Taking a Year Off to Do What You Love, A Year Later
A year ago, I left my job—at an office I’d been at for four years, my personal record—to Do What You Love (DWYL). There were some problems with the non-profit I worked for, most importantly the fact that it felt like a ship headed for an iceberg. (And lo, it transpired that, shortly after I left, it smashed against icy reality and no longer exists.) But! I had good coworkers, good hours, and a reasonably good salary that I had negotiated for myself. I had my own office with windows *and* a door, which had been a goal of mine since I was 22.
Several different things clamored for my attention: I had a baby, a novel-in-progress, and a gainfully employed, though stressed-out and overburdened, husband. I felt fortunate and, day to day, I was satisfied. But my brain also felt overcrowded, teeming with too many details, some real, some fictional. I wanted to do everything: keep the apartment in a state of reasonable cleanliness, raise my kid right, finish and sell the book, be a good, upwardly mobile leaned-in employee and a good, calming when necessary and exciting-and-fun when called for wife.
After much deliberation and angst, facilitated by a partial fellowship to a writer’s residency in Lithuania and a query from an editor at a publishing house who found my work online, I decided to quit my job and DWYL for a year. The point was not to earn money, though I had been making very minor bank freelance writing and placing essays online on the side. The point was, for the first time, to give myself a Room of One’s Own.
That was last July. My year is up. Inspired the tabulations of Nicole and Kima Jones, I’ve decided to do a reckoning: What did it cost me to DWYL and what did I gain?
– One year of salary and benefits ($52,000), except it wouldn’t have been a full year, since the company closed only a couple months after I left; but presumably I would have gotten another job at roughly the same pay, or at least unemployment
– The peace of mind that comes from steady employment
– Momentum and upward progression in the working world
+ One finished novel (~65,000 words)
+ One literary agent who is excited about the novel, though of course that and $2.50 will get you a ride on the subway
+ Contacts and experience from the fellowship in Lithuania
– Travel to and from, tuition, and room and board while in Lithuania ($3K? tax deductible, luckily, as business expenses / professional development)
– All the stuff we had to leave behind at the airport in Lithuania ($200?)
+ One literary prize ($250)
+ One NPR contest won (priceless; also, signed Rubik’s cube)
+ One appearance on MSNBC (priceless)
– One appearance on MSNBC ($2.50 for the subway to get to the studio when the car never showed)
– Several months membership in the Brooklyn Writers Space ($365, also tax deductible)
+ Freelance writing earnings for 64 pieces ($4,050 since January 2014, including the literary prize, and not all of it in hand). Some of those pieces I wrote for free, which is a practice I’ve now phased out.
+ Free books! since I review them now
+ Writing jobs, including the Billfold, ghostwriting for Manhattan doctors, and other side writing gigs ($5,775)
TOTAL MONETARY BENEFIT: Leaving aside the salary/unemployment, $9825, pre-tax, though after subtracting the costs, more like $6500. I’ll probably get to keep two-thirds of that and give one-third to the government for, you know, roads and stuff.
APPROXIMATE NET: $4,300
Considering I didn’t set out to earn money at all, that’s not too shabby, but if I want to continue doing some version of DWYL for a living, I’ll need to really amp it up. Especially since my husband only has three days of FT employment himself before he too transitions to a version of DWYL! Wish us luck. Or else wish us a speedy and safe return to regular, salaried employment and a lockbox for our faded dreams.