Working For Yourself: Month Ten (The Work)

{Me in a new vintage dress on work retreat. Not posed! By Emily Takes Photos}

I’m writing this post from a train, on a thirteen hour trip to LA, which pretty much sums up the month. Constant motion. Working while in constant motion. Needing a break from plane travel. Last month I talked about how in this break between writing and launching the APW book, I needed to find balance. And in a rookie self-employed-person mistake, I let my little bit of downtime be sucked into the vortex of travel (some work, some personal, but it hardly seems to matter when you’re counting the number of days at home before you need to leave again).

So this month was a muddle. It was getting away from the computer and actually making things with my hands and spending time with my co-workers (more on that mystery project in a bit). It was planning for my book release (which takes way more energy to do right than you’d like to imagine). It was bringing on and training a new staff member. It was finally doing the work to Incorporate. (Practical Media, Inc.! BAM!) It was traveling and traveling and traveling.

But during an often exhausting month, I kept coming back to why I do this, how we keep ourselves grounded, and how we externally and internally perceive success.

The other night, we went to see Hot 8 Brass Band. Which. Was. Awesome. (Obviously). Somewhere in the middle of second-lining my face off (if there is an opportunity to dance, I will do it. David finally just shoved me toward the New Orleans natives in the aisles, and I left him behind to shake my ass.) I looked up, and thought about how much those musicians had to love what they were doing. Actually, I specifically thought about how hard it must be for them to be on the road all the damn time, breaking in audiences that are reserved and don’t want to dance, and then playing their hearts out. And I thought about how all that getting on and off the plane, or train, or tour bus boils down to those two hours on stage.

And for a moment, I was really grateful to my art school education (which is a 180 from my 20s spent being profoundly bitter about my art school education). Because between growing up around a community of artists, and going to crazy naked performance art art school, my professional life revolves around the concept of “The Work” (a concept that totally made me stabby in college). The idea is that, The Work is hard, The Work sometimes makes you batshit, The Work is something you have to show up and do every goddamn day even if you don’t feel even slightly like it… and in the end The Work is also your joy and your salvation.

And for me, right now The Work is writing. And secondly, it’s about composing and publishing weeks of content around a theme, and cultivating community. And if I didn’t have The Work to come back to, if it wasn’t the center of my professional life, then all this traveling and scrabbling and running a business would quite possibly have driven me out of my head by now. But if I don’t write for a few days, or a week, I get this crazy hungry look in my eye and start composing essays in my head, or on napkin scraps. And that’s a hunger I can build a professional life around.

But more than that, I’ve been thinking about perceived success. I live in a bizarre world these days, professionally. Online, I’ve joined the ranks of the micro-notorious (to steal a term from Ariel). At least within certain circles, I’m a pretty well known online writer and publisher, and I make a good living doing it. This has the possibility to really screw with your head. When people say lots of wonderful and awful things about you (people almost never say neutral things), it’s possible to get confused, and accept those opinions as fact, for better or for worse.

But then, I live in a offline world where people don’t understand blogging as a job, and when I tell people I’m a blogger at a party, things quickly start to go south. And just when I think it couldn’t possibly get worse, they ask me what I write about, and I say “Weddings” and I see the look in their eye, and I start to get weirdly aggressive and defensive and say things I don’t even mean,”Totally not what you think! Don’t pitty me I make a good living! I am a successful small business owner—for gods sake I create jobs. I write books that people buy unlike books about puppets and feminist theory and microbiology micro trends or whatever what do you want from me oh god I need a drink please make it stop.” So. Needless to say, I pretty much try to avoid talking about what I do at parties. For my sanity. And everyone else’s.

But despite all of that over and under adulation, on and off line, I actually feel profoundly successful for the first time in my life (and I’ve done some on paper successful sounding things before). Why? I’m doing work I care about. I’m doing work that feeds my soul. And, to paraphrase an Elizabeth Gilbert* quote that’s stuck with me for years, “I’m glad I was as old as I was when success happened. I was old enough to know myself and know that I was neither the best things people said about me or the worst. I was not a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and I was not the most self-absorbed person ever to walk the planet.”

I know myself. I’m starting down a path of putting work I really care about out into the world, and supporting my family by doing it. And that’s enough for me. Traveling, scrabbling, outside pressures and everything. For me, that’s success.

* Not that I’m even vaguely as successful as Elizabeth Gilbert. The idea of grappling with her level of success really hurts my head. But it’s still a profoundly helpful quote.

