This month marks my fifth year of working two jobs.
For 40 hours a week, I am a therapist. I see seven clients a day in an office with a window that overlooks an aluminum wall and a chain link fence. I am paid a salary that covers my living expenses.
For my second job, I conduct comprehensive medical/psychiatric assessments at the hospital for patients with mental illness who are applying to nursing facilities. This is how I fund my adventures.
As anyone who has ever worked two jobs knows: it is a lifestyle. And I am here to tell you the truth about what this lifestyle has both afforded and cost me.
A caveat before I begin: I recognize that I am lucky in that I don’t have to work two jobs. If I gave up my second income, nobody would starve. I have nothing but respect for single parents who work multiple jobs to support multiple children. That is not my situation.
Also, as far as second jobs go, mine is very flexible. A company in Tennessee emails me whenever there is a referral in my area, and I choose whether or not to accept it. If I take it, I schedule the patient interview on my time, type up the assessment from home, and submit it within 48 hours.
If it is six weeks before my wedding and I am in the midst of a week-long panic attack, I bolt out of bed at 3am and email Tennessee to say, “I am losing my mind. Please do not contact me until after my wedding,” and they say, “Okay!” and we pick up six weeks later as though nothing ever happened.
Still, I frequently end up working my second job 10-20 extra hours per week.
Still, I am all-too-familiar with that feeling in my chest when I know I have accepted more work than I can handle. The short and shallow breaths, the slight tremble in my fingers, the way I can literally see the hours of my week closing in around me like a cave.
Working two jobs is a constant struggle for balance. An endless teetering between feelings of supreme accomplishment and existential regret.
Here are some of the things it has cost me, and the ways I have justified these costs to myself:
“Weekend” has become a very relative term.
It’s not unusual for me to conduct assessments on Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays. If I don’t have an assessment scheduled on Monday evening, then guess what? Monday evening just became my weekend.
There was one weekend last spring when I was very sick but had already committed to three assessments. I submitted the last one Sunday night at 8:00. “My weekend starts now,” I remember thinking as I curled up on the couch with a box of Kleenex to watch a movie before bed. “This movie is my weekend.”
But then again…
There are other times when I decline weekend work so I can stay in and write. These rare, two-day writing binges feel absolutely incredible; I anticipate and delight in them with a deep, aching ferocity that I would not otherwise know.
Also, I’m never bored.
I don’t have time for spontaneous adventures.
I might meet a friend for lunch on Saturday, but the chances of our lunch date evolving into a spontaneous shopping trip are quite low. My laptop is probably in my purse; I probably have plans to spend the rest of my day in a sterile hospital room that smells like death.
I get sad when I think about all the random fun I might have missed by being so overscheduled.
But then again…
It’s probably a self-indulgent fantasy to believe my life would really be brimming with spontaneous adventures if not for my second job—perhaps a holdover from my school days when casual dinners with friends did frequently morph into midnight games of four-square or impassioned quests to swim in every fountain on campus.
In reality, most other adults I know are pretty busy too—second job or not. I mean, some people have children for God’s sake.
There are lots of other things I don’t have time for, either.
When you have two jobs, you simply cannot do all the things you otherwise would. I don’t cook. I don’t exercise. I’ve never seen Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, or Stranger Things. I haven’t even had a new favorite show in five years (except Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which I look forward to binge-catching-up-on whenever I get sick).
But then again…
Here are some things I have done in the last five years: I’ve rewritten my novel five times, I’ve made (and kept) four good friends, I’ve read a ton of books, I’ve gone on countless vacations, I planned my wedding, I spent every major holiday with family, I Marie Kondo’d my whole apartment, and I’ve maintained a blog that only very rarely has two-month gaps between entries. (Sorry, btw!) As is always the case in life, you find time for the things you really care about.
Also, I’ve somehow managed to never miss an episode of The Bachelor?
I now measure social interactions in terms of money. (Yuck!)
It’s one thing to measure purchases in terms of assessments (“These boots cost half of one assessment,” or, “That plane ticket costs three assessments”), but it’s bad when I start doing this with people.
Let’s say an acquaintance invites me to dinner. I like that person, but do I like them enough to forfeit the money I could otherwise make from conducting an assessment that night? What dollar amount, exactly, is dinner with that person worth to me? Do I like them two-pairs-of-boots worth? One-third-of-a-plane-tickets’ worth? Will the value of our dining experience be more or less than the cost of one night at that hotel I want to stay at, the one with the really cool infinity pool, on that beach vacation I’m working towards?
I know, this is icky.
But then again…
It really does make me realize who and what is most important to me. As a result, I waste far less time doing things I don’t want to do than I have at any other point in my life.
Each decision feels like a lose/lose.
When I conduct an assessment, it often feels like a wasted day. It’s a Friday evening spent at a hospital. It’s a Sunday afternoon typing up the same boring form I’ve typed up a million times before as the world passes me by outside my window.
But when I decline an assessment, that feels wrong too. As I type this, I’m very aware that I declined one today so I could write. That’s important self-care, I tell myself. But then again… was the opportunity to write this particular post on this particular night worth the money I forfeited to do so? I’m not sure. I’m never sure.
But then again…
I’m not sure there is a “then again” to this one. It really sucks to second-guess every decision, honestly.
So why do I do it?
The reason I work two jobs, ironically, is because I don’t want my life to be about work; I want it to be an extraordinary adventure with the people I love. I work two jobs so I can afford to say yes to as much of life as possible during my short time on this crazy planet.
Yes to Dianna’s bachelorette party in Vegas. Yes to surprising Bevin in LA on her birthday. Yes to Jenny’s baby shower in San Francisco. Yes to being a groomswoman in Adam’s Florida wedding. Yes to visiting Ina and Stephen during their year in Africa. Yes to me and Doug’s dream honeymoon in Alaska. Yes to exploring random Caribbean islands with Noemi. Yes to a random getaway in Nebraska, where John and Kevin and I build such an impressive fort inside our cabin that a park ranger knocks down our door and threatens to throw us out for “upending” his furniture.
Occasionally, I work myself into the ground. But I use every lick of time off, and I use it well.
And whenever I’m out there living these best moments of my life, I’m never regretting that I worked too hard to get there. I’m just feeling grateful that all those hours spent asking patients things like, “Do you have chronic constipation? What about diarrhea?” have afforded me these opportunities to be present with my favorite people in the world, people I see so rarely that my heart aches out for them most of the time, enjoying something new and remarkable together.
(Have you noticed a pattern? Most of the people I love live far, far away.)
I often think back to the day I had my phone interview for my second job. I thought it was going poorly, and I was so embarrassed by my own bumbling answers that I almost hung up mid-interview. It would be unprofessional, but who cared? I obviously wasn’t getting the job, and these people were in Tennessee; I’d never have to face them. Besides, I didn’t really want a second job.
But at the last minute I thought: No, see it through. Just to spare yourself the smallest bit of dignity.
Sometimes, in those low moments when I’m panicked and jittery, I calculate all the hours I’ve poured into my second job and think: Maybe I should have just hung up the phone that day.
Think of all the things I could have done with those extra nights and weekends! The books I might have read, the blog posts I might have written, the sleep I would have gotten. The long, meditative walks through the woods.
But then again…
Think of all the things I would have missed.