You Do What You Can

June brings with it several things, among them the 4-year anniversary of me buying my house and my 5-year anniversary at work.

When it comes to my house, I love it beyond belief. Aside from the normal issues like mortgages and appliance defiance, it’s truly a place I adore.


Not the best picture, but you get the idea. It exists.

Being single by choice, I’m grateful for my job and the fact that I can work and maintain this sense of independence, which brings me to the point of this post (other than showing you pictures of my flowers.)

There’s no shortage of “inspirational” tweets and posts from women who encourage others to escape the rat race and go after their dreams. They share their stories about  how they were unhappy with their traditional job and knew they were destined for something more, so they quit and pursued their passion.


Hello, boys!

I commend them for their work ethic and think it’s amazing that they are able to go after their dreams. In fact, I’ll throw it out there that I’m a little jealous—who wouldn’t want that? 

But at the risk of sounding like a witch, I sometimes find these quips a little more annoying than inspiring. Why? Because along with determination, these women often have one other important thing in common — they have a (financial) safety net, often in the form of a husband. 

What does that have to do with anything?

While I know having a husband doesn’t guarantees financial security—don’t hate me yet—they more often than not have a partner that provides relative stability and benefits. As a result, these women can take more risks without worrying about how bills will get paid or their future retirement plans.


You don’t have to water rocks.

If their lifestyle and survival depended only on the income they brought in themselves, they might not be able to give up that stable job as readily as they suggest.

That’s why hearing, “If you’re not happy at your job, quit! Life’s too short not to do what you love!” often rubs me the wrong way. While I agree with those sentiments, the fact of the matter is that I—and many others, married or not—have to put realistic obligations before artistic inclinations, health benefits before intrinsic benefits.

Now I’m in no way chiding these women who have worked extremely hard to do whatever it is that they’re doing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I think it’s great that they know what they want and have the freedom to go after it all.


FYI. Miracle-Gro only works on plants, not on cleavage.

I’m also not playing the victim, as there’s no limit on what I can do personally or professionally—if I ever figure out what that is. But I realistically can’t pay the bills by blogging, teaching yoga or selling organic vegetable paintings (and not just because I can’t really paint and am not certified to teach yoga.)

So there are times I feel guilty and like I’m “settling” when I read what they write. But then I remember that for some of us, it’s not as easy as casually saying goodbye to the practical and hello to the passion.


We all make choices, and I remind myself that I do the things I have to so I can have the things I love that make me happy.

And sometimes, that’s all that I need.*

*However, if there is a rich old geezer out there with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel looking to fund my hippie habits, have your people call my people. 

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52 responses to “You Do What You Can

  1. I give you so much credit. You are doing it on your own and are self-sufficient. Right there is the real dream for many. Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to have a profession that gives you the opportunity to feel fulfilled creatively but those are few and far between. That’s why most people have hobbies. They work so that they can do all those other things that rounds out their lives.
    I do have a wonderful husband and financial stability and I’m still have a difficult time using my skills to create that unbelievable, ultimately fulfilling dream job. It’s tough to get people to pay you to write what you think is so witty. Then, there’s an added layer of guilt thrown on that with all the freedom of not worrying about putting food on the table I’m not hitting it out of the park.
    Basically, we all have so many things to be grateful for, we just need to remember what they are.

  2. I agree. It’s like the whole mommy wars – if you have a CHOICE between working and staying home, you’re ahead of the game.

  3. You speak so much of the sense that is (was?) common. I have artist friends like this. Married artist friends. Am I jealous – yep. Do I want what they want – no. But the financial safety net you speak of is does make me envious at times!

  4. You are Georia O’Keefe and all the other inspirational women who do it be themselves. I admire you, and after grocery shopping and doing dishes and finishing the nineteen loads of laundry, often wish I were single again. No lie.

  5. *did it by themselves* Wow, that sounds naughty. I apologize for my fat fingers.