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  • mimi

    LOVE that dress! Maybe you could just say you’re a writer to those clueless people at parties?

  • OMG that dress! I’m kinda drooling over it over here. And here’s a hells yeah to doing work that you care about, that feeds your soul. We should all be so lucky to be in a position like that. (I know, it’s not about luck, it’s about hard work. But if I felt like this about my work, I would consider myself lucky. And yes, I’m working on getting there.)

    • Moz

      Me too.

  • I am completely jealous of writers and anyone else who can “be their own boss”. Sometimes it seems like the discussions about “creating our lives or living our dreams” don’t apply to the people with skill sets which mean they have to work for someone else.

    But what I really mean to say is: I am in awe of the risks you took and the belief you had in yourself to get to Month 10 and for the amazing ways you have used your success to help others. <3

    • meg

      Aw, I don’t think that’s true!! Look, in lots of ways, if I could work for someone else, I could (there is a crazy level of stress associated with self employment), I just can’t do what I want and work for someone else. But my mom was a teacher, and ADORED her job. And my husband is an attorney and LOVES his work. They both creating their lives or lived their dreams, while working for someone else.

      But still, thank you :) I always want you guys to see what goes into it, and not just think, “Man her life is fancy/ easy/ whatever.” Because I found that a little success does not remove the hard parts of living, even in the slightest.

      • In retrospect, I sounded whinier than I intended to there. Ultimately *I* don’t love my 9 to 5 job but I feel a bit trapped and can’t come up for a way to get paid what I love and am good at…yet.

  • Sophia


    • I was about to leave this exact comment.

      • Yes.

        • Rhubarb

          Where did you get it?! I live in the Bay Area and would love love love to find better vintage shopping.

          • meg

            Seattle ;)

            In San Francisco my go to is La Rosa Vintage. Which is not cheap, but amazing.

          • Fawmo

            I’m in Seattle! Where in Seattle.

            It’s major.

  • I am about to leave the house, so I can not read the whole post right now even if I am dying with curiosity. But Meg, the dress, you look so good,

  • You’re an inspiration and a motivation.

    I totally had a mini-melt at work yesterday and half-whined “I realllly just want to work for me.” And I read these. And they help me to realize it’s possible. Difficult, frustrating, worrying, but possible. So thank you for that.

    Also? That dress is uh-mazing.

  • 10 months how is that possible? I feel like the one month mark was last week. And that’s just as an outsider looking (er, reading?) in, must feel pretty strange/amazing when it’s happening to you. I haven’t been here since the start, but early 2009 to now feels like such a journey and I love being able to follow along. And yes, the dress!

  • 10 months already? We’d better start planning the one year Bday Party for #MegsNewLifeTM. I imagine it will require much toasting. Cheers!

    • meg

      BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR MEGSNEWLIFETM! You know what that is?? It’s a book launch and a book tour, and yes we are planning it!

      • WOOOOOOO!!!!!!!
        This needs many caps and lots of exclamation points.

      • You’ve got a place to stay for the Philly leg of your book tour!!

  • Abby C.

    I totally think you’re going to be as successful as Elizabeth Gilbert one day. Maybe you should own it a little more. :)

    • meg

      It’s not that I don’t think that’s not a future possibility (though not at all a certainty, just one of many possibles). It’s that her level of success LITERALLY makes my head hurt. It’s actually really hard having people love you, hate you, and want a piece of you in the public eye. And the way she’s in the public eye, and the way people feel ok with just ripping her apart? It hurts me to watch, having experienced, say 1% of that. When I did a post about her for book club, I watched awesome APW people eviscerate her, or her work, in a way that felt physically painful to me. (We loved her up too, mind you.)

      Anyway. This little version of success that I’ve experienced, has really made me empathize, and think really carefully about how I treat people publicly trying to contribute to the conversation or do what they love. And to remember that at the end of the day, they are just normal people like us, who cry and laugh over what people say about them.

      • Abby C.

        Definitely, that’s one of the problems with a high level of success, that people rip you apart.

        I think part of the issue with that is that most people aren’t good with separating the Person from the Job, you know? I may disagree with some things an author says, and there are plenty of authors out there that I have read but don’t particularly like their work. But I can recognize that just because I disagree, doesn’t mean they are a bad author, and most certainly they are not a bad person. At the end of the day, if they are getting paid what they want for writing and selling their books, they should be proud of being a successful author and people commenting on their work shouldn’t try to take away from that.

