What People Think My Work Looks Like vs. What It Really Looks Like
Under the pillows in the bed of my childhood room, I kept a box. A ballerina slipper-shaped notepad sat inside; on it were notes illegibly scrawled in glitter milk pen. “I can be anything, and I want to be a writer,” I wrote to myself, as a girl (and, evidently, a yet-to-be-self-proclaimed feminist) who didn’t know then that she would grow up to be just that.
If I knew then that I’d someday be backpacking the far reaches of the globe utterly alone to write about women and their stories from around the world... Well, I’d have asked the tooth fairy for more money to fund it all.
But of course, I always knew that I’d eventually be some sort of travel writer. Mostly because I’d be damned if I didn’t. So I worked really hard to get here — my former days were spent in the office and my evenings were spent in coffee shops and quiet bars across Manhattan and Brooklyn. I got good at discovering off-the-beaten-path, local watering holes that served up coffee and wine late into the night to keep me going and keep me sane. On the weekends, I’d be locked up in libraries...still working, still writing.
Now, I'm writing this from a quiet cafe in Rishikesh, India, somewhere along the Ganges River at the foothills of the Himalayas. My social circle at home and my following on social media like to believe all my days are like this one — writing from beanbag chairs in hippie bars along the Mekong River or from hammocks on blonde beaches in the Thai islands, perpetually bikini-clad with a coconut or banana shake in hand. And that's not entirely far off.
But though I love what I'm doing, it's not necessarily all sunsets and baby elephants. I work more hours as a freelancer on the road than I ever did at a full-time, in-office job. I've had to develop discipline like I'd never known discipline before. When the beaches are beckoning and the mountains are calling, I usually have to say, "I'll catch ya later, I'm working." I realize how spoiled that sounds, but it's not like it was an easy feat to be able to turn down daily adventures. When people tell me, "You're so lucky," I say, "Nope, I'm just fortunate and worked really hard to create this life for myself."
Now, reliable Wi-Fi (or, moreover, reliable electricity), a desk, and a mosquito net to work devoid of distractions have become luxuries to me. But I often find myself answering emails in the back of tuk tuks, writing through the night on sleeper buses, taking Skype calls in airports, and staying up until morning because I'm in the exact opposite time zone as most of my editors.
So, being a freelance traveling writer does look a lot like what we see on Instagram. But that's only a small percentage of the time, the majority of which isn't so "glamorous." And while I love this life, there are some serious misconceptions when it comes to my job.
I'm not alone. Plenty of women are working jobs about which their friends, families, larger social circles, or people in general have wrongful assumptions. Here are some of their examples.
1) A sex coach isn't sitting at people's bedsides.
"I have a doctorate in human sexuality and have been in the sexuality field for over fourteen years — I have a career that not only women, but everyone is unsure what I do and has misconceptions about," says Dr. Stacy Friedman, a clinical sexologist and certified sex coach. "Many people, when hearing what I do, automatically think I am having sex with people for money. They also think that I sit at people's bedsides cheering them on, coaching them on how to have better sex. The image they must visualize just makes me laugh.
"I do coach people on how to have better sex, but it is more about coaching, counseling, and educating, in my local South Florida office, by phone, or video session, as some people prefer to see who they are speaking with regarding such an intimate subject matter. As a sex coach, I help couples regain lost intimacy, specializing in working with women who have low libido, painful sex, and the LGBT population. I do talk-only sessions in which we realize the clients' goals, and then find home assignments they can do alone or with their partners and action plans to find the best way to reach their goals. But I am not involved as many people imagine."
2) Being an entrepreneur isn't easy.
"I am the CEO of my own business, which comes with several misconceptions about what it's like to be an entrepreneur — many may be quick to assume that, because entrepreneurs can set our own hours, we are somehow more successful because of it and can afford to go on tons of vacations and engage in lengthy leisure activities like golfing or sailing on a yacht," says Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com.
"The reality, for me anyway, is that I am almost always at the office on Mondays through Fridays. I sit out on the floor (we have an open floor layout plan) with the rest of my team. I'm very easily accessible whenever anyone has a question, and I go to meetings with everyone else. I continue answering emails in the evening, first thing in the morning, and over the weekend.
"But, I'm not all-work-and-no-play, either. I make the time to go to pilates class in between meetings, spend time with my family each day, and engage in our Friday talent show contests in the office. I work hard and I play hard as a CEO. A typical day in my shoes is never like the one before it — which is one characteristic of entrepreneurship that I find is not a misconception."
3) Tarot card reading isn't con artistry.
"My job is totally unlike what most people think it is," says Jenna Matlin, a tarot card reader. "In fact, it can be a real issue! Common misconceptions: One - I am in league with the devil. Two - I am uneducated. Three - I am a con artist. Four - I tell people things like when they are going to die and the name of their husbands-to-be.
"The real truth is that tarot is a visual system for looking at narratives in our lives and making educated probabilities based on those narratives. I have an M.S., am highly educated and scientifically-minded, and I can't even stomp on an ant. If I am in league with the devil, he sure is a nice guy!"
4) Matchmaking doesn't mean spending all day with beautiful people.
"I have set up and made matches for incredibly talented and well-known personalities, but they are the one in twenty that contact me — I don’t take anyone on because they are famous, and I am very selective about who I work with," says Bonnie Winston, celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert. "It’s not all glamour, cocktails, and VIP parties; it’s a lot of hard work.
"My typical day begins with reaching out to my personal and professional network by making phone calls and sending friendly emails to make connections and matches for my clients both in Los Angeles and New York, where I am based. I then check in by phone with my clients to see how their dates went, as well as to get feedback on the matches.
