How Pseudo-Marriage Prepped Me for Career Decisions

In my early twenties, I had a pseudo-marriage that started with an official wedding and ended in concrete divorce—all because I wed for the wrong reasons.

“Marry you? Hmm… Will I get cute shoes?”
(Photo by Alice Hu; Dress by Dolly Couture)

Okay, I was never that snobby. That’s my alter-ego Cru-Bella de Pill, a persona I took on for particular photo shoots. But she supports what I’m about to share…

If you caught my last post, you know that I’m facing an important and increasingly common decision in my writing career. Though I haven’t officially decided, I feel confident about where I’m headed, much thanks to Professor Pseudo-Marriage.

(I use the term pseudo out of respect for my current marriage, which holds no comparison. If my marriage were a celebrated film, my first would be the reject auditions from American Idol—largely because of me…)

Reasons I Took the PseudoMarriage Leap:

Boredom, impatience and the bandwagon. At 22, I was pre-“old maid” by the high-fashion world’s standards. After working internationally and enduring serious hardships, I was taking a hiatus in Minnesota when my adventurous spirit returned. I sat twiddling my thumbs in classes I’d lost luster for and therapy I no longer needed. Meanwhile, many of my peers were married. The totally single me decided it was time. The next person I dated, I would marry.

Stubbornness. That decision stuck. My next beau became my fiance in a snap. We discussed marriage within hours of our first kiss. One year from that day, we agreed, we’d wed. And we did. It wouldn’t have mattered if friends, family, the president and Oprah called to dissuade me (well, Oprah may’ve gotten through…). My mind was made up.

Fear and insecurity. Stubbornness can be blinding. It took me over a year to realize that the decisions we’d made to marry, move across the country to a place we’d never been with virtually no money or belongings had little to do with love and adventure, and everything to do with fear and self-doubt. The last time I’d ventured out on my own, I’d ended up sick and terrified. Fearing a recurrence, I didn’t believe I could reach the “something more” I desired on my own. I and pseudo-hubby could do anything together, I presumed, giving us and our union entirely too much credit.

As in relationships, career success often requires willingness to carve our own paths, look past right nowlisten to our instincts, ask difficult questions, maintain individuality and understand ourselves. 

Ten years have passed since my pseudo-marriage. While I’m still adventurous, I haven’t taken blind, un-investigated leaps—in love, life or my career—since. Tough lessons run deep.

So when my agent presented self-publishing as a potentially useful next strategy for me, I began researching like crazy—even though my gut had strong inclinations promptly. I’ve answered the important questions, analyzed the risks versus benefits and gained insight from professionals and loved ones I trust. (Thanks, all who’ve weighed in!) I have plans for my worst-case-scenario, and my best. And unlike the pseudo-married me, I have self confidence and a happy real-marriage and life to show for it.

While it’s seldom simple, we’re all capable of making the best possible decisions for ourselves. There always unknowns and people attempting to steer us in opposing directions, but I believe our instincts know best. Every step in the right direction, feels right—even when resistance rears its head. Once we sort all the variables out and stand firmly in our decisions, a sense of euphoria sets in. And there’s little better dream-pursuing fuel than that.

How do you make major career decisions? What related lessons have you learned the hard way?

Leave a comment

54 Comments

  1. Catherine Johnson

     /  October 18, 2012

    That’s a great comparison, August. I hope whatever you decide is right for you.
    Knowing what is right for you can sometimes be a life long mystery so that isn’t easy.

    Reply
    • True, Catherine. Luckily most of the time, research confirms what my heart and gut say—this case included. I’m super stoked, but withholding the blurt until I’m certain. 😉 Best of luck to you, too!

      Reply
      • Catherine Johnson

         /  October 18, 2012

        Ooh now you’re getting me all excited. Can’t wait to hear!

  2. OH wow, I’ve been there. Only I was running, looking behind me, not ahead. The collision was not pretty. Glad you’re wiser now – I use the same method you do. Research, and education, and finally, looking at the worst-case scenario and deciding if I can live with that, to go for it.

    Good luck, August!