        • meg

          Ah, but when people rip you apart, IT DOES MATTER. We tell ourselves, “Well, they are so proud of themselves for being successful and selling books what I say doesn’t matter.” But it does. Very much. Because they are actually just humans, like us, who hurt when people say awful things. And that is the lesson. Comment constructively on the work, but always like you would to their face, and never talk about the person. (who you don’t actually know).

  • I’m a bad blogging friend, I haven’t even read this post yet (or any for ages – THE ANXIETY), but HOT DAMN THAT DRESS.

    I will be back to read your actual words when THE ANXIETY is under control and I can function again, but for now I will look at the pretty pictures. (HOT DAMN THAT DRESS.)

    • ItsyBitsy

      Aw, don’t stress; I doubt you’re a “bad blogging friend.” Look at pretty pictures, kick THE ANXIETY’s butt and come back when you can. We all need the pretty & not the words sometimes. :) Internet hugs! (And PS, I agree with you about the dress. Epic!)

  • Cassandra

    I am seriously jealous that you are the kind of woman who can pull off a dress like that. I gaze adoringly at women like this on public transit, who look all gorgeous and put-together and sexy, whereas I always feel like I’m the 5 year old playing dress up in my sister’s prom dress if I try to pull off something like that. You’ve got great fashion sense!

    Also, it’s seriously amazing that it’s been ten months. Congratulations!

    • meg

      MWHAHAHAHA. If I wore that dress on public transit, I think I’d be a nut job ;) I was mid-photoshoot, checking emails. Though I will take the complement on my fashion sense, and thank you. Since I did pick out and buy that dress for myself in the last month.

  • Can I just repeat THE DRESS one more time? Because seriously – wowsers.

    I know what you mean Meg – I introduce myself at parties as a writer. Highly recommend that route. And you are a writer, I think, first and foremost. If you compulsively compose essays in your head and scribble on napkins, you’re a writer. Blogging is merely a medium through which we express ourselves (and for some who are particularly brilliant, through which you form your own rockin’ business). I’m really enjoying your monthly updates. I quit my “day job” three years ago and haven’t looked back since.

  • KA

    AHH, you got the dress!! Everyone should be so lucky as to find their wedding dress reincarnated into something everyday wearable.

    And wow, Month 10. You’re totally doing this thing. As someone who’s T-6 months to Operation Work from Home, it’s continually invigorating to hear from behind the scenes.

    Have fun this weekend!

    • meg

      RIGHT? When I bought it, my friend Tara was like, “you know you just bought the garden party version of your wedding dress, right?”

      Good eye, KA. Good eye.

  • I love reading these self employment updates. It’s like a window to what I aspire to and motivation and more reasons I’m excited to support APW all in the same post.

    • meg

      You do! You pay my bills!

  • Maddie

    Oh man, that bit about being successful on paper cut me right to the core. When I finally stopped letting my resume dictate how I felt about myself, it freed me up for so much more fulfillment in my life.

    And yeah, well the dress. ‘Nuff said.

    • meg

      Yeah. People at parties don’t think I’m successful. But I don’t have to live with people at parties, so they can fuck right off. Besides, I figure, one of these days the joke is totally going to be on them. (And people at parties have limited imaginations, I find.)

      • ANDREA

        I just find the “what do you do” question so ridiculous that I have started answering with what I do. Like, all of it. “Well I travel, and I play in a band, and I read a lot, and I sing, and I do some volunteer teaching, oh yeah and….”

        • meg


        • OMG! I’m going to start doing this! My fiancee is a postdoc. We moved from Philly to Baltimore and now to Santa Cruz. Every time we move somewhere new I get asked this question by people in academic fields, (who expect me to answer with which lab I work in). They’re not expecting administrative assistant, or temp worker, or artist, or job hunting (this one makes them really uncomfortable). From now on I’m just going to ask these people not which lab they work in but “What do you do for fun?”.

          • Emily Rae

            That’s actually how I respond to people who ask “What do you do?” — I say, “You mean for fun?” and then answer right away, as if that is the default meaning for the question. :-)

          • yeah, as a society, we really need to come up with a new “How do I start this conversation?” question- though I mind it less than I used to mind “What are you doing with yourself?” when I was in high school or college; that was somehow impossible to answer. Though the fact that, after I moved in with my husband but before we got married, I took to answering it with “Kept woman. You?”

      • WHAT EXACTLY about being a writer, running your own business, having your book published, etc, etc, etc does NOT look good on paper?! Stop underselling yourself to those party people. Stop it right now.

  • Love, love, love the dress! Also loving this journey you are on and the work you are doing.

