One Woman’s Career Choices

A colleague asked me years ago why I (and other women) appeared to be leaving aerospace. It’s a career that takes some dedication. We all survived at least four years of engineering college and a few internships. Yet we were disappearing in droves 5 – 10 years into our careers.

I left aerospace after three years.

I had a friend that spent nearly ten years in aerospace before quitting to travel the world. She amassed nearly two years worth of expenses and seems in no hurry to return to work.

I also had a female friend join aerospace and triple her previous income.

For the first two scenarios, I started to understand this phenomenon thanks to an article in The Atlantic. It appears when women have the choice to do STEM or not, many choose not. Yet, in countries where engineering or science is the ticket to a better life, more women stick with it.

I’ll admit that the salary was, in part, what drew to me to engineering. It’s essentially the biggest bang for your college tuition. Not many other careers offer $50,000 per year after only four years of schooling. But I always had a choice, which is why I chose to major in writing too.

I liked the article because it backed up my decision to leave engineering. However, sometimes I miss the complex problems that I used to solve. Loving writing doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to entirely leave STEM behind.

This is where I run into trouble because I’m not sure what I believe about the role a job should play in my life. If I believe that my work should be my passion, I should obviously spend all my day writing article queries and editing my book. Yet, if I focus on a job as a way to simply pay the bills, many other opportunities open up for me. Trying to match your passion is a high bar that few jobs meet.

Thanks to another Atlantic article, I’m thinking about this question in a new way, and my third friend’s decision to join aerospace makes more sense. In a survey of college-educated women, two researchers found that those who wanted passion in their work were more likely to leave work for motherhood or other desires. However, those that saw work as means to support themselves were more likely to stick with their jobs and cultivate some interest in them.

I find myself straddling these two ideas awkwardly. I do want to spend the majority of my time pursuing my passions, particularly writing. It would be excellent if I got paid for it, but experience has taught me that passion projects are more soul-fulfilling than coffer filling. Pursuing my passion in the face of monetary obstacles has landed me with credit card debt and a long list of IOUs. So, at the same time, I also want to support myself. I hate relying on others to help pay the bills.

So I’m also trying to straddle these two ideas in reality. I want to have a well-paying job that, while possibly not soul-fulfilling, pays the bills (hopefully at a rate where I can work 20-30 hours per week). Then I want to have enough time and energy left over to pursue my writing.

While that conclusion seems crystal clear, it’s not.

I’ve spent days deliberating with myself whether it’s the right choice. The publications that extol being your authentic-self seem to tell me to just trust that the writing will work out and keep going (even as I fall further into debt). And I just can’t bring myself to do that. Supporting myself is too important to me. However, I am also loathe to chase a full-time job because having time for my passions is also important to me.

Not picking a side makes me feel like I’m walking the edge of a knife. I’m constantly trying to balance passion and energy expended for money. Even now, I wonder whether my time would be better spent working rather than writing.

It’s a confusing gray area, but I’m unwilling to leap into a full-time job or to trust that I can be a full-time writer. The middle ground is hard to walk, but I can’t seem to find a more appropriate place for me.

Learning from Rejections (#2)

I have entered a new perspective where I no longer run from rejections.

Even a few weeks ago, when I pitched a publication, my pitch was based around avoiding rejection. I would research thoroughly to make sure it was aligned with the magazine. I would submit my ideas with utmost care. I would wait in tortured silence, hoping the rejection would never come.

It’s not that I did anything wrong. It’s just that fear motivated everything that I did. I did all the right things (research etc.) for the sole purpose of avoiding rejection. I was afraid of being ignored or having my creative work criticized.

Today I felt a switch.

I’ve been working on a pitch for a feature story in the Sierra Club magazine, Sierra. Two hours of researching forest fires and building my backstory went into this pitch. I even drafted it twice before sending it. I waited until Monday because I believe sending it in on Friday is a recipe for disaster. When I submitted it this morning, I felt joyous. Can I do that again? I thought. Building a story like this is fun.

This feeling persisted despite immediate obstacles.

Buoyed by my joy, I continued researching places to publish. While scrolling through Backpacker Magazine’s contributor guidelines, I noticed my “error.” Holding no punches, the magazine authors stated in unambiguous terms that new and emerging writers would rarely be considered for a feature story. The same had to apply for the Sierra magazine. There was little to no chance that my pitch would land anywhere.

I smiled and continued my research.

What? I can hear my self of a weeks ago saying. Didn’t that feel like a crushing blow to know your article would probably never see the light of day? You wasted hours of your time on something that would never be published. 

A brave new voice answers, But it was fun. And that’s my unvarnished truth. Some of the most fun that I’ve had during the last week (outside of hiking and obvious fun events) was creating that pitch. I enjoyed researching the forest fires that I hiked through. I devoured maps, stats, and articles in a search for the right angle. And it was fun! Possibly more fun than actually writing the article. The act of looking for a story for Sierra was in itself very rewarding.

Realizing that I enjoy this aspect of the work has been a powerful acknowledgment of this path for me. If I’m not focused on the anxiety of rejection, being a writer feels good. It feels right. It fits like an awesome glove.