    Reply
  3. I pretty much research something to death, then decide. Sometimes I wish I were more spontaneous, but I’ve made very few bad choices (and not anything major) so I guess there’s a lot to be said for educating oneself. Good luck with your publishing decision!

    Reply
    • Thanks, lady! Those skills are vital for writers’ craft and careers. We can save spontaneity for other matters, like what to eat for lunch. 😉

      Reply
  4. We speak about pending decisions together, and we pray together over them! I am happiest when my wife maintains her individuality always! She is the logical one, always business like, she has started several in the past and all were successful. She has a sharp eye, i come with my intuition and might jump fast into something…after being with her my ways though have become more tempered. That is one of the best gifts she has given me. Now i always see with my spirit and weigh what may and may not happen! But always we have tackled the decisions together. Hence, 35 years later…we still do it, and she is still the apple of my eye! We share responsibility always, and evenly together, and we have learned to compromise on issues where we might not completely see eye to eye! August, you will be okay, ask him for his opinion and thoughts and let him think about it for a few days and let him come back to you. Marraige works well when both are included always. When married decisions always affect both, so togetherness is always the stronger option. Love works miracles of support when using this approach! Very wonderful post dear sister! But like all of us we can only offer an opinion that works for us! Have a wonderful day!

    Reply
    • What a beautiful marriage you have, Wendell! Lovely how you balance each other out.

      I agree with you that love can work miracles, in life, relationships and our careers. Thanks for sharing a prime example! 🙂

      Reply
  5. WEIRD that you are posting this. I am thinking a lot about what I am doing. I am on auto-pilot at work, but I don’t feel like I’m moving forward fast enough with freelancing. I don’t understand how to break in, where to go. I’m confused and I don’t know who to ask. Writers seem to be very tight-lipped on the subject, obviously, because the field is so competitive. But I want to do more PAID freelancing. So I’m trying to develop a plan. The biggest leson I have learned (in life) is that the safe route is usually not the route for me. That is the road most often taken. I tend to better when I feel like I’m on an adventure. As long as I trust the people I am with, I am fine.

    Reply
    • The safe route has never worked for me either, Renee. Some of us find more peace and fulfillment in freedom and branching out. If your gut and heart say it’s time, I bet it is.

      Best of luck! Let me know if I can help. You’re welcome to join my freelance writing tribe over at WANA. I’ll be teaching a freelancing course sometime soon, too.

      Reply
      • Oh yes! I’m all over that! I think I have joined that group. The computer crash got in the way of things for a while. I’m still getting used to this new computer. But yes yes yes! Now I have to figure out how to get back into WANA. Lost that password, too. Le sigh.

      • August, I didn’t realize you had a freelance writing tribe. I want to join it too!!

  6. With age comes wisdom…we hope. 🙂

    Reply
  7. Great post, August.

    The way we deal with the bad stuff is what will define us a decent human beings in the end. All of us make mistakes – its how we grow and fix them that matter. As an author you can mine all those hard times for your work. Just think of the valid emotional journey you’ll be able to give your fictional characters and that will resonate with readers.

    Whatever your decision, its the right one for you at this time and remember nothing’s ever written in stone.

    I stand firmly in the self publishing camp at the moment because at the moment it is right for me. But, if I was offered a deal that worked for me to reach more readers, I’d take it. There’s no reason why we cannot do both.

    Reply
    • Such great points, CC. Not so long ago, divorce and women writers were frowned upon. A few years ago, self-publishing was barely an option. We’re so blessed to have choices and doubly blessed that they aren’t set in stone. Thanks for the thoughtful comment and support. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Wow, powerful story. And powerful post.

    Reply
  9. So far, the biggest, spur-of-the-moment-crazy decision I made in my young life paid off. When I graduated college neither Hubs (he was still Boyfriend at the time) or I could find a job in Michigan. We’d visited Charleston as a graduation gift, and I was planning to go back for my Masters at the time, so we decided to jump ship and move 1000 miles away. It was terrifying, but it was also the best thing we ever did. We both have good jobs now, we have a house, and dogs, and are financially comfortable enough to visit home once a year.

    But there’s no way I could ever do that again. It was pure luck that it worked out. Any future decisions like that will be made after a lot of thought and discussion.

