by Tracy Barrett
I faced not one but four fears when I was planning to quit my day job and write full-time, and I posted about them on the blog that I kept during my last year as a college professor.
I considered calling these fears “four areas of concern” or something similar but I decided to be honest and admit that I was afraid, so I stuck with my original wording. Here’s the list as I wrote it then:
1. Financial (the obvious): Paycheck, benefits (health insurance is the biggie), plus all those benefits you get that you don’t think of until you have to pay for them yourself. For me, the most important of these will be gym membership, discounts at various stores, consulting jobs that won’t be available to me once I’m no longer affiliated with the university.
2. Psychological: Part of my self-definition is “I’m a college professor.” Will I feel something missing when I can’t say that? Also, at all but the most abysmal jobs (and my job is far from abysmal), you get strokes. You do in writing too, but writing is also a lot about rejection—rejections from agents and editors, bad reviews, critical emails from readers. Will they hurt more when I don’t have the comfort of students saying nice things to/about me, and colleagues telling me I do a good job?
3. Social: I know that a lot of my work friendships will end when I’m no longer in daily contact with people. If you run into someone in the hall, it’s easy to go out for lunch together. Will I make the effort to call people? Will they make the effort to call me? How will I make new friends?
4. Writing: This may sound weird, but will I actually write less? I’m never as productive over the summer as I think I’ll be. Will that be true when I’m on constant summer break? Or conversely, will I forget to give myself time off, and write all the time? Another issue is that I write for young adults. Where will I meet young adults, if not in the classroom?
It’s been more than two years since I taught my last class and I can report that I’ve survived.
The financial part is a challenge but it seems that every time I start to panic I get a royalty check or a school visit.
The “psychological” worry has evaporated.
The social aspect remains the biggest issue—we moved away from the university area, where most of my friends live, and are on a quiet dead-end street where I’m unlikely to run into people. This relative isolation has made me more proactive about calling friends for lunch dates, and I rely on my writer friends even more than I did before. And my new neighborhood is very welcoming—less than a week after we moved in, I was in a book club with people on my new street.
Interestingly, I find that I’m not spending much more time on writing than I did before. The difference is that I feel much less stressed about it now and can take time to mull things over while walking the dog or dragging branches off the yard after a storm. And I’ve taken on some other writing-related tasks—increased responsibility with SCBWI, writing book reviews, becoming more involved with publicity for my books.
I think that a lot of the relative ease of my transition was in identifying these fears and addressing them in my last year of day-jobbery. If I’d been laid off or otherwise forced out before I was ready, it would have been a lot more difficult. If you’re contemplating leaving your day job, I hope you start planning early—it makes a big difference!