  6. Irene Fountain

    Abby, I completely agree with you. Oftentimes when I look at the FB photos of trips to Costa Rica, Paris, Jamaica, and so on, posted by my FB firends, women who who work as store clerks, administrative assistants, day care providers, seasonal tax preparers, accountants, teachers, and so on, I wonder to myself, “how can they afford it on what they earn?” Then I am reminded that they either a) have an employed spouse, or b) have children under 18 and therefore receive child support. The brother of a friend pays $7,000 in child support to his ex-wife every month – MONTH. She travels to Africa, South America, Europe, and all over the US. And here I sit, in my cubicle at my publicly funded institution of higher learning, and my big thrill this summer is making it across the border to Ottawa County – and that’s for a meeting at the Allendale campus. Bless you!

  7. I have so much admiration for you, Abby. Like Jen said, you are doing it on your own – something that most people, myself included, are terrified of.

    I know people who live the comfortable lifestyle; they have a partner who shoulders the financial responsibilities, so that they can concentrate on their passion (be it writing/art/designing), and yet I often find that they aren’t any happier/fulfilled. Perhaps it is because there is guilt involved, and again, like Jen said, an almost additional pressure to be 100% and knock it out of the park.

    Keep doing what you do, friendo.

  8. I think it’s all just give and take. When leaving my last job, I knew I couldn’t just bail and hope I’d find something awesome, I had to do what I had to do to keep the lights on and thank God it worked out.

  9. I’m with ya, sista. I’d stop doing web design tomorrow if it wouldn’t cut our income to about 33% of what it is now. And while we might be able to SURVIVE on that, I’m a leetle too fond of eating out, wine, having a roof over my head to do that. We are *attempting* to do a very aggressive pay the house off in 10 years that MIGHT mean I could find a way to relax a little when I’m 50. Right about the time my knees give out. Whoop whoop.

  10. I’m picking up what you’re putting down. Although obviously not every married woman can afford to go after her dream job or take financial risks (even couples/families struggle), it helps when you’re tackling money as a team with someone else, especially if that person has a secure job. I don’t think I’ll ever be in a position to just drop everything and go back to school (what I’d love to be able to do) or rely on freelancing or work from my backyard every day, despite getting married. I have to say, though, I always admire it when other women can go for it and achieve whatever it is that they want – especially those who don’t have any form of “backup” and do it on their own. For those women, it must be the sweetest feeling, ever, to know they did it without anybody’s help.

    • I totally agree, which is why I added the fact that it’s not just single people that have to balance the passion vs. practicality issue. In fact, it’s married people, people with kids, etc. We all have our issues and things we can afford to risk or not. It just seems like most of the women who preach about it have very, very minimal risk when they do go for it.

      But as I said, I also admire those women who can do it. For me though, being without benefits or a steady income isn’t an option. 😉

  11. Running from Hell with El

    You’re doing a great job, my friend. I am one of those lucky women who is able to pursue my writing career because my man has a steady, stable job. Before I had children, I practiced law downtown, right next to the White House, and I hated everything about my job except the paycheck.

    Now I miss the paycheck. But nothing else–and I hope I start earning some money soon.

    I love your house!! And I think you’re swell. xo

  12. I couldn’t agree more. I am faced between having a tenure track job (which is like gold right now – so many others would be grateful to have this) in a place I can’t stand, that is empty, friendless, and ugly, and 2000 miles from home, and being home with my family, being a writer (this is why I asked for help finding an editing job like you have) and taking care of my rapidly deteriorating and ailing mom.

    EVERYONE is saying follow my dreams, listen to my heart, just take a leap of faith (I have to decide by like TODAY by the way) – “life’s too short” they say, and they agree it “must be” hard for me – but ALL those women, as you say, have HUSBANDS. They also don’t have $150,000 in debt.

    So what should I do?

