Have you ever looked at toys with a toddler? I’ve been in the toy aisle of Target with my 4 year old a bunch of times, and it is amazing how long it takes to pick out a simple toy car. We try to stick to Target and avoid an actual toy store for fear that in a space filled only with toys, it would take us a full 24 hours of negotiating the merits of this toy over that one only to have his head explode in the end over the sheer possibilities. Choosing just one from the many options is a marathon event for him. I think it stresses him out.
As impatient as I tend to get during this process, in many ways I’m sure I’m no better at making a decision. Sure, with the small stuff I decide fast – what to have for lunch, what music to listen to at any given moment, what book to get from the library (when it comes to books, I just get everything). But with bigger stuff like jobs, a house, marriage, kids, these things took me ages to decide. Ice ages, in some cases. I don’t like to cut out any options, and obviously making certain decisions means you forgo the opportunity to make certain others.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I reach my mid-’30s, and this brings me to Tuesday, whereupon immediately after reading Jill’s post, I took the Enneagram test. Turns out I’m a Nine (the Peacemaker) by a very slim margin. This doesn’t really surprise me because I like peace, and until I started taking krav maga, I was aggressive only in my ability to diffuse arguments. However, the timing of finding out I’m the Peacemaker is kind of funny since I just tried to quit one of my jobs and didn’t quite succeed at it, which makes me wonder if I sometimes take being the Peacemaker to entirely new and unnecessary heights. To be clear, when I say I didn’t succeed what I mean is that instead of giving two weeks notice, I ended up giving a month’s, even though I had told myself quite firmly I’d give two. While this isn’t a tragedy and is in some ways beneficial for everyone involved, I’m still wondering why I did it. I’ve come down to the fact that, as a freelancer, I’ve chosen a career in which not closing off your options is how you survive. It’s perfect and horrible all at once.
For rather obvious reasons, as a freelancer it is absolutely necessary to keep your options open. Even more so than the general employee, you don’t want to burn bridges. When you don’t have any type of job security from project to project, you have to do more than just not piss people off; you need to make them love you. You need to do a great job all the time, and you never want to turn down work because if you do it too many times, they won’t come back. You always want them to think of you for their next available gig. Sometimes, this means doing projects you don’t love in order to get to the ones you do love. The choice is yours, except that sometimes it really isn’t.
When I started freelancing, I took all my tips from Erin, who had been freelancing for a couple of years at that point. She gave me lots of wise advice, one piece of which was, “Don’t worry, there’s more work out there than you think.” In our industry, that’s certainly been true. But although that reassured me at first, in the end it didn’t make me any calmer about saying no to jobs. I have started saying no gradually, for my own sanity, but I feel like being the Peacemaker makes it hard to say no once you’ve gotten your foot in the door. It’s like, if you start out saying yes, you just somehow begin to feel obligated to keep saying it, even when you want or need to say no. It’s a weird cycle, not abusive but not really fun either.
This is not a terrible problem to have, it’s just a position in which I never expected to end up. But that seems to be happening a lot lately, and I think I know why. (Here’s the part where I say something that makes me feel extremely old.) I’m getting to an age where I really understand the levels of complication hiding inside a simple act. I have this very vivid memory of being a kid hanging out with one of my aunts, talking about something, and her saying, “One day, you’re going to try to figure out why people do what they do, and why you’re reacting to it the way you are,” and my response was basically, “Nuh-uh.” (I was so articulate!) Well, that day has come and gone, and now we’re on to reading between the lines and trusting your gut and making the practical decision no matter what. I don’t like it here. I like it back when I was 10 and didn’t worry about the other person’s side of it so much. As long as I wasn’t being mean to someone, my decision-making process started and stopped with what worked best for me.
But here I am, in a place where leaving a job is not black and white, and even when the decision’s been made, it can be tweaked and often is. This is a good thing in some ways, but in other ways it feels suffocating, like nothing will ever be decided. It feels like there is no way to disengage. And maybe there isn’t. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re an adult.
Readers, what say you? Is this life as a grown-up? Did the Enneagram test help you figure out something new about yourself? Are you also struck with indecision in the toy aisle?