"The second part of my day is interviewing potential matches for my clients, as well as meeting with potential clients that want my service. Sometimes, I give dating advice and counseling, although I’m not a shrink! I always have an eye out for potential connections, and most days and nights, it’s about personal scouting around town... A misconception is that I spend my time with handsome, successful, and eligible men when, in reality, it is about one in five that make the cut to get into my database."
5) PR people aren't just the "party people."
"Many years ago, I was working in public relations for a large public software company and attending the annual user conference — the multi-day affair included an evening 'fun' outing, and all the attendees were invited to board buses to get from the convention center to the event," says Bobbie Carlto of Carlton PR & Marketing. "As I boarded one of the buses, one of the attendees recognized me and shouted out, 'Woo-hoo, the PR team is here! We’re the party bus! Now the party can begin.' I cringe at the thought of that, but that’s what people think about PR. We’re the party-people, the people-people.
"In reality, we’re more likely to be focused on writing and research. Sure, there are exceptions, but the work often requires a thoughtful, measured approach, and the parties are, at least in most industries, few and far between. We work with clients (in my agency today), mostly startups and small companies. We help with messaging and business strategy. We write articles, white papers, blog posts, and handle social media. We create press releases and pitch stories to reporters. We do a lot of writing. We help train executives to be effective public speakers, and we place these corporate spokespeople at conferences and events."
6) Copywriting is more about research than writing.
"I'm a copywriter and content marketer, and people always respond with, 'Oh, you should write a book!' or 'It must be nice to be a good writer and not have to work hard at it,'" says Alexandra Sheehan, copywriter and content strategist. "Really, copywriting is less about writing and more about research. I also work for myself, and people either think I work too much or not enough. I work most Saturdays and Sundays, and take my 'weekend' during the week intentionally. Those who see me working weekends think I work too hard; those who see me taking off during the week think I'm lazy."
[Related: Librarians and the Gender Pay Gap]
7) Strategists guide projects toward success.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about a strategist's role — I've heard jokes about the strategist being someone who sits in meetings whose sole responsibility is to have an opinion while everyone else does the work," says Whitney Meers, strategy consultant. "And, in some ways, this isn't totally wrong. But it's also so much more than that.
"At the end of the day, the strategist's job is to guide a project toward success. This often means knowing a lot about many different subjects, and being able to piece together others' specialties in a way that drives the best results possible. Many times, this means defining a series of clear objectives, developing an execution plan, and maximizing outputs in as an efficient [a] manner as possible.
"Strategy consulting is a lot of fun, but it has its challenges, too. You will be championed for initiatives that work, but you'll also take the blame when things fail, even when the circumstances of the failure are entirely out of your control. It also requires a lot of testing and feedback, which can be difficult to explain to clients that want to see results overnight.
"But it's also an incredibly important job! I can't tell you how many hundreds of thousands of dollars I've seen companies waste because they had no clear vision for what they were trying to create. Any business, large or small, that is having trouble realizing a vision should strongly consider working with a strategy consultant."
8) Marketing professionals don't sit on social media all day.
"There are a lot of preconceived notions about a my job, as marketing is seen as a glamorous career," says Crystal McFerran, VP of marketing at Velo IT Group. "Some people assume I get paid to play around on social media all day or make pretty pictures, but the majority of people have absolutely no idea what it is a marketing professional actually does. While I find my career extremely enjoyable and rewarding, marketing is not as glamorous as everyone makes it out to be, and I spend much more time on data analysis than I do creating social media content.
"To succeed in marketing, you need practical knowledge on a variety of initiatives, such as branding, SEO, PR, web development, content generation, marketing automation, and sales/marketing alignment. Effective marketing requires constant learning. With the growth of digital innovations and social media, companies have more tools and online platforms available than ever before, making it necessary for marketing professionals to stay ahead of the curve by learning new techniques and technologies."
[Related: What Is Your Personal Brand?]
9) Working from home doesn't mean being lazy.
"I work from home running an online business doing business management, except most people don't get it — they think I am like a secretary or a customer service person answering phones and emails, and then some don't even think I work," says Sara Lingenfelter, an online business manager and mentor. "Then, add to it, they think I have lots of free time. There are many misconceptions about what WAHMs do...
"What my day really looks like: Get my son up and ready for school. Make breakfast and journal. Start my day at 9 A.M. and most days don't stop until 5. During this, I spend two hours working on my business, take a break for lunch and a short workout. Then do about four hours of client work. Throw in some meetings, responding to emails, and social media messages. Pick my son up at 3 P.M. from school. More work until 5. Currently, I do take a half-day off on Friday; I need it for my sanity. I am a single mom, so either working or [as] a mom, I need a bit of time to myself."
10) Attorneys don't spend all their time in court.
"Many people believe attorneys spend all their time in court, because that is what they have seen on television shows like Law and Order and various movies," says Jesse Harrison, founder and CEO of the Employee Justice Legal Team, an employment law firm. "These forms of entertainment show criminal proceedings that take days, but in reality, most attorneys rarely go to court; claims are often settled out of court before the date comes around. I myself have gone to court only twice throughout my entire career. It is not as entertaining for shows to depict what a lawyer actually does most of the day, which is what I do — I complete most of my work at the office while sitting at my desk.
"Further, there is a general misconception about how lawyers interact with everyone. They believe we are constantly fighting, but we aren’t; we are arguing in the best interests of our clients. Fights are usually ordeals with heavy emotions that involve you wanting to punch your opponent in the face; lawyers, on the other hand, are generally civil and professional throughout these arguments, and we do not let our emotions interfere with our jobs. There is also the idea that lawyers on opposing sides are inherent enemies. This is not always the case, and many attorneys who interact with each other often can be friends outside of the courtroom."
By AnnaMarie Houlis via Fairygodboss.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, a leading career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.
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