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. Pingback: Purpose. Passion. Paycheck. (Plus a book giveaway.) - Plan B Nation

  2. 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.
    Diane DP recently posted…Learn From The Bees How To Do Social EnterpriseMy Profile

  3. 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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