Honestly, what a relief. If there were no more to being a writer than being able to face down the demons of criticism, it would have been hard to continue. It’s a big obstacle to climb and a constant battle. How pleasant to know that I can ignore the fears (note: I have been working on this skill for a LONG time). And even better to know that, freed of the fear, pitching and creating stories makes me happy.


To read more about my current transformational period, check out my article on Elephant Journal.

Learning from Rejections (#1)

Every writer lives in dread of the rejection letter. Those of us who have struggled with tying our self-worth to our successes are doubly terrified. While I’ve worked to extricate my self-worth from my actions, I still hate rejection letters. However, the more astute writers that I have heard from have told me that rejection letters have a purpose – to tell us what we missed and where we need to improve.

I got this rejection from a travel site called The Expeditioner. Reviewing the site, I saw that the writers had a great sense of humor. Therefore, I chose to write about some funny exchanges between a tour guide and my friend at a dolphin watching tour.

I read the article at my writing group in Capitol Hill. While I was secretly hoping for rolling belly laughs, I did get a few chuckles from people. The feedback was mostly positive. They recommended that I add a few more details about the boat.

After collecting pictures from my fellow adventurers, I submitted the photos and copy to The Expeditioner.

Within 48 hours, it was rejected.

I spent about an hour being mad. Then I reassured myself that it wasn’t my skills. It was probably just a poor fit for the publication. Looking deeper at that realization, I understood that I missed a large part of travel writing.

Like an essay or memoir, travel writing has to have a higher purpose than entertainment. There has to be an underlying truth, a discovery about the self, or something universally human. Otherwise, it’s just an amusing anecdote.

I wrote an amusing anecdote, a lovely scene. It served no cause. I can see why others might not find it interesting.

A writer friend of mine had gotten a harsh critique at the circle. One person asked him the point of his memoir scene. This person reiterated that every passage has to have a point, even in a memoir.

The same thing could have been said of my travel writing. I suspect I narrowly avoided the criticism because my story was funny.

Going forward, I am trying to keep in mind that travel writing is still essay writing. There has to be a point and journey. Being someone who describes people and places well is not enough.


In an attempt to come to terms with the idea that I will be rejected, I am hoping to post more of these realizations. That’s why I called this one #1.

Freelance Failure Experiment – Introduction

I am going to finally “take freelance writing seriously” by courting failure. In the past, I have taken sure things – low paying content mill jobs. I get paid less than 5 cents per word, but my chances of rejection are low. I have realized this is unsustainable, but I also understand that the world of better writing is full of failure. My work will get rejected, multiple times, and I will have to learn to deal with it. That is the point of this experiment.

What does courting failure entail? In my case, it means that I commit to submitting $5000 worth of pitches per week. But I know that I will earn maybe $100 to $500.

The purposes of this experiment are numerous

  1. Even with a 90% failure rate, I should be able to pay rent.
  2. I anticipate failure and continue to work anyway. (Big one!)
  3. To make $5000, I have to take big shots that would otherwise scare me senseless.

The setup is quite simple too.

I will blog every Monday about my plans to make $5000 – where I plan to submit etc. On Friday, I will blog again to demonstrate what I’ve accomplished. I even have a small bar scribbled in my planner so I can track visually how close to $5000 I get. Note: I will only be working on weekdays because I want to be a person with weekends. The regular blogs will help keep me honest even when I’m not sure that anyone is listening.

It starts now.

This experiment is a small piece of building the lifestyle that I want. My larger goal is to be able to indulge my love of researching and writing about it. This experiment should help me build some of the skills and connections that I need to make the larger goal a reality.

Becoming a Professional Writer

This week, I can call myself a professional writer. I have written an article and received $10 for it. I am not hitting the big time; I am working for a content mill.

Yet, strangely, it makes me happy.

For a long time, I avoided the content mills. I thought, “I have a $100,000 college education. Why would I do that?” Then my situation changed. The choice became planting my butt in a car seat for hours a day as an Uber driver or try to work from the comfort of my own home (with a small gray cat in my face). To be honest, the pay isn’t that different. For each, $20 an hour is a good day. But, as an Uber driver, I sometimes sit around waiting, hoping for a rider. As a content mill worker, I know I have my $50 worth of articles to write and I can do them as I please.

The fact that I’m having fun working at a content mill has been eye-opening. For one, I thought myself above researching fashion trends and moonshine regulations. I’m not. It’s actually quite fun to learn about a random assortment of items and try to compose a narrative article. I’ve looked at webpages that I never would have seen otherwise. What do I do with my new knowledge that Adidas has created bioengineered yarn for shoes that can be dissolved with a catalyst and water? I don’t know. But someone is paying me to look up weird things online and write about it.

Isn’t that kind of awesome? Doesn’t every millenial want a job like this?

Maybe not.

But it’s illuminating to see how happy I am. Because I am having more fun working for a content mill than I did reviewing safety requirements or collaborating with customers as an engineer. This makes me think that I am on the right track. As I wrote in my journal earlier this week, “…at this moment, the “right track” fucking sucks. But I’m finally there.”

