Frustratingly, Making Career Decisions Is Not All About What’s Best For You


Career dissatisfaction has been creating a lot of tension in my marriage lately. While my husband has been struggling to build a web business on top of his full-time job — leaving little opportunity for us to spend quality time together — my freelance work has languished, causing my hubby to feel even more pressure to earn.

Meanwhile, I’ve been feeling frustrated by my main gig, and frustrated with myself for, once again, placing all of my eggs in one, money-making basket. I’ve been wanting to resign but, knowing how much pressure Michael is under, I’ve held off.

Forging a career path while married is so different than forging a career path while single. On the one hand, my marriage to Michael has afforded me some great opportunities. His financial and moral support (not to mention his health insurance!) allowed me to leave my full-time job in book publishing over two years ago, so that I could pursue the freelance lifestyle. And his strong work ethic has kept a roof over our heads.

On the other hand, the risks I used to take while single now seem a lot riskier, as they affect not only me, but my husband as well. We have a mortgage at stake. We want to start a family soon. We want to upgrade to a house. How can we ever do these things if I keep spending my time attempting to follow my elusive — and non-lucrative — dreams?

In the past, my risk-taking always managed to move me forward. But have I pushed my luck?

Yesterday, despite this inner turmoil, I finally resigned. I was convinced, by this point, that continuing to search for a regular gig would be a mere repetition of my past mistakes. [See eggs in basket.] At the moment, I’m in the running for an incredibly cool part-time gig. I’m working on a regional magazine piece, a web copywriting project, and a copy editing project. I still blog for AOL’s Lemondrop, and am pitching to other publications I’ve broken into over the past two years. I’m speeding my way through my career certification program, and hope to be able to start my own practice by the late spring/early summer. It feels like the perfect mishmash. But I still worry. Despite the long-term gains I’m so positive I’m working toward, was this decision unforgivably selfish?

Related: He Said/She Said: Our Income [Now and Later], A Gig That’s Worth Your Time, 4 Ways to Create the Illusion of Regular Income


  1. Nope. Not selfish. As one of the highest ranking married people in my circle of friends (together 22 years, married 17 of them), I can say that often the scary decision is the right decision. We’ve all made that eggs in the basket mistake. And, every single time I’ve either lost or quit a time-consuming (and regular cash flow) gig or, it turned into the right decision by freeing me up (and forcing me) to do something better/different.

    There have been times where I worked a “regular” job and my hubby had his own business. There have been times when he worked so that I could quit and start freelancing. It has always worked out, and we had a mortgage before I even graduated college … trust me, we were poor back then.

    Good decision. Good for you.

  2. The hardest thing for me has been learning to walk away from jobs that are too much trouble for the pay. And I walked away from a really, really well-paying one a couple of years ago and believe me, it was an excellent decision. We’ve tried all sorts of permutations with each of freelancing at different points. You’ve got to do what works for you. Once you ditch a job you hate, other things come along. Good luck with it!

  3. Change often leads to something better. (I’m coming at this from a very different angle, I realize, since my first husband, French, was the breadwinner and I refused opportunities if they interfered with bringing my children back to the USA for the summer. I got a divorce after 20 years of marriage. Now married to a retired Swede, I’m the breadwinner and shamelessly put myself first. We’ve been married 12 years and together 10 more.) Change helps us to grow. I think you made the right decision. Good luck with the new part-time gig!

  4. I’m totally impressed and I think you made the right decision. Sometimes the scariest hardest things to do are really the best that we can do. I’m trying to do something similar in the context of a professional relationship and I find this story totally inspiring. You go girl

  5. Steph – parenting has the same problems. I have been a single mom for over 12 years. I finally feel more comfortable about my freelancing that I may give up a gig that is driving me nuts. Sometimes we have to make decisions based on our own mental health, not on what is best for “the family.”

  6. I so totally know this feeling. I left my well-paying IT career to write, just about the time the economy had a stroke. My husband had a high paying job at a local company (with benefits – which I need because of a pre-existing condition!). He hated it though, and hated the pressure of being the breadwinner.

    And then what happened? He just lost his job about a month ago and now we’re sort of screwed.

    I’ve been trying to diversify my writing (like into radio, blogging, etc) but it’s really, really hard right now. I’ve been looking for FT work again, but honestly, my heart is so not in it. I did find one job that I’d love and I’ve got my fingers crossed, but I don’t want to get my hopes up.

    I guess I’m not being very helpful. I just want to say that I don’t think you’re selfish, because if you’re miserable, won’t that negatively affect your marriage as well?

  7. Oh, and I have a gig that’s driving me nuts too – but haven’t had the balls to end it. So for that I am utterly and completely envious of your wherewithall. 🙂

  8. There are problem clients that you manage. Then there are the clients that you need to walk away from and not look back. Like they say on the plane, you need to put the mask over your face first before you can help anyone else. 😉

  9. Hey Steph,

    Long time no talk…First off, let me encourage you that you are not being selfish, doing what you love keeps you from getting bogged down, making it more difficult for Michael to pull you out when you do have quality time. Coming from a guy with three children, a FULL time job, volunteering part time (20 hrs/wk) in the Marriage Ministry at our church and going to school for pre-vet, I completely understand your lack of time ordeal.

    Let me reccommend a book for you, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman – here is the trick, you have to read it twice…the first time you read it most people will look to see what their love language is (from your article I am guessing you are Quality Time, the same thing as my wife), the second time you read the book read it to find out what your husband is. I must say that this book did wonders for my marriage when we started having time issues.

