Making the Leap to Creative Work Without Damaging a Marriage

During one of the classes at the Writing Excuses Retreat, Howard and I told the story of when he quit his managerial job at Novell so that he could become a cartoonist. This represented a significant financial shift for our family and resulted in lots of frugal living for several years. After the class was over, one of the attendees came up to us and asked how we’d approached that shift in a way that did not destroy our marriage. We answered her, but since then I’ve thought of additional factors which contributed. So here are the reasons that our marriage survived a major lifestyle shift. They are in no particular order.

*It was our decision and a mutual dream. I was not just the spouse along for the ride, I was always a partner and facilitator. If I had not been, the experiment would have failed and Howard would have returned to a corporate job. In fact, I was the one who first said “I think it is time for you to quit.” This did not prevent it from being scary later, but I knew I’d signed up for it, not been dragged along.

*Our marriage was in good shape before we made the leap. By that time we’d been together for ten years. We’d built solid communication and learned how to work together. There wasn’t any underlying tension to be increased by stress.

*Howard always made clear that our marriage and supporting our family came first. He did not just pay lip service to this idea, by the time he quit Novell I’d seen him make sacrifices for me and the kids. To emphasize the importance of paying for our family, we picked a failure point after which we would give up on cartooning and Howard would seek another corporate job. Then we worked as hard as we could to never reach that failure point. It was close more than once.

*The leap to cartooning was not a surprise. It was always our shared dream that Howard be able to make a living at a creative career. I knew this from very early in our dating. All of our financial decisions were based on the hope that someday we would make the leap the creative work.

*We are both believers in prayer and divine inspiration. Both of us felt strongly that this was the path God was asking us to take. We proceeded with much faith and a measure of fear.

*We don’t fight mean. We are able to be angry with a situation or even with our spouse, and still approach the discussion of that anger without name calling or other destructive coping mechanisms. We walk away, cool down, and then return to discuss.

There are other factors I’m sure. Making the switch definitely added strain to our lives. Yet we stood together and our marriage has grown stronger through it.