaves you with little choices and all I can say is be open to different ideas and try not to let fear of the unknown hold you back. (and believe me... I know this is not so easily done!)
You are very smart and talented in several areas and I hope you can find a way to make happiness and getting the bills payed mesh together :)

Katharine Swan said...

NM, as a freelance writer I can tell you that you really do have to look in order to find gigs that pay a living wage. For every one that pays a respectable rate, there are a dozen more that pay less than minimum wage. It has gotten gradually worse since I started freelancing in 2005 -- there are a lot of writers from other countries, primarily India I think, that will write for a dollar an article (sometimes less!) and over time that has driven writers' wages down. Many of my regular clients I've had for several years, but I still have to be careful when I market, because there are a lot of clients who expect something for nothing.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Hang in there, my friend. I will keep you in my prayers that your dreams and desires do come true soon, because you deserve to be able to enjoy your life more, for all you do and sacrifice for your family.