    I am tired of the cliches too – follow your heart, trust your gut, listen to your head. It actually makes me very angry to hear these things. What I want is tangible, actual, practical job advice – finding a new career as a writer/editor, what have you. What I need is a JOB. Because I don’t have a husband. I do need an income. Healthcare. Insurance.

    I’m about to leap into nothing? What do I do?

    I LOVE your house by the way. Help me find a way to be independent, an editor like you, and own a home like you. But please not in the midwest so far from my family. I can’t bear it anymore.

    • Trust me. There’s a big difference between writing/editing for yourself or a cause you’re passionate about and writing professionally for a certain template on someone else’s agenda. While I live independently, I don’t write/edit for a living independently. There’s a big difference. Enter blogging: writing for enjoyment 😉

      And as you said, tenure is like gold. I suppose the grass is always greener, huh?

  13. Oh I understand that. But I NEED employment. I’d be happy for a job like that. I will never be able to be a professor again if I walk away right now. And if I do that it will be to take care of my mother who is falling apart and probably is in the last year of sanity/life (even though she’s only 61. Dementia is a terrible disease). So I have to leave and I can’t be a teacher anymore. I’d like to do anything that involves editing, since that is what I am good at. I understand it will be headaches and compromises. I’m not looking for a dream come true. I just need a job. One that isn’t working in the service industry, you know? I am desperately terrified of leaping into nothing, but I can’t just ignore my mom. So all the people with husbands telling me it will be fine, just do it, just quit, well they really don’t understand how frightening this is, and what I need above all things right now is a dang job.

  14. Great post as usual. I’m in a similar situation. I know there is something else out there I would rather be doing, but I’m not sure what it is and can’t afford to try anything without having the stability.
    My fiance is self-employed, so it’s very likely I will continue to provide the stability so we can do the things we want and have the things we want…at least until I win the lottery, anyway!

  15. I actually spent years doing what I was really good at and had passion for, but it didn’t pay the bills. I’m really happy in cubicle land because it afforded me my home, eating local organic food, and getting to travel as I like. It was a very worthwhile trade off for me.

  16. I so agree with this. I don’t think I will ever be able to be a free spirit totally happy with my work. Although I want to be a writer, I’m honestly not good enough to be one. So I will work so I can afford the lifestyle I want, and I’ll write for myself. And honestly, I wouldn’t want a husband to support me so I could sit at home and write crap all day, it would completely diminish my self worth. I value the fact that I have enough work ethic to make my own living, even if my job is boring as hell. That’s not exactly what I was planning to say, and kind of off topic, but let’s just sum it up that I love this post. K?

    • Exactly. You pay your dues so you can have the hobbies you want. I also agree that I wouldn’t be comfortable being taken care of in the traditional sense in that I always need to feel productive in some way, whether it’s professionally or not, in order for me to be happy. I could be a millionaire, but if forced to sit around and do nothing all day, I would be miserable (well, probably not miserable, but you get my point.)

  17. My husband and I both worked together for the same race team. When our team lost its key sponsorship we both lost our jobs simultaneously. And at the same time, we lost our apartment (which was provided to us by our work). Without him I couldn’t be living the life I have. And I totally understand that. But without me, he totally wouldn’t be living his cool life either. Our decision to buy a boat and live on it was not only because it would be a total rad lifestyle, but because it came without any bills whatsoever. Yes I have the ocean at my fingertips, but you have a home. You have garden gnomes. (They’re so cool!) I am also totally jealous of the fact that you get to lay in a bathtub with bubbles.

    Everything you have is perfectly awesome because it is all yours and nobody can take it away. I love your pride. Your home should be featured daily on Architecture Digest (you know that fancy magazine?) because of what it means… Rock on lady. Rock on…

    • The life that you and your husband live both fascinates and scares the hell out of me. You are an enigma, and I love all the new things I find out about you. But for the record, I don’t take bubble baths.

