Wanted: The Career Equivalent of an Open Marriage

three footsies

It always begins the same way:

I find my perfect match, give pursuit, and find that my positive attentions are — more often than not — eventually returned. I am giddy…fulfilled…content, and months pass with minimal complaint. I’m more than willing to overlook the small things. I even start to consider: Could this possibly be…The One?

But the honeymoon period inevitably ends. Small annoyances are now BIG DEALS. That, and I’m sort of bored. I crave variety…excitement…a good time with little commitment. I start to feel resentful.

I’m scared, though. My original match still makes me feel safe and secure and, well, I still need that. The reasons I had for loving my match haven’t changed, after all. But my dissatisfaction eventually becomes too big to ignore, and…

…I resign. Maybe my next gig will keep me happy!

I was reading Jenny Block’s Open last night — an account and exploration of an open marriage — when it occurred to me that I approach my job situations in much the same way I approach my relationships. I try to pursue an all-or-nothing traditional arrangement, and then become frustrated when all of my disparate needs are not met within that particular, extreme construct.

For example, before I became a full-time freelancer, I worked full time in academic book publishing. I felt perfectly fulfilled by this job for about a year, but eventually became frustrated by the fact that the job afforded me no creative outlets, and the commute left me far too exhausted to pursue additional writing projects on the side. I became bitter and resentful, and eventually left the corporate world entirely. I missed the social aspect. I missed the regular paycheck. But I felt it was my only option.

Cut to…now. I love so many things about being a full-time freelancer: the flexibility…the variety of work…the pajama pants…But I’m constantly terrified that I’ll be unable to pay the next month’s bills, and I’ve become depressed by the lack of human contact.

Could it be that the stability of an awesome part-time gig, plus the variety that additional projects bring me, would be the perfect setup? Could it be that one, extreme setup could not possibly meet all of my needs? And that’s okay?

What’s your ideal setup, and which needs does it meet for you? Do you have needs that are not being met? Have you brainstormed ways in which to get those needs met outside of a traditional work structure? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related: 10 Side Jobs for Freelancers, My 5 Favorite Things In: One Person/Multiple Careers, How To Juggle Multiple Careers


  1. LOVE this, Steph. I think you just described my professional life. I want my professional life to be VERY different from my personal relationships. I want to play the field professionally. In my 11 years at my career in media, I’ve had periods of fulfillment, periods of stagnancy. It’s hard. But, like you, I think the perfect fit for me is going to be one that combines the elements of stability, longevity and interaction of a “corporate job” and the freedom, creativity and productivity of a freelance arrangement. I’m still working on making that balance work. Let me know if you have any tips! 🙂

  2. Fantastic analogy! So glad I stopped by to read today.

  3. Awesome post, Steph! I felt the very same way about my working life for so many years. Honestly, the only thing that changed it was starting the letterpress business; it has all the perks/creativity/challenges of self-employment plus lots of human interaction. But man is it a financial adventure… The professional equivalent of Indecent Proposal would definitely be welcome!

  4. In the book “The Love Dare” it goes into saying that Love (albeit in this case, a job or freelance?) is not always an emotion. One should be able to lead their heart, not the other way around. If you look at it from the perspective of an actual relationship, it should not be the situation where you find your value. That value should come from (no matter what you are doing) within and the effort you put towards being the best you can be. Looking for ways to change yourself instead of changing your “mate” (?) I am not saying that it has to be extreems becaue both can be equally damaging, but there will always be “something else” that needs to change.

    I am just now realizing the wisdom of my mother – wow, never thought I would say that 🙂 – She worked a job that she didn’t really enjoy (not saying that you should do that) but she found peace in doing the best job she could with the job she had…While I do work full time now and write on the side and am going to Vet School in the near future, I know that my job will never fulfill me. I make it a point to express that who I am is not what I do.

    I did an article about this at one point, saying that when people ask me what I do, I tell them I am a father, husband and friend…oh, and I work a job on the side. Is any of this making sense or am I just rambling along? Alright, rambling it is…Anyway, great post Steph. Thanks for continuing to be REAL…that is the biggest reason I keep coming back to your blog 🙂 Happy Thursday!

  5. (weeks later, because I suck…)

    It’s been so interesting to see people’s responses to this post (both here and on Brazen Careerist) because, while many freelancers feel as I do, there are just as many who wonder if I’m keeping myself from finding my true calling by hopping around so much. And who knows? I’m young. Perhaps, one day, I will find fulfillment in one, single pursuit.

    But until then, I’d like to echo a comment I left over on BC:

    “I suppose my biggest fear is ending up like my father. He’s been in the same job his entire life (it’s a career path he took when his father died young, and he felt the burden of having to step up and support his family), and he’s hated it for…his entire life. He’s allowed this dissatisfaction to infect every part of him, making him depressed, anxious, and despondent. I guess I’m putting every effort into making sure that I never feel the way he does: as if I waited too long to make a change for the better.”


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