Think Bigger

Handle your shit: A guide to swatting away haters who doubt your “real job”

I work from home.

As a writer, I am proud of the work I do, but no matter how many times I try to explain that, yes, I do real work and, yes, I make real money, some people still ask:

“When are you going to get a real job?”

Or ask its cousins: “Don’t you want a job with more stability?” or “Wait, what do you do all day again?” followed by a skeptical raised eyebrow.

I get it. Being self-sufficient working from home on our laptops is a little unorthodox. Like meeting a unicorn that people have heard of, but are shocked when they actually see one in the flesh. 

Dealing with this stigma can be frustrating and make you feel as if you have something to prove. Psychologists refer to this as “social undermining,” which in the words of this study published in the “Journal of Organizational Behavior” is:

“Behavior intended to hinder, over time, the ability to establish and maintain positive interpersonal relationships, work-related success, and favorable reputation.”

You can’t always recognize social undermining when you see it, but a question like “when are you going to get a real job?” is a damn good example.

It’s worse when these come from friends and family who are ostensibly concerned about you and your future, but the underlying message is loud and clear: “I don’t quite believe in you.”

Regardless of their intentions, it can take an emotional toll and be toxic for your motivation when you’re trying to plant your flag in the entrepreneurial world.

For me, I definitely felt like I was marooned on an island with little to no support. Worse, they amplified that lingering feeling of doubt that I can actually find the success I want and that, yes, this life was the best decision. I used to spend so much energy being fiercely defensive and bitter that people doubted me instead of just keeping my head down and doing the work. I worried more about what other people thought about ME, rather than what I was doing.

The only way for me to keep at this entrepreneur stuff was to … get shit done.

I’ve written about implementing ways for you to do the work, day in and day out, regardless of whether you “feel like it” or not. And once I started to take myself and my goals seriously, doing what needed to be done, people’s judgment of my work started to affect me less. I don’t care if my aunt can’t grasp my day to day life if I’m launching successful products (or at least, I have more patience to handle and explain). People also started to ask me these questions less, though the turning point wasn’t because of any particular thing I did.

It was … everything that I did, over time.

Let me explain.

There’s this common refrain: “Show, don’t tell.” You don’t tell people things. That never sinks in. You show things and let people draw their own conclusions. Thanks to social media, this is much easier to do now.

For me, it meant that I stopped trying to explain that “I DO have a real job, OK?!” I instead focused on my work and moving toward my goals, and made things happen. People saw my articles in reputable places. They saw the kind of lifestyle my “real job” afforded me: traveling to many places, meeting people from all over the world, working out in the middle of the workday, and so on.  

I’m not saying to actively brag about what you do. There is a fine line between publicly celebrating your accomplishments and outright bragging. Again, the idea is to show, don’t tell.

Still, people aren’t going to always get it. That’s normal, but there are also ways to make it easier and frame yourself in the best possible way.

To own your work-from-home life in conversation rather than shrink away from it, you’ve got to confidently live it. Here’s an example from Kristin Wong, an author and writer who works from home: “I made a dedicated office for myself. I stopped wearing sweatpants all day and put on a damn blazer.”

Notice that she makes it a point of acting like a serious professional, even though literally no one else is keeping tabs. Small changes like these help her mentally.

“People are less likely to ask, ‘So what do you do all day?’ if you position yourself as a businessperson rather than someone who sits at home all day waiting for work. None of this is about keeping up ‘appearances.’ It’s about working from within, making yourself feel more empowered and more productive. When you feel powerful, you don’t care as much about what other people think,” added Wong.

I can agree with that.

Ultimately, what would help you keep going is to just … trust in the process of doing the work. And if you do feel like you have something to prove, perhaps it’s time to look inward: do you actually have a plan? Are you actually working hard enough?  

Once I started achieving visible results from my consistent work, people (including my parents) just stopped asking. In fact, their attitudes about what I did changed. They were proud! Once you find a certain level of success from a solid work ethic, it’s not difficult to keep your head up and revel in your own self-confidence.

Also, understanding that people’s ill judgments aren’t necessarily a personal assault. It’s not about you nor is it your fault that people act that way. These are not the people you should seek validation from anyway. And no one action is going to flip a magical switch where people suddenly understand. The best middle finger to all the haters is to keep your head down, do the work, and live the life that proves you are (and are capable of) handling your shit.

So handle your shit before you worry about other people worrying about you handling your shit.

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There Are 12 Comments

 

Fantastic post, I used to work from home with one of my past companies and often got the same comments.

I was always like a) it is a real job b) I earn more than I did before, but regardless of that it seemed that working from home = not being taken seriously.