      • WHAT???? You see, when people ask me what I miss most of living on a boat – without hesitation I always answer that I miss taking a bath. Big time. I almost booked a room the other day just to soak in a tub. It’s one of those things you take for granted when you have (aka – don’t take any) but suddenly when you can’t have any – it’s all you (and by you I mean me, of course) crave and desire.

  18. Ahhhhh…the things I’d be doing if only passion was required. I often have to remind myself of all of the different paths that my life can take and the fact that most of them necessarily exclude the others. You can choose a great many things, but not everything.

    Your house is cute. I love the way your front door is situated.

    • “…most of them necessarily exclude the others. You can choose a great many things, but not everything.”
      Awesome quote. That is all.

  19. I couldn’t agree more. I’m single by choice as well and while I would LOVE to have the benefit of an additional income, I prefer to be on my own. I wish I could pursue my dreams of writing for a living, but I also wish to eat and have a place to live. I also don’t really want to have to push a shopping cart around the streets in shabby clothes. (Though if I absolutely had to, I’d OWN that shit. I’d mumble to myself, pick through trash in broad daylight, and confuse passersby by screaming obscenities at them unnecessarily). Anyway, I completely understand where you’re coming from and I wish you the best with finding that ancient sugar daddy.

    • This comment totally makes me want to be your friend. Instead I’ll go lurk on your blog, as anyone who would “OWN that shit” is awesome. As for the old dude, nah. I have enough issues remembering to water the cat.

  20. I totally hear what you are saying. I am currently going through a bit of an existential career crisis and am trying to figure out whether I should get another job or even stay home with my kids. And yes, I have a husband who is the bread winner, so I have that option. I am very lucky in that way. But, I also know that I’m not the type of person who CAN just sit home while my other half goes to work every day. And yes, taking care of my kids would be a job, but it’s also a job that I am ill-suited for, and never really wanted. I need to be out of the house, conversing with adults, feeling like I’m a productive member of society. SAHMs are a hearty bunch, and that is a tougher job than I can handle.

    But like you said, the good news is I have the options to walk away and do something else that might be my “dream” without really worrying about the money too much. Now . . . if I could only figure out what that “dream” may be. Hmmmm.

    • I also know that I wouldn’t be happy just being at home either and need to actually feel productive doing something and having somewhere to go in the morning. However, I wouldn’t mind if that was only a couple mornings a week and where I went was to a bakery to bake or something 😉

  21. As a single woman myself, I wouldn’t have the luxury of following my dreams/passion without the financial assistance I get from my family. So yeah, I totally understand your point – not everyone can just up and quit their jobs if they are unhappy. In fact, most people cant.

  22. Here-here! I completely agree. I, too, am single by choice and financially there have been gi-normous ups and downs, but that’s cool. I’ve come out ahead, I think. I don’t mind taking responsibility for my failures because I also get to take full credit for all my successes. I did it my way! And so have you! Cute house. 🙂

  23. I think your version of “chasing the dream” came with house ownership. Not a lot of single gals can say they accomplished that all on their own. I’m a wee bit jealous. Guess it’s all a perspective thing, eh?

  24. You have accomplished a hell of a lot. You own a house! That automatically makes you a grown up.

    I have the same feelings about women with a second income, stability and the ability to “leap,” but from a different perspective. I’ve never been in the rat race. I’m an artist. I’ve never had a “real” job- i’ve always been a bartender. Also, my 30+++++++ years on this earth has taught me that stable men with large incomes tend to not love women like myself. Oh well.

    I’ve always been the champion of the underdog. Which is why I am in love with someone who has a hell of a lot of talent, and no money. Sort of like myself.

    Your house is cute as hell. I would kill for a yard.

    • I would much rather be with someone who has a hell of a lot of talent and no money–like me, but with a hell of a lot of talent instead of a little here and there. And even though I don’t like the rat race, I’m glad I at least have had the experience of it so I can compare it to the experiences I’ve had in the past and the ones I’ll have in the future. You live and learn. You work and play. You write cool comments and I ramble. The end.

