My friend and I met for our weekly coffee and complaining session when she told me something that shattered everything I’ve ever believed about working from home, like a child who discovers the truth about Santa Claus or investors who realize their tubs filled with Beanie Babies are worthless.
The night before, her husband told her that her work-from-home job wasn’t real because she didn’t go to an office every day. He hadn’t taken into account she earns more working from home than he does in his corporate job. Apparently, income doesn’t matter…it’s where you work.
Does this make me a fraud? Am I a fake or a phony that has been pretending to work from home for 20 years? How do I explain to my kids, whom I’ve asked to leave my home office more times than a Kardashian has had Botox, that my home-based business has been a sham?
I was distraught — break-out-the-chocolate kind of distraught — when I discovered that unwittingly I was deceiving everyone, even myself. Now when clients pay me, I’ll have to give an Academy-Award-worthy performance, because I’m not good at pretending I don’t need the money.
There was only one thing I could do: call another friend to ask if I could visit her office and see a “real” job in action. She agreed (I may have promised to bring donuts for everyone), and the next afternoon I met her at her high-rise, non-fairy-tale office.
Her bathroom-sized office wasn’t much bigger than my home office and her desk had a center drawer with two file drawers on either side, the same as mine. But I quickly reminded myself that I work at a pretend desk.
She uses a Dell laptop, while I use a MacBook Pro. Does having a Mac mean I don’t have a real business and I’m not actually working? I raised my fist in the air and yelled, “Damn you, Steve Jobs! I counted on you to help me compete with the big guys!” My friend, embarrassed while simultaneously questioning why she let me see her office, asked me to bring the volume down a few notches.
During the short time I spent in my friend’s office, two co-workers alerted us about fresh donuts in the conference room and another asked a question my friend had already answered the day before. Twice. Maybe her job was more real than my business, because her office had a steady stream of co-workers dropping by every hour.
As I ended my unscientific research project, I realized one major difference: people who work in “real” offices have a boss. In my pretend office, I’m the boss unless you count my son’s cat that can be a bit demanding, moody and eager to play when I need to (fake) work.
I also realized if pretending to work in my home office involves avoiding a commute, working my own hours, and wearing comfortable clothes, I’m fine continuing my daily charade.
I only hope my clients understand.