Under the pillows in the bed of my childhood room I kept a box, and in that box was everything I (still) believe in: the gold tooth fairy dust I’d unsuspectingly collected in a small porcelain boot over time and the power of the written word. A ballerina slipper-shaped notepad sat inside; on it were notes illegibly scrawled in glitter milk pen. “I can be anything, and I want to be a writer,” I wrote to myself as a girl (and, evidently, a yet-to-be-self-proclaimed feminist) who didn’t know then that she would grow up to be just that.
If I knew then that I’d someday be backpacking the far reaches of the globe utterly alone to write about women and their stories from around the world, well, I’d have asked the tooth fairy for more money to fund it all…
But of course, I always knew, in theory anyway, that I’d eventually be some sort of travel writer. Mostly because I’d be damned if I didn’t. So I worked really hard to get here — my former days were spent in the office and my evenings were spent in coffee shops and quiet bars across Manhattan and Brooklyn. I got good at discovering off-the-beaten-path, local watering holes that served up coffee and wine late into the night to keep me going and to keep me sane. On the weekends, I’d be locked up in libraries... still working, still writing.
Now, I'm writing this from a quiet cafe in Rishikesh, India, somewhere along the Ganges River at the foothills of the Himalayas. My social circle at home and my following on social media like to believe all my days are like this one — or writing from bean bag chairs in hippie bars along the Mekong River or from hammocks on blonde beaches in the Thai islands, perpetually bikini clad with a coconut or banana shake in hand. And that's not entirely far off.
But though I love what I'm doing, it's not necessarily all sunsets and baby elephants. I work more hours as a freelancer on the road than I ever did at a full-time, in-office job. I've had to develop discipline like I'd never known discipline before because, when the beaches are beckoning and the mountains are calling, I usually have to say, I'll catch ya later, I'm working. I realize how spoiled that sounds, but it's not like it was an easy feat to even be able to turn down daily adventures. When people tell me, "You're so lucky," I say, "Nope, I'm just fortunate and I'd worked really hard to create this life for myself."
Now reliable Wi-Fi (or, moreover, reliable electricity), a desk and a mosquito net to work devoid of distractions have become luxuries to me. But I often find myself answering emails in the back of tuk tuks, writing through the night on sleeper buses, taking Skype calls in airports and staying up until morning because I'm in the exact opposite time zone as most of my editors.
So, yes, being a freelance, traveling writer does look a lot like what we see on Instagram. But that's only a small percentage of the time, the majority of which isn't so "glamorous." And while I love this life, there are some serious misconceptions when it comes to my job.
And I'm not alone. Plenty of women are working jobs about which their friends, families, larger social circles or people in general have wrongful assumptions. Here are some of their examples.
1. A sex coach isn't sitting at people's bedsides.
"I have a doctorate in human sexuality and have been in the sexuality field for over 14 years — I have a career that not only women but everyone is unsure what I do and has misconceptions about," says Dr. Stacy Friedman, a clinical sexologist and certified sex coach. "Many people, when hearing what I do, automatically think I am having sex with people for money. They also think that I sit at people's bedsides cheering them on, coaching them on how to have better sex. The image they must visualize just makes me laugh. I do coach people on how to have better sex, but it is more about coaching, counseling and educating, in my local South Florida office, by phone or video session as some people prefer to see who they are speaking with regarding such an intimate subject matter. As a sex coach, I help couples regain lost intimacy, specializing in working with women who have low libido, painful sex and the LGBT population. I do talk-only sessions in which we realize the clients' goals and then find home assignments they can do alone or with their partners and action plans to find the best way to reach their goals. But I am not involved as many people imagine."
2. Being an entrepreneur isn't easy.
"I am the CEO of my own business, which comes with several misconceptions about what it's like to be an entrepreneur — many may be quick to assume that, because entrepreneurs can set our own hours, we are somehow more successful because of it and can afford to go on tons of vacations and engage in lengthy leisure activities like golfing or sailing on a yacht," says Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com. "The reality, for me anyway, is that I am almost always at the office on Mondays through Fridays. I sit out on the floor (we have an open floor layout plan) with the rest of my team. I'm very easily accessible whenever anyone has a question, and I go to meetings with everyone else. I continue answering emails in the evening, first thing in the morning, and over the weekend. But, I'm not all work and no play either. I make the time to go to pilates class in between meetings, spend time with my family each day, and engage in our Friday talent show contests in the office. I work hard and I play hard as a CEO. A typical day in my shoes is never like the one before it — which is one characteristic of entrepreneurship that I find is not a misconception."
3. Tarot card reading isn't con artistry.
"My job is totally unlike what most people think it is," says Jenna Matlin, a tarot card reader. "In fact, it can be a real issue! Common misconceptions: 1. I am in league with the devil. 2. I am uneducated 3. I am a con artist 4. I tell people things like when they are going to die and the name of their husbands to be. The real truth is that tarot is a visual system for looking at narratives in our lives and making educated probabilities based on those narratives. I have a M.S., am highly educated and scientifically minded, and I can't even stomp on an ant. If I am in league with the Devil, he sure is a nice guy!"
4. Matchmaking doesn't mean spending all day with beautiful people.
"Many years ago I was working in public relations for a large public software company and attending the annual user conference — the multi-day affair included an evening 'fun' outing, and all the attendees were invited to board buses to get from the convention center to the event," says Bobbie Carlto of Carlton PR & Marketing. "As I boarded one of the buses, one of the attendees recognized me and shouted out, 'Woo-hoo, the PR team is here! We’re the party bus! Now the party can begin.' I cringe at the thought of that but that’s what people think about PR. We’re the party-people, the people-people. In reality, we’re more likely to be focused on writing and research. Sure, there are exceptions, but the work often requires a thoughtful, measured approach and the parties are, at least in most industries, few and far between. We work with clients (in my agency today), mostly startups and small companies. We help with messaging and business strategy. We write articles, white papers, blog posts and handle social media. We create press releases and pitch stories to reporters. We do a lot of writing. We help train executives to be effective public speakers, and we place these corporate spokespeople at conferences and events."
6. Copywriting is more about research than writing.
"There are a lot of preconceived notions about a my job, as marketing is seen as a glamorous career," says Crystal McFerran, VP of marketing at Velo IT Group. "Some people assume I get paid to play around on social media all day or make pretty pictures, but the majority of people have absolutely no idea what it is a marketing professional actually does. While I find my career extremely enjoyable and rewarding, marketing is not as glamorous as everyone makes it out to be and I spend much more time on data analysis than I do creating social media content. To succeed in marketing, you need practical knowledge on a variety of initiatives, such as branding, SEO, PR, web development, content generation, marketing automation and sales/marketing alignment. Effective marketing requires constant learning. With the growth of digital innovations and social media, companies have more tools and online platforms available than ever before, making it necessary for marketing professionals to stay ahead of the curve by learning new techniques and technologies."
9. Working from home doesn't mean being lazy.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.