  25. This is actually something I have been trying to explain to my husband for a LONG time. He has a short attention span and so he likes to switch jobs and make me a nervous wreck in the process. He keeps complaining about how he’s not ‘doing something he loves’. Well…it doesn’t have to be your job. You can do your job to F U N D what you love doing. He doesn’t get it. I figured it out about 5 years into a job I thought I’d have for 2 and it made me a lot happier. I don’t think of it as settling, I think of it as a job and that is it. I spend my free time doing what I love. What is so bad about that?

    • Not a damn thing. I think that’s part of the problem. Everyone thinks they have to be working in a job they love all the time instead of realizing sometimes you just do your job and move on to fund the fun you want.

  26. god do I wish my husband was of the safety-net variety! BAHAHAHAHAHAA!

  27. oh i so much agree w/ what you are saying. and from recently having fled a 20+ yr relationship that had turned abusive can attest to the fact that being married does not equate w/ a finicial “safety net”. the reality is that one never knows if that will be taken away and one is left w/ nothing.

  28. StoriesAndSweetPotatoes

    Well said. Not going to lie, at this point, I’m ready to marry rich.

  29. Wow! Your house is adorable, and the fact that you were able to buu it on your own says a lot about what you are capable of achieving. I’m with Elaine; my husband was not of the safety-net variety either. He’s my emotional safety net, but we are able to survive financially because I worked my ass off until I was almost 66!

  30. Oh, I just love your house and garden, especially the rock garden (I’m with you, the less watering the better), it all looks so beautitful.
    Wasn’t there a saying about the point you’re making? Something like, “It’s better to work to live than live to work.” I think you are amazingly clever to have the foresight to create a bed-rock (parden the pun) of a home of your own to fall back on as you grow into your independence. Wish I had done the same. So happy that your home makes you happy xxxx

  31. When I read this post I started wincing because I thought you were being very brave but,, hey presto,,look at all the support your post gathered. There is always a vigour and independence about your posts which I enjoy and this one was no expeption. On a profound note, I really enjoyed the photo of those two chums sitting on your window box. They’ve got themselves a delightful backdrop

  32. kelleysbreakroom

    I TOTALLY get that and it makes perfect sense to me. I often feel this way about lots of things. For example, I know a girl who doesn’t work because her 36-year-old husband is a self-made millionaire (he went to my high school). She’s super fit and is always looking perfect. She has TONS of time to work on all of that perfection because a) she doesn’t work at all and b) she has tons of hired help to assist her with everything you can possibly imagine. I get annoyed with that sometimes. I think your home is super cute and I think you’re super awesome.

  33. I love your house!

    I know what you mean and I agree. I do have a husband and I have a weird layer of guilt because I’m not completely busting my ass to make my undefined dreams come true. And then I also feel guilty because I know my husband would like to make his dreams come true, but his job is important to our financial stability. Basically, just a bunch of guilt.

  34. I used to feel this way A LOT. I would read other blogs and feel annoyed that they seemed to be having it all and telling others to just go for it, but what annoyed me even more is that they were having it all off of really shitty writing. You know what I did? I stopped reading their shit. I found a new set of women bloggers that I admire that write about real things, their struggles (financially and personally), real world issues like women’s rights, animals or just silly stories from when they were teenagers. None of this food and exercise narcissistic bullshit. It’s made all the difference in the world. My advice is stop reading bad shit.

    • Yup. I don’t read many blogs at all, but it’s on Facebook, Twitter and in real life, so it’s rather unavoidable at times. No big deal, but sometimes I need to remind myself.

  35. Miracle Gro doesn’t work on cleavage? Dammit.

  36. I’ve definitely thought that too. Having that safety net would be awfully nice, even though I’m doing fine without it.

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