Why you should stop telling me what to do

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Let me be clear: By “you,” I do not mean you, lovely reader of this blog, but the “yous” who’ve felt obliged to tell me elsewhere that I’m screwing up my life.  And by “me” I do not mean me alone but all of us sharing our tender, uncertain, sometimes-painful stories in the larger blogosphere.

In particular, I’m thinking back to comments sparked by the guest post I wrote for the Wall Street Journal’s “Laid Off and Looking” blog in my early days of unemployment.

In this post—which ran just a few hundred words—I talked about the possible upside of losing my job. Mind you, I acknowledged the anxiety and risk but I also admitted to a certain excitement about embarking on what I described as The Next Big Challenge.

Here are two typical responses:

“Get real folks and stop dreaming. I stopped dreaming a long time ago, and it’s better now because I don’t get let down each and every day.”

“If you’re laid back and irresponsible, then the bills don’t mean a thing to you. Well we’re not blessed with being the laid-back type who don’t give a damn about doing what’s right.”

In fairness, there were many positive comments. Still, I found myself intrigued by the vitriol heaped on this little post by those for whom it hit a nerve.

As I pondered the dynamic, I found myself thinking about risk tolerance—a topic all-too-often left out of the job search conversation.

We frequently seem to assume a one-size-fits-all answer to questions such as: “Should I do everything in my power to keep the job I have, or should I read the writing on the wall and accept the offered package?”

In fact, risk tolerance varies with the individual. Without knowing where a questioner falls on the spectrum, it’s impossible to offer sound advice.

If you have a mortgage, kids, and are a few paychecks away from financial crisis, your risk tolerance—and thus your “right” answers—will differ from those of someone without those obligations who has a financial cushion.

If you’re comfortable with uncertainty, your answers will be different from those of someone who freaks out if they can’t predict what they’ll be doing a year from Monday.

This isn’t because one person is right and the other is wrong: It’s because people have different obligations, different temperaments, different levels of risk tolerance.  Our risk tolerance is ours alone.  It’s not a moral virtue, a settled fact—it’s simply our situation.

And for the record, I’m happy to say that I’m doing fine now. The decisions I made two-plus years ago were—for me—the right ones.  My search for work is now paying off, in part thanks to this blog.  I’ve also had a chance to grow in ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’d be lying if I said that this was the path I would have chosen. But while these aren’t the experiences I would have picked, I can’t say that I regret them.

© 2011 – 2012, amy gutman. All rights reserved.

7 thoughts on “Why you should stop telling me what to do

  1. OMG you tell it like it is, Amy! I have a very similar story. My hubbie doesn’t understand me, and asks me why I haven’t gone to the Five O’Clock Club. Well, there is no one solution for all, as you rightly pointed out. I am not going to waste my days sending off letters after letters, all to disappear down the black digital hole I am being creative, writing, learning a ton, guesting on podcasts — did one on Monday that was a hoot, in fact — and sheeeesssh! When did everyone else become the expert on my life to tell me that the good things that come my way because of blogging, are not good enough. Heck, I am having fun, I am doing this with passion, real (day-time, full-time and conventional) jobs are coming my way, and who knows… if there is a fork in the road that requires me to make a choice, well I will rise to the occasion. Meantime, I believe like you do, Amy, that looking back I can see that I made the right decisions, and looking forward, I believe it is working out and will continue to do so, although I may not be clairvoyant enough to see exactly what structure that will take. You tell em, gal! We need to ignore unsolicited advice, and follow our own muse. Working at a “paid” job in the conventional sense, is not the only choice in life.
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  2. Great post, Amy. I’ve enjoyed reading all that you’ve posted in the short time since you created this blog.

    I jumped off a cliff with my career 8 months ago and, so far, have found that it isn’t the fall that’s going to kill me — and I’m slowing swimming. I have been amazed (and amused!) by the reactions of friends and family to my choices. Though I’m sure that there were some who wanted to, the only person to tell me outright that I was crazy and foolish was a chatty & opinionated woman who struck up a conversation with me in a Will Call line in Manhattan (though she indicated the same thing about my living in flyover country so maybe that isn’t a good example). I have one friend who frequently emails me postings for temp jobs that are not well-suited to my skills or goals. Her intentions are good but not all that helpful and she gets upset when I politely tell her ‘thanks, but no thanks’. There are others who have been dismissive of me, referring to me as a “housewife with a rich husband”, not thinking of the financial contributions I’ve made over my career, as if I worked only for fun and bonbons.

    What has puzzled me is why they would even care, because, as you’ve written, they are not me. I think you’re correct w/r/t risk aversion and temperament making the difference in one’s job choices (not just in the search process). I think that risk aversion is part of one’s temperament and can’t be separated from it. Don’t know if there is any research to support this, but I think that the person who commented on the WSJ blog about not being let down every day would hold a much different opinion than someone who is not only more of a risk taker, but who also has a more optimistic temperament. Changing careers, or moving to Plan B, is not necessarily entrepreneurial — for some it may be merely survival — but I think that how one deals with the process is likely dependent upon one having the same sort of personality traits that makes a successful entrepreneur.

    As a Chinese proverb claims: ‎”You can not prevent birds of sorrow flying over your head, but you can prevent them from making nests in your hair.” Some of us shave our heads, some make hats, while others rant about having to care for the nests.

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