zero sum guilt and not doing what you hate

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alright, i’m finally back to talk about my year of knitting dangerously!  it has been off to a pretty great start, full of excitement and opportunity and ideas, and a lot of knitting already.  i continue to be so encouraged and inspired by all of your generous support, stories, empathy and well wishes.  to be completely honest, i was a little anxious about so publicly displaying my denunciation of my real, concrete job to………..knit (?!).  in fact, i think much of the reason i wrestled so fiercely with the concept even in my own brain (and continue to, even as i’m deeper in it each passing day) boils down to guilt.  i am so aware of how fortunate i am to be in a position to do something so radical and impractical and self serving, it honestly makes me feel guilty to talk about it openly.

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it’s a wonderful, romantic idea to ditch all your real life, adult obligations to “do what you love.”  the idea obviously resonates with many of you, and i imagine most americans at least have thought about it more than once.  however, i’m the first to acknowledge this plan lacks long term sustainability in its current state.  we hear a lot of success stories about doing what you love, but much less about the struggles that are far more common.  the tricky part is finding a balance between doing what you love and not changing it into something you hate by trying to make a living at it–i’m not saying this is impossible in creative fields, but it is very difficult, and in the process of figuring out the best formula, burnout is a definite risk.  even with the limited experience i have in a creative career, it’s very clear to me that i shouldn’t plan to contribute meaningfully to our family income within the year, no matter how hard i work.  people have encouraged me for years to attempt this, because of some general impression that this is a 1:1 trade.  if all else was equal, of course i would have made this decision long ago.

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i am so very aware that many, many, many people, most people by far on this planet, are not in a position to make the choice i did.  i grew up watching my mom, a single parent for many years, sacrifice everything and work enough for two providers to ensure my brother and i were more than accounted for.  i think in my mind, i’ve always assumed i had to do the same, disregarding that i am fortunately in totally different circumstances than she was.  i’m also very independent, and i think the idea of leaning on anyone for support, even when they happily offer it, clashes with my genetic code.

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i temporarily gave up a career i worked very hard for, but retained my home, my health insurance, and the lion’s share of our family income.  i have a wildly, unconditionally supportive partner and family who make this all possible, just because they love me.  for all the buildup, the risk is relatively small. but every time i do something for myself, luckier than average, more blessed than the status quo, i feel really ashamed.  sure, there are notable secondary gains, such as spending more time with the kids and less stress overall.  but this year is more about giving myself the space and compassion to figure out what works and what doesn’t in many facets of my life, reflection i couldn’t achieve with the pace i was maintaining previously.  i know not everyone can do this, and i move forward with a massive safety net.

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it reminds me of a great article i read a few months ago about the concept of “zero sum” in the context of vegetarianism.  while they aren’t completely parallel, i see similarities in my own thinking about how it’s selfish and unreasonable to make my own needs a priority over those of my family, just like many think it’s wasteful to consider animal welfare in their personal choices when human welfare is so obviously in peril and is the superior moral cause (even though they’re doing nothing to promote human welfare).  we are paralyzed to take action on one item because of the long list of other items needing action more urgently, though we can’t feasibly act on any of those, so we end up doing nothing at all.       arguments can certainly be made about the benefits of me being home–having a parent dedicated to the home base definitely makes life run more smoothly for everyone.  but when i think about our student loans, our mortgage, all the obligations that would be fulfilled that much sooner if i just stopped being selfish and took one for the team, i feel terrible–so much that it really crippled me from moving forward in this way for months if not years.

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but being good isn’t zero sum, and me taking a year to recharge and explore other avenues isn’t a mortal sin or a dangerous risk (for me).  on practical levels, we will be fine.  our family, our kids, it will all be fine.  mostly, this is a decision by me and for me, one to make a better me, and one i want to get comfortable owning (not there yet by a stretch).  it’s a common characteristic of moms, too, i think, that we’re very reluctant to ever do anything for ourselves, even if it’s within reason, even if it’s encouraged and supported, even if there are some clear benefits for others.  we give so much so constantly, it feels unnatural and wrong to take a step in any direction without first consulting the needs of everyone around us.  so, there are things i want to do and things i want to make, but what i’m really hoping for is a stronger and more authentic sense of identity, influenced by but finally unmarried to where i came from and what i have always believed to be true.


well, i really meant for this to be about one paragraph acknowledging some of the less dreamy aspects of dropping everything to do what you love, but it got kinda long, so i’m going to leave it here for now.  i already have a list of blog posts i want to write that pertain to actual knitting, and i’m planning to post a lot more frequently than i have been, so we’ll get to the good part soon 🙂  thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “zero sum guilt and not doing what you hate

  1. Yes! Let’s learn to be more selfish (I have two little ones too). It’s liberating to be free of “what I’m supposed to do”. Happy Mama, Happy Family. 😀

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