Why does it suck? Well, even driving Uber for almost 30 hours a week and taking on every article I can find, rent is still an impossibly high number. I was surprised by $1100 in unexpected heating costs (thanks to the sunny cold days in Seattle and our oil heated house). My boyfriend and I talked about the heating costs earlier this week. I said that we needed to have another $500 in the joint account. He asked who should put the money into the account. I nominated him…because I didn’t have it. That’s a first for me. My savings are about gone.

With this lack of money plaguing my mind, I applied for 4-5 other content mills. Indeed has become my go-to site, and I applied for five other random writing jobs.

In some ways, this is awesome. I threw out my rules regarding how much I was “supposed to” make per hour. Now a whole new world of writing opportunities has opened up to me.

But getting rejected by a content mill because “we have too many writers and not enough projects” is sobering. I also received a phone call from a company that wanted to check that I was a native English speaker. These things remind me how precarious my situation is, and Uber is not the cure-all that I hoped it would be. Uber is like any freelance work; sometimes there is work and sometimes there isn’t (though getting a ride on a weekday morning at 8am is practically a given in West Seattle).

My new method is to gather these flexible freelance writing jobs. Once I have a handful of them, I can jump around, taking whatever work is available to me. $80 here, $60 here and $200 there eventually add up to the money I need for rent.

And, yes, technically, I can call myself a professional writer.

My first day as an Uber Driver

What am I doing?

It’s a good question. I’m making time to write and explore opportunities. I’m choosing a job where I can decide how much I work – and the hours are directly proportional to how much money I make. I’m committing to writing my novel and memoir pieces. I’m not going to stop writing because I’m unable to pay rent and have to get a full-time engineering job.

So I’m driving with Uber.

To be honest, my first day as an Uber driver started poorly. I live in West Seattle and it’s not exactly a hotbed of Uber users. I’m pretty sure that I could have sat in my driveway all day and gotten maybe one fare. So I set off toward the airport. I figured that maybe some businessmen staying in airport hotels may need a ride downtown. The Uber app remained silent. I tapped it a couple of times to make sure it worked. There was no way I could know. I didn’t know what getting a fare looking like.

Then I noticed Queen Anne erupt into red hexagons (on the Uber app). I had heard rumors of this phenomenon. It was called a surge and it meant that Queen Anne was so busy that fare prices had increased. I was 45 minutes in and had no  fares to show for it, so I headed north. Of course, I got stuck on 99 north. I sat motionless on the viaduct as the hexagons faded to orange and then eventually disappeared. But I kept my course toward Queen Anne.

Then it happened. The app made a popping sound and a round timer started spinning. I tapped it frantically. “Sending” popped up. I had my first fare.

She was hard to find. I pulled into a gas station and called her to let her know where I was. My heart was pounding. It was too early to have messed up! She appeared. My hands were shaking with excitement. Hopefully, I thought, she wouldn’t know this was my first fare! I rushed her downtown as quickly as I could. She was running late for work. I had survived my first fare – hurrah! Maybe this would work after all. I stuck to my new plan. Once again I turned toward Queen Anne.

Pop, pop, pop.

This was how the rest of my “online” day went. It was incredible. I would drop someone off and start heading toward a neighborhood (usually Queen Anne or Capitol Hill). Then 45 seconds later, I’d have a new fare! I tapped all of them with excitement. This was working! I appreciate the smoothness and ease of the app. I could drive constantly, almost always heading to or from a fare. I’m pretty sure that I did a specific loop in Capital Hill at least three times, picking up people and dropping them off at different points along the way.

There were some hiccups. I suppose you could call it bad luck or lack of consideration. I accepted a fare on Mercer Island. My rider needed to go about 5 blocks. I spent about 15 minutes commuting to and from Mercer Island for a very short ride. There is no way that the fare was cost effective for me – either in gas or time. But it was okay. My rider made me feel like I was doing a public service instead of driving people around for money.  I was not deterred. I kept excitedly tapping any fare that popped on my phone.

The best part of the day was knowing that I could go offline whenever I pleased. When I felt like I needed a break, all I had to do was slide a button on my phone. No one would berate me for leaving the office early or “not being a team player.” Life was pretty simple. I was either online or offline. It was my choice.

I took an enjoyable break in the middle of my driving. I had a pot of tea and wrote my entire memoir class assignment in one sitting. 1200 words in one hours. Not unimpressive. The idea that my time was limited – because I had to make some money today – drove me to write without hesitation.

In total, I made $48 today.

Since I love math, I decided that worked out to $16/hr (if you removed the 45 minutes that I wandered through Tukwila with no fares). That’s pretty cool. I’m happy because I worked the hours that I wanted to work. When I had to pee, I stopped and took a long break. When I was hungry, I went home for lunch. When I wanted to write, I stopped and I wrote for an hour. This is the flexibility that I have always craved.

Uber money might not be as much as  I am used to, but I love the freedom.