    Reply
  10. Fantastic post 🙂 So often the things we had to learn the hard way in our younger days turn out to be exactly the lessons we need to be happy when we’re a little older. I’m so glad it worked out that way for you!

    Reply
  11. I make a lot of decisions based on gut instinct backed up research too. It’s rarely let me down. I tend to be all-in and not worry so much about a back-up plan. Thanks for sharing your story, it’s never easy to share these kinds of things no matter how much practice you have at doing it. Thanks for being you!

    Reply
  12. This is going to sound sort of out there, but here goes.

    My favorite album by Dire Straits is MAKING MOVIES. The best song on it is “Tunnel of Love.” One of the lines from the song is: “It’s just a danger when you’re riding at your own risk.”

    That line has come to have a great deal of meaning for me. Though most of us would think twice getting on those rides at a traveling carnival where the sign reads “ride at your own risk,” we all ride at our own risk each day we are alive. We have no choice. That’s the way life works. Either we learn as we go, or we continue to make the same stupid mistakes until we die.

    I’ll be 40 at my next birthday–which is closer than I’d like to admit. I’ve done some real stupid things. I’ve passed over chances that would have been great opportunities. I’ve invested time in things that went nowhere.

    But you know what I’ve learned from it all? It’s the journey that matters, not the end result. Each day I make a point to find five positive things about my life and say out loud that I am grateful for them. Lots of times, it’s more about deciding to be happy than finding the perfect situation that equals happiness.

    Hope some of that made sense.

    Reply
    • Very insightful, Catie. You made total sense! (I love Dire Straits. ;))

      Speaking of music, one of my favorite Indigo Girls’ songs is WOOD SONG, with this line: “The prize is always worth the rocky ride.” The journey and all of our mistakes and successes indeed count. Thanks so much for sharing.

      Reply
  13. A fine mix of studying facts with listening to gut intuition seems to be working for me.

    Also, I have vanquished my naivete nicely. Or rather, those ‘lessons’ vanquished that for me…

    Reply
  14. Great post, August. I can’t imagine going through that, although I’ve watched friends do it. It’s tough. Great that we come out of things like that stronger for it and take that knowledge forward. I think one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn, and I slip backwards on it often, is to live each day to its fullest. I have a tendency to slip back into my old routine. I need to constantly remind myself to step away from the computer, unplug, and just be.

    Reply
  15. Another great post, August. Can’t wait to hear what you’ve decided to do! Good luck!

    Reply
  16. “As in relationships, career success often requires willingness to carve our own paths, look past right now, listen to our instincts, ask difficult questions, maintain individuality and understand ourselves.”
    This is brilliant advice. Thanks for this brave post.
    I know you’ll find your path, August, and it’ll be the right choice for you.

    Reply
  17. Wow August,
    Thanks for sharing your story.
    I only just commented on your last post so am at risk of repeating myself here. I like what Catie Rhodes says – ‘it is the journey that matters, not the end result’.
    I am a generation older than you (shh!) so I am ancient in terms of a debut novelist. Initially I hoped publishers would be fighting over my manuscript since it is a similar genre to Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, pray, love’ apart from the fact mine is fiction and set between Ireland and South America. I have had to release all attachment to expecting a specific outcome for my novel ‘Love and the Goddess.’
    This process has been very cathartic and I have learnt to relax and live in the now. In other words I have finally tamed my control freak demon. I’ve also silenced the inner critic who warns me I could be a failure if nobody buys my book. I know you are a perfectionist and place high demands on yourself. You’ve also become increasingly philosophical and patient – great traits to have if a book is going to be a slow burn rather than an overnight sensation.
    August you are already a success for just being who you are. Every positive thing we do brings us one step closer towards realising our dreams. We cannot predict when and how the dream materializes. All we can do is learn and laugh along the way.
    I’m already a fan and I will certainly help promote your book on this side of the Atlantic – it’ll be an excuse for you to visit 🙂
    Good luck with making your choice.
    Mary@goddessmeca

    Reply
    • “…I have learnt to relax and live in the now. In other words I have finally tamed my control freak demon. I’ve also silenced the inner critic who warns me I could be a failure if nobody buys my book.” I LOVE that, Mary.