I’ve moved out of the home office with my current startup Task Pigeon but still think working from home is one of the most productive environments to operate in.

I enjoyed your writing style and did not want the article to finish as much as I totally agree to what’s in it. When you listen to people’s opinions and try to convince them to feel good about you and accept you, you literally throwing yourself away from what you’re supposed to do – which is: WORK. I don’t believe one size fits all when it comes to how people see you, some will understand and other don’t or don’t want to understand. People don’t stand in shoes neither know what you know, so it is totally normal to see people try to hold you back and get skeptical about how real is you JOB. As long as you stick to what are you doing and get it done Successfully, they will notice the change and observe how small they are when you succeed.

This is so right on! I’m at a point where family members just don’t ask about what I do. The assumption is that I do nothing, certainly nothing important. Like you, I’m a writer and journalist. I get to interview some pretty awesome, well-known people. Trend-setters, best-selling authors, national politicians, innovators. I find my job very interesting and the people I talk to even more so. I learn something new everyday. The idea that my family members feel they are “more important” then me because they work a traditional “job” and I don’t is rather amusing to me. I’ve gotten beyond whether it matters to them or not.

I can vouch for this, as I’ve been asked those kinds of questions many times. Not really about my job since I still do work in a “real” day job, but as per my interests and intentions of my work and life.

The “show, don’t tell” way is definitely the way to shut up those idiots (because they are) who wish to drag you down to their own mediocrity.

Another great article, Stephanie. I really like your writing style.

I’m home worker too. I find I do by far my best work at home – especially if it requires focus as I can set up my workspace to maximise the chance of getting into flow quickly.

Once your friends and family members see that you’re making some money from your job at home they will stop asking stupid questions.

Some people never get it, whether you make money or not because undermining someone in the family keeps them in a role they like/want. I opened my business 13 years ago and in a family setting, I’ve learned to accept they cannot provide support although voicing toxic doubt works real well. I used to think I could have done so much more with a supportive family and then rewrote my personal narrative. Occasionally, some still manage to surprise me, but it’s much less painful.

I really appreciate this article Stephanie. I’m lucky to be surrounded by mostly supportive people however I do think my haters come from a different area altogether with a different subtler message – and those are my old colleagues from the corporate world I’ve left behind, who also want to do what I’m doing. The hate feels more like jealousy. I’ve noticed it especially from my female ex-colleagues who, like me, also want to be able to spend most of the time raising their kids at home whilst running a business. I remember having a conversation with one such friend about a show on Netflix, explaining all the characters and the storyline to her, and her response was “Oh you can tell you work from home!” – the implication being that I just sit at home all day watching Netflix whilst cold hard cash pours in through my windows! But I guess it’s also “I wish I could work from home too.” The journey it’s taken me to get to this position though is completely overlooked. I agree that “Show, dont tell” is the only response.

Thank you very much for that article. Great for newbies and professionals alike. Even though I’ve been working for myself in various freelance areas since 2002 I still get this! I doubt it’ll ever go away, but I absolutely agree that putting your head down and just working and showing what you can do reduces the comments. I also like your suggestion that you dress the part. On many occasions I’ve got up early and put on a suit and tie, even though I then spent the entire day writing and not talking to anyone. Dressing up does help improve the mindset. And, if you do suddenly get an unexpected message to meet a client or networker, you’re already ready to see them at a moments notice.

This right here is my mantra from now on, Stephanie Lee. “So handle your shit before you worry about other people worrying about you handling your shit.”

Stephanie,

Thank you for writing such a great article.

I have a similar work situation and after being at it for 2+ years now I have seen a change in the questions I get from people about what I do.

I find too that while many people are super supportive, others will take every chance they get to belittle what I’m doing via little comments or questions. I just shrug them off, tell them things are going great (because they are) and remind myself not to be like them.

This is exactly my current situation.
When I tell people I work from home, they assume I’m just jobless.
My pastor once asked me what I’m into, I told him that I’m a designer and I work from home, and the man said, how much is that going to fetch you? yike! As if I’ve ever beg him for money.
The other day, a friend of mine came to squad with me. I provided him with feeding and accommodation. To my utmost surprise, while working on my laptop, this guy told me that he can’t just imagine why a sane human can seat at home with his laptop all day long, wasting his time and doing all sort of useless things. Suffice to say that I never allowed him to come to my house again.
Another funny thing I experienced while working from home is that, friends will just come around to spend time with you and causing all sort of distractions, because they think you are just playing with your laptop and not doing anything serious. And when you ask them to leave so that you’ll concentrate on your job, they’ll begin to take things personal.
So far, it’s only my Mother that believes in what I’m doing (even though she have no idea how the works) and that’s all enough for me.

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