This is a pic of my Cadmus and EPA colleagues in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2011, the same week my first Carina Press book, SAPPHIRE, released. Environmental consulting for The Cadmus Group has been my day job/primary career for 18 years, as of October 1.
Today was my last day.
Talk about a huge life change for me!
I originally took this job for what I thought would be a year or two until I could support myself as a writer. Guess THAT took a little longer than expected, huh? Eighteen years later, I’m finally taking the leap into writing full time.
However, I want to be honest with you all, because it greatly bothers me when writers represent themselves as “being a full time writer” without disclosing other sources of income. It’s a badge of honor in the writing world, to say one writes full time, as so few writers are able to make a living wage at it. Many “full time writers” are people who’ve retired and are able to live on their pensions, or those who have a salaried and benefitted spouse to take up the income slack. I feel it creates an unfair expectation in aspiring writers when people claim the badge of honor without admitting to those other income streams that allow them to pay the bills.
So, my reality is that I’ve been laid off. I’ve known about the possibility for a long time. The major project I worked on, my niche expertise in drinking water that took me to Puerto Rico, was axed right after that trip. Since then I’ve been scraping for work. Environmental consulting works much like law does – if you don’t have billable hours, you are SOL. I’ve been working on a whole variety of projects over the last few years, but nothing consistent. EPA’s priorities have shifted with money going to different and fewer projects.
Though I was originally hired in an office in Wyoming, I’ve worked from home since 2004, when Cadmus closed that office because the principal there was finally laid off for lack of billable hours. That’s been a great gig for me, as it allowed us to move to Santa Fe so my husband, David, could go back to school after early retirement and have a second career as a doctor of oriental medicine. It also allowed me a flexible schedule to write.
Over a year ago I went to full-time hourly at the company, due to lack of work. As long as I averaged 24 hours per week, I could retain my benefits. If I fell below this for more than two months in a row, then I would lose those benefits. Some months I had more work, some months less. But overall, my day job income has decreased dramatically. This hasn’t been easy as David is still building his practice (he’s about three years in) and his income varies also. Because he took early retirement, his stipend is pretty meager. For the last six years, I’ve been the primary wage earner.
After a very lean August and September at Cadmus, it came as no surprise when I got a call from one of my higher-ups. She said that I could be laid off with a severance package or go to part time hourly, with no benefits.
All these years, with the writing income gradually increasing, I’d always thought there would come a day when the writing money exceeded the day job money and I would give my notice. It never once occurred to me that I could be laid off with severance.
(A big part of me figured I’d be fired for screwing something up, frankly. I managed multi-million dollar contracts and there were so many ways to do something wrong.)
Reader, I jumped at my chance to be free.
It’s been a great experience, in all truth, with people referring to my “sterling record” and the desire to “keep me close as a valued alum.” I may subcontract back in the future if they need my niche expertise again. Because it’s a no-fault layoff, I get the severance money, plus I can cash in my stock options and also file for unemployment. A number of very smart people have advised me not to be too proud to take that last. David has had health insurance via COBRA from his retirement and I can insure both of us through the Affordable Care Act (SO glad we can do this now!) for less than the extortionate sum he’s been paying.
I’m hoping I can pull this off. If it doesn’t work, I can always look for another day job. But I’m tremendously hopeful. I’m going to try to write 5K/day, which will allow me to get some more things in the pipeline. I’m greatly looking forward to having one career and the increased mental energy of focusing on one pursuit. I’m planning to read more books, too. Maybe get some projects finished around the house.
Mostly, I feel joyfully free!