      Thanks for sharing such brilliant insight. I’d be all over that trip to your side of the Atlantic! 🙂 I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the support.

      Reply
  18. I know it was a pseudo-marriage, but DAMN those are some great shoes. 🙂 Love the post!

    Reply
  19. I read and read and read everything I can get my hands on. Then I go with my gut. Whenever I don’t listen to my gut is when I get myself into trouble. 🙂

    Reply
  20. Love how you refer to your first marriage…and now you have a real one. That’s cool.

    This is the third blog I’ve read in the past couple of days that kind of confirms something I know I need to do…but have been putting off – largely due to fear and stubbornness. After the second one, I said if a third one said the same thing, I was probably going to go ahead and just do it. Now I’m riding the fence again…just do it…or wait for a fourth? Hmm…if it looks like a chicken and walks like a chicken, it’s probably me, lol.

    Anyway, I’m sure you’ll make the best choice for you as far as publishing goes. Much success with whatever route you choose to go. 🙂

    Reply
    • The answers you’re seeking will come, Kristy. I’m thrilled if my post served as any kind of affirmation.

      One thing that works well for me when I’m on the fence: I act as though I’ve passed the fence. It’s like trying clothes on for size. 😉

      Good luck! And thanks for the support. 🙂

      Reply
  21. I have followed both these posts with great interest, in particular the traditional publishing versus indie. My work is nowhere near ready for publication yet I really appreciate reading how you are making your decision. It’s incredibly helpful, August.

    In reading through the comments, I discovered you have a freelancer tribe on WANATribe! I joined immediately as freelancing is something I have been considering but know little about in 21st century terms. Again, August, thanks for being so generous with your skills and your knowledge.

    As always, a thoughtful post.
    Karen

    Reply
    • So glad you’ve joined the Fab. Freelancers, Karen! You’re a very much welcomed addition.
      I’m also thrilled that you found this post helpful—one of my blogging goals. 🙂

      No matter what route you eventually choose publishing-wise, I’m confident you’ll succeed.

      Reply
  22. I love this whole post but my favorite part is “…I believe our instincts know best. Every step in the right direction, feels right—even when resistance rears its head. Once we sort all the variables out and stand firmly in our decisions, a sense of euphoria sets in.” Definitely we must research something as that information we accumulate will guide our gut instincts. But when the gut says do it, and as we start to do it, it feels more and more right as we go along. Then it is the right way to go. Best of luck, August!

    Reply
  23. My favorite part is exactly what Kassandra said above. I completely agree that when things are moving in the right direction, they just flow. That is how it worked for me once I made the decision to stay in Raleigh. It was like job offers just started falling in my lap. And getting an apartment. It was a snap. When things are right, they are so right.

    Reply
  24. How wise to draw such meaningful lift lessons from your past adventures, or non- adventures as the case may be. 🙂 The truth is that kind of wisdom takes hard work and hard won self-knowledge too. I’m one who believes fully in the gut check, sometimes it’s all we’ve got to steer by.

    Reply
  25. I do lots of research, but usually, I’ve made up my mind before I do any. it’s as if the research is to support me and my decision.

    Reply
  26. Thank you for such a personal post, August. BTW… love the dress! Anyhow, funny I should read this now just moments after I ‘finally’ emailed an e-Book designer for the cover of my middle grade. Even though I had made this decision awhile back, a well-intentioned writer friend suggested that I submit it traditionally one more time. So, I did. I have since continued to read/research more books/blogs. Then I thought, what am I doing? Just do it. So, I did. And I’m excited about it. I’m sure you’ll make the right decision for you, too! All the very BEST! 🙂

    Reply
  27. My gut instinct was and still is, really the way to go for me. Now that I’m older, I listen to it most of the the time. In my silly youthful years, I fought against it and it usually ended in disaster.

    I recently made a bad career choice by not listening to my gut. My brain was screaming about the bad economy. I really regret the choice I made by accepting my current position, but only I can correct it by moving forward and finding the right path. I still have to learn to trust my gut more!

    Great post August!!!

