“Pick something that makes money,” he said. “What do you really want to be?” Getting that check depended on my next answer … so I lied. I said psychiatry sounded good.
By college, I’d been told my writing dreams were unrealistic so many times that I stopped imagining the possibility. I went into media production, thinking it would fulfill my creative needs – convincing myself I could be happy facilitating other people’s art. But even in my “glamorous” job at Nickelodeon, in New York City, I just wanted to write. I persuaded my supervisor to let me tackle writing projects that were supposed to be outsourced. I wrote at lunch and after hours, and the assignments kept coming.
The more I wrote, the less I enjoyed my job.
My husband seemed like the perfect fit. The perfect ‘out.’ A lawyer at one of the best firms in the country, he would be a stable provider. I daydreamed about quitting my job. I didn’t choose him because of his job, but it didn’t hurt.
Professional opportunities brought us to Boston, and we started talking about having a family. We decided I would stay at home with the kids and write. It seemed perfect.
But it wasn’t. It’s impossible to write when you’re sleep deprived. Or when a child is sick. Or when they have music class or gymnastics. The writing process was slow, and the pay was dismal.
There were other unexpected curveballs, too. Ones I could have never foreseen. My husband, as it turns out, didn’t really enjoy being a lawyer. It seems he had big dreams of his own. He loved sports, the outdoors and adventure. Could we move to Colorado so that he could be on ski patrol? Would I consider starting a goat farm in Vermont? What about the FBI? No. No. And NO!
After years of job dissatisfaction, he started his own business. He had great partners, great meetings, but no bites. In late 2014, a position in the sports industry fell into his lap. He was ecstatic.
I was petrified.
Sports, like media or writing, is glamorous. Glamour jobs don’t pay … unless you’re Joss Whedon or Tom Brady. Most of us glamour-job-doers are lucky if we just cover our costs. We’d already spent so much on his business, and we still had to recoup those losses. This job meant a significant pay cut from what he’d made before.
And just as my grandfather predicted, I hadn’t made any money.
“You’ve had ten years to follow your dreams,” my husband said. “When is it my turn?” I could have thrown my arms around him and exclaimed, “Now! Yes, now it’s your turn!”
But I didn’t.
My career was turning the corner. After numerous rejections, I finally sold my first novel. How could I give up now?
So how do two spouses, with a mortgage, house repairs, bills, kids, camps and activities, both follow their dreams? Doesn’t one spouse have to be logical? Practical?
After heated deliberation, it was clear that neither of us was willing to be that person.
It’s hard to explain to our peers and families that we’ve chosen to be middle-class poor. Getting by, just barely, hoping our financial situation improves. Even though we’re in agreement, it’s still super stressful. We get nervous. Punchy. Our house needs repairs we can’t afford to make. I find myself avoiding the truth about why I don’t go out with friends, or take vacations.
We’ve had to prioritize and compromise. My husband does more chores. We scrutinize every credit card bill and cut costs wherever we can. I’m working on a next novel, but only in between paid assignments. I have to admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how good it feels to be on business calls again, competently participating.
I have to believe success comes to those who do what they love. The jury’s still out for us.
Still, it feels like we’re teaching our kids valuable lessons about resilience and hard work. My husband and I have also gotten better at problem solving.
When two spouses decide to follow their dreams, they need to be ready to work their tails off. They need to do it. REALLY DO IT.
And so, we are.
(Fingers and toes crossed.)
Shari Becker was born in Montreal, Quebec. She has written and worked for Nickelodeon, Disney-owned companies, and even for an Emmy Award–winning puppeteer. She is the author of two picture books, and her debut novel, “The Stellow Project,” launches in June 2015. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her husband, their two daughters, and their dog.