  • I love following people who I don’t know in real life but admire online’s road to success. I started reading comics by Kate Beaton ( very near to when she first launched her website and only had a handful of readers, and now she is wildly successful. I bought her book recently and just sat there staring at it before I opened it up – I’d never felt so proud of and happy for someone I didn’t actually know in real life before. And while APW was already pretty popular when I discovered it, I feel the same way about your success too. It’s been so inspiring to read these monthly updates and every time I see one I can’t believe another month has flown by already! I can’t wait to buy your book and stare at it too.

  • Well. I’m glad you *finally* FEEL as successful as you ARE.

  • This may have been posted already earlier or you may already know this quote… But I got an email from my transgendered, incredibly awesome, bikram yoga teaching cousin the other day and it made sense with your post:

    We the American working population
    Hate the fact that eight hours a day
    Is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn’t us
    And we may not hate our jobs
    But we hate jobs in general
    That don’t have to do with fighting our own causes
    We the American working population
    Hate the nine to five day-in day-out
    When we’d rather be supporting ourselves
    By being paid to perfect the
    That we have harbored based solely on the fact
    That it makes us smile if it sounds dope –aesop rock

  • ugh, the “What do you do?” question at parties makes me grumpy. And I love what I do – but you say “wedding planner / crafty best friend” and people actually bring up Bridezillas. It is literally the only comment I receive. “Get a lot of Bridezillas?” They seem a little disappointed when I saw my couples are all awesome. Misery loves company, I guess.

    I am now doing what my twin brother does – he refuses to ask or answer the “what do you do” question with strangers. He says “oh, I am sure there are more interesting things to talk about. After all, I am not what I do.” Though I think in your case Meg (and his a little too – he is a teacher) what you do is very reflective of who you are as a person, but people only like it when they can easily label you. Thumbs up to Andrea and Emily Rae, I am now going to answer that question with “go to the theater, catch up on The Amazing Race, read Janet Evanovich and spend way too much time on Pinterest! What do you do?”

    Love these working for yourself posts (and that dress – I crave the sparkly)

  • HeatherM

    I’m guessing that one of the reasons you feel writing and this blog feed your soul is that you know your writing is having an impact. It is gathering like-minded smart awesome women, and APW is changing people’s lives- in the APW community and beyond.
    I am a nurse, and I totally get the idea of working from the heart- it is what helps you get through crazy hours and smells and people and all the noxious parts of the job, and it keeps you coming back for more. I call this the “psychological paycheck”. It is the way a career path can reward your soul, the payment you could never find in a million dollar paycheck. It sounds like you have discovered the power of a psychological paycheck. Congrats.

  • I’m amazed that you encounter strange looks when you say that you’re a blogger. I’m also relieved that I am not the only one stressing out whenever that question is posed to me. I’m around a ton of tech people all the time and the concept of being a writer (or blogger) for a living is so foreign, I instantly feel conspicuous, which I am not comfortable with at all. Thanks for sharing :) Best of luck and take it one day at a time!

  • LPC

    Gah! That dress is amazing! Almost Glinda! Also hooray for everything else:).

    • meg

      I always wanted a Glinda dress…

  • Anna

    oh my gosh Meg… that photo is so not your down time at a photo shoot.

    I totally know you sit at home everyday, writing your fabulous posts for us, dressed to kill. Always.

    • meg


  • Several things… 1. Yes, I love the dress, too. 2. Thank you for your insight on work and The Work and how to remember the “why” at the heart of working so hard. I’m a writer, too, albeit of the academic variety. Trying to explain the “why” of research at parties gets to be daunting, so I don’t anymore. :) 3. I still can’t believe you took a 13-hour train ride! Ah!

  • april

    Hurrah for 10 months of navigating self-employment, lady! I just love reading your progress updates and hearing about the good, the not-so-good, the exhausting, the funny… all of it. And a 13-hour train ride??? You’re a stronger person than I.

    And no comment here is complete without some dress-love: I *ADORE* your fancy frock! Gorgeous on you.

  • Thank you for this. It sounds like we’re on very similar journeys (working for ourselves doing things that we love), with similar timelines (mine opened in January 2011), despite the career differences (I’m a divorce lawyer).

    I’ve been reflecting on the craziness of the past 10 months. As much as The Work never stops, I’m so incredibly grateful to be doing what I’m doing.

  • I’ve heard that the Spanish version of “What do you do” is “To what do you devote yourself?” I think we need to rethink the question in those terms. What are you devoted to?