    Reply
    • Learning to listen to and act on our instincts is often a perpetual learning curve.

      If you haven’t yet read it, I highly recommend Gaven de Becker’s THE GIFT OF FEAR. It’s fabulous, and I bet you’ll see much of yourself in it. 🙂 Best of luck!

      Reply
  28. You truly embody the “Beauty and Brains” dynamic, August! Wonderful post.

    Reply
  29. I’m so excited for your journey, August! Whatever decision you make, I’ll be here to support you all the way.

    Reply
  30. Raani York

     /  October 19, 2012

    You know, August. I’ve most of my life been one to smell an adventure and jump in, head first without thinking about the consequences. Not all of my decisions in my life were good. Some were lousy, some weren’t very good… some were excellent… but no matter what I decided. I would have regretted not even trying.
    And one day when I’m older, I will go look back to my life and say to myself: “I might have acted stupid once in a while – but no matter what – at least I was never bored. Not even for one minute.”. 🙂
    It’s a GREAT post you’ve got here, August. You know how much I admire you for all your talent!!

    Reply
  31. Kourtney Heintz

     /  October 20, 2012

    It’s funny what we do out of fear and boredom. 😉 I know I’ve stayed in jobs I didn’t like because it was safe and easier than pursuing what I wanted. But sometimes it’s better to try and fail than to have never tried.

    Reply
  32. Girl…you are amazing!!! Love how you take all the lessons you’ve learned in life and apply them in a variety of shapes and sizes. Isn’t that the trick to life and growing?

    I myself had a very similar pseudo-marriage. In the end, I credit it for being the catalyst for some of the most important and life changing growth I ever experienced. It took me from immature girl to woman. Through that experience, I learned who I was, came into my own, felt comfortable and at peace in my skin and developed a confidence and security I had never had before. It changed my world entirely.

    Hard, ugly, painful life lesson to learn but one I am grateful for every single day! I wouldn’t be half the woman I am, without it.

    Here’s to continuing to apply those lessons in our every day life and never taking them for granted!

    Hugs!

    Reply
  33. “We all need to be aware of our personal calling. What is a personal calling? It is God’s blessing, it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream. Why? Four obstacles: we are told from childhood onward that it’s impossible; love- we know what we want to do but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream; fear of failing once we decide to make a committment to our path; and lastly the mere possibility of actually getting what we want and realizing our dream- guilt.”- Paulo Coelho

    I have been writing since childhood, but never thought it was possible to make a living at it; to pursue my path. In my heart I knew writing was the most powerful way I could help others; but instead of following my gut- I went on to receive a Master’s degree in Social Work. Then after spending 12 years in the field and not achieving much; jumping from job to job to try and find the right “fit” I was finally laid off. As if someone higher up was telling me “your not getting it, so I will make the decision for you.” That was when I saw Paulo’s words and knew what I needed to do. I have since jumped heart first- soul first, into writing. I still have trouble calling myself a writer; which I have been told is typical. I feel that because I never got a “degree in literature, or writing of any kind” that I’m not worthy of labeling myself a writer. I have been corrected many times by authors I know in the field. The only other love of my life- my husband- has taken on the burden of our financial stability (and doing an amazing job I must say.) I am blessed that we are comfortable financially; I work a part time political job (to allow for me to write) and I have successfully obtained two regular freelance clients that I write for monthly and have gotten paid. But my obsession and the reason for many sleepless nights is my novel. My gut tells me I’m so close; I’m on the right track; I’ve had many things falls into place to let me know this is where I need to go…..and yet I have not obtained an agent. I do the research, I’m constantly critiquing my characters: How can I give them a stronger voice? Is the backbone good? Are there small hurtles they overcome? Do I lead the reader enough to tell them that the big obstacles are yet to come and to keep reading? How is my query letter? Am I hooking the agent through my letter? Change; corrections, more change….. I have never wanted anything so much in my life….other than my marriage:) And yet Paulo’s words keep coming back to me, pushing me forward on this path- and I have no idea where it’s going or where I’ll end up. I’ve never been so scared and yet I can never let go.

    Reply
  1. Urban Word Wednesday: Pumpkin Goatse – Natalie Hartford

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