    I’m going to go ahead and wrap this up, but let me say one last thing…keep at it. You have a great style and a great heart for writing and it shows; just remember why you started writing in the first place (you know, way back when, in grade school, when you kept a journal or diary…yea…that’s it). Hold on to that and remember it when things start getting tough, if all else fails we are always here to be your sounding board 🙂

  10. No,no,no! You are NOT being selfish. Now is the time to pursue what your heart tells you to. Once you have bigger responsibilities like a house and children, it becomes much more difficult to be such a free spirit. It’s clear that you are talented, focused and a very hard worker – and whatever path you choose, that will be what propels you to succeed. Good luck!

  11. I agree with everyone else–this isn’t a selfish decision, it’s a smart one. My husband and I are both freelancers, but in his business he has months-long gigs where he goes to work on-site every day, while I’m working from home. His current job is sucking him dry, physically, emotionally, everything. It’s just too much. I *wish* he would quit! But he refuses, insisting that he’s committed. Thank god it’s over in December. All of which is to say that your mental & physical health are important, to you and to your marriage, and doing what’s necessary to take care of yourself is good for both of you.

  12. It sounds to me like you were really listening to your heart and following your truth. I’ve found that, no matter how scary and angst-y that can feel it is always the correct path. Your post helped me to remember that. Thanks.

  13. Steph, I know it’s tough walking away from a regular gig, but it sounds like it was the right thing to do. And as others have said, it could free you up to pursue better projects. 🙂 Hang in there!

  14. I don’t mind to sound unsympathetic, but most of the replies here from your friends have been focused on your emotions. This was a business decision, right? Business decisions are made with improving the bottom line in mind. Business decisions are not selfish or unselfish, they are productive or unproductive. Sometimes the decision has to do with employee satisfaction and motivation. I suspect that this decision will improve both the concrete bottom line AND the employee satisfaction. So eyes straight ahead–no time to look back.

  15. I think you have to listen to your gut, and you did–so good for you. It’s always difficult to walk away, but not making a decision is the same as making a decision. You still have no idea what the fallout will be.

    As for being married vs. single, I am divorced and I actually think it is just as hard to walk away when you’re single as when you’re married. Yeah, when you have a partner, your decisions affect someone else, but when you’re single, the burden is ALL on you. You don’t have someone to share the mortgage or the other bills.

  16. You guys are amazing. Thank you so. much. for your advice, your opinions, and your support.

    @Nicki: I so appreciate your perspective, as I constantly worry: If we’re struggling now, what’s it going to be like when we finally start to try having kids. We had been hoping to start trying this coming June. I know that there’s no such thing as an ideal time, but…we’ll see…

    @Stephanie: Ugh! Knowing how many people out there have lost their jobs makes me feel even more selfish for leaving mine, even when I know it’s for the best. My thoughts are with you, especially knowing how hard it is for anyone to find new work right now. Fingers crossed that the flexibility of being a freelancer will keep you guys afloat!

    @Sal: It’s good to see you again, wandering about the Internets! 🙂 Thanks for your words of encouragement, and for your faith in my writing abilities.

    @Debbie: Ack! I know what you mean! I’ve been urging my husband to leave his current job forever, so that he can pursue what he really enjoys: building up his web development and design business. Amazingly, he’s accomplished so much on this front in the past year, but I can’t help but feel that he could really stand on his own if only he let go of his 9-to-5.

    @Vera: Thanks for bringing up the business end of things. Considering my future business goals was a huge part of my decision-making process. If all goes well, my business will see vast improvements within a mere six months. I’m so excited!

    Thanks again everyone!

  17. Thanks for offering such an honest look at such a difficult decision. You’re right being married–then having kids–definitely makes some career decisions more difficult. But, if there is some silver lining to this recession that we’re supposedly “recovering” from, it’s that people are taking greater risks; and with greater risks, hopefully, come greater returns.

  18. Good for you, Steph! Work you don’t enjoy is draining physically and emotionally. It’s a good thing to walk away from it when you can.

  19. I think we all worry about stability no matter how stable we may be. That’s one of the cons of the freelance life. I’m self employed and so is my husband. We launched his business 5 years ago, once my freelance business was stable. About 2 years ago, once his business seemed to be earning money consistently and I was coming off my best year ever as a freelancer, I decided to try to change direction–write about different topics, drop some of my more PITA projects and clients, and generally try to find that sweet spot in career and life. I knew this would mean I would earn less, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

    Then the recession happened. Ouch. Suddenly my husband’s business was no longer turning a profit and I was earning less, too. I found myself scrambling for ANY project that paid me ANYTHING–whether it screwed my happiness or not.

    I don’t regret the risk I took two years ago. It still HAS moved me forward and is starting to pay off, especially now that the economy is picking up.

    I think if you always know why you are taking a risk, you plan it out, and you both support the choice, it’s never a bad thing–even if it leads you somewhere unexpected.

    Hang in there and keep the faith.

  20. Thanks for sharing your story, Alisa. It’s definitely helped knowing that — in the midst of this horrendous economy — we’re not alone. And the fact that we’ve been able to take risks and make some exciting career changes even though this is an especially rough time has been even more encouraging.

  21. It seems like business is still getting hit hard. Is anybody seeing an upswing in their respective niches? Health reform seems like a mess. I generate long term care insurance leads and annuity leads for the insurance industry, but volume has been terrible in the last two months. I am afraid the worst is yet to come, but maybe it is just my attitude.

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