Home > Parenting, Writing > Working from home – a tough lesson learned

Working from home – a tough lesson learned

There was a time in my Bohemian past when I would have said sanity is overrated. As someone who tends to take on too much, I have learned the hard way that sanity does matter. I had another “Oh no, not another learning experience” recently, and I am here to share my cautionary tale in hopes that it will save someone the painful lesson.

I quit my dream job. After networking and interviewing and waiting for six months, I landed a job technical writing from home. What could be better? Writing for The Man by day and writing for me at night. No commute. Flexible hours as long as the work got done. Old coworkers congratulated me on achieving what they all dreamed of.

Three months in I started wondering why I felt like I could never get anything done. Four months in I started wondering why I couldn’t sleep. I kept trying to make it work. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t find a rhythm at what was supposed to be a great arrangement? Surely I could afford a few hours here and there to be the stay-at-home dad. But that’s just it. I ran out of hours. At five months I realized that whenever I was working the job, I felt remiss for not taking care of something pressing around the house. And whenever I was doing something for the house, I felt like I should be working on work. My creativity disappeared and I got no writing done for myself. I should also mention, it did not help that the day job had a long learning curve and the guy who used my output never liked anything I wrote. It wasn’t that I could not get anything done. I actually got a lot done. It’s that I could never get any satisfaction from anything I was doing, since I was always distracted by the other things I needed to get back to.

I thought my failure was a lack of discipline. Then I started talking to other folks who had walked the same path. Living in the Bay Area, I know quite a few tech writers. Some of them had tried the work-from-home option and they told the same story. I met a fellow science fiction writer at a book signing. He had tried to do the stay-at-home dad gig while functioning as the CFO for his company. He said he was surprised how much better life got once he got back to commuting to the office. I met a stock broker at a picnic who told the same story. Suddenly I didn’t feel like such a failure for not being able to juggle what I had taken on. Maybe I had taken on too much.

While I was pondering all of this, my old employer, the bank that had let me go in a re-organization two years ago, called me to ask me back. Same old commute, same kind of work (which I always enjoyed), different department with people I knew and respected from before, and more money. More than anything, though, it was an opportunity to leave work at work, and to do just home stuff at home.

So I took it. I have been on the new job at the old bank for a week now. They love me. I love being there. Indeed I lose a couple of hours a day to the commute. On the other hand, I’m sleeping again. I enjoy being with my family more. And I am happy to report, I am writing again.

So the lesson appears to be, if you are going to be a stay-at-home parent, do not try to squeeze that in as a part time side line activity while holding down a full time job. You can only expect job satisfaction from any job that you can devote your full attention to while you are doing it, whether it is a day job, parenting, or a part time job creative job. You owe it to yourself to keep them separate.

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Categories: Parenting, Writing
  1. July 6, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Very true, Jay. I found that working and parenting and being committed to my blog overwhelming. And all creativity went out the door! Glad you’ve got your groove going again!

  2. Elizabeth Pidgeon
    July 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Well, yes. When I was working from home, if i had regular client meetings to go out for it kept me on course. When I went three weeks without seeing anyone, I decided I did not like it. I noted that it seemed like I had more time, not less when I worked at the office. You can’t leave it behind, unless you really can “leave it behind”.

  3. Michael Griffith
    July 7, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    I think the big error was thinking that you could be a stay-at-home dad and still be working. Writing, especially, even technical writing, depends entirely on solid focus. I think you know this from your own writing. I’ve been working from home for 5 years now, but none of it has been while trying to be a parent. And my wife knows, if it’s during work hours, I’m working. I’m not available to do things around the house. Still, some days, I end up working longer hours than I would at work, and I have to actually go out deliberately to get any errands done [I used to do most of my errands on the way to or from work]. Working from home is not for everyone, but can be very rewarding if you’re doing something that lends itself to working without your co-workers in the room with you.

  4. July 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Excellent blog you have got here.. It’s hard to find excellent writing like yours these days. I honestly appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

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