Around the time I was studying for my bat mitzvah at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, I began thinking seriously about my future. Sure, I was only 13. But I was a serious kid who took her entrance into adulthood earnestly.
So what did I want to be when I grew up?
As much as I loved my high school humanities courses — and excelled in them — I was also taking every AP science and chemistry class. No, they weren’t easy, but I studied hard. Most of my friends wanted to go to medical school too. (At least three of my good friends did just that and are doctors today.)
You should’ve seen my mom’s face when I announced: “I want to be a doctor.” She glowed.
I forever will be grateful to my parents for instilling in me a Jewish work ethic: how to sit down and focus, how to find significance in whatever I am studying.
But five years later, everything was about to change. I went to Reed College in Portland, which was not what I expected. Sure, I had my share of adolescent issues, but I had never been a partier. I hid out in my dorm room to study while the revelries roared.
I didn’t feel like Reed was my home, and I revolted.
I wanted to be in the real world. So at 19, I moved to Mexico and taught English for a year.
Ah, my poor parents. What a shocker. What a disappointment.
Medical school could wait, right?
Back in the U.S., I joined a friend from Reed in Connecticut. I became a prolific journal writer. After coming home from assorted jobs — housecleaner, aide to an elderly man — I wrote and wrote.
Then I saw an ad for a job for at a weekly newspaper in Connecticut. Somehow, I finagled my way into it. I learned how to be a reporter on the job — and I loved it.
I didn’t know, however, that 15 years down the road, I’d be a freelancer. Surely no Jewish parent wants to see her kid rushing around hustling for work.
But I’m not an anomaly.
My Jewish freelancer friend, Michelle Goodman — now on tour for her book “The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube” — says this: “As a freelance writer, 75 percent of my job is dreaming up new ways to tell my family I haven’t yet seen the error of my ways and applied to medical school.”
Which hasn’t been easy.
“I come from your classic East Coast Jewish family,” Goodman said. “My dad is a lawyer, my mom is a feminist, and my mandate was to graduate with as many letters after my name as possible and pursue a stable, cash-cow career as a doctor, lawyer or accountant.
“So you can imagine their horror when I graduated with a liberal arts degree and began working as a freelance writer.
“I got so tired of hearing, ‘So when are you going to get a real job?’ that I moved 3,000 miles away. Now everyone in the family wants a signed copy of my book. Go figure.”
Michelle certainly doesn’t regret taking the writing road rather than the medical one. And neither do I.
I did some research to find the number of Jewish freelancers in the Bay Area, but I wasn’t able to get a concrete figure.
Still, we’re out there. Indeed, on June 26-29, this very newspaper will host the American Jewish Press Association’s Annual Conference, which is being held in San Francisco.
So while many local Jewish med students will be studying for their MCATs, I’ll be at the AJPA workshop. And, while my working hours might match those of a doctor, my benefits and finances certainly don’t.
Still, I love my job: the flexible hours, the continual questioning, the new people I meet.
Here’s to Jewish freelancers everywhere!
Rachel Sarah’s book, “Single Mom Seeking: Play Dates, Blind Dates, and Other Dispatches from the Dating World” (Avalon/Seal Press) was recently published.