On Having Kids & Paying Career Opportunity Costs
This weekend I attended the New Member meeting at the WGA-W. The meeting happened to be scheduled at the exact same time as Gaga’s class Tot Shabbat service. Obviously, I wanted to be both places at the same time. Obviously I couldn’t be both places at the same time (damn you, physics) and I will say now that arriving late to the WGA meeting was stressful (I fucking hate being late anywhere) but ducking out early from my daughter’s performance – despite the fact that MrBigIdeas and all the other kids were there to support her – brought me to tears.
That’s a pretty good summary of what it’s like to have kids, love them more than anything on earth, and yet to still harbor career ambitions that you just have to pursue because otherwise the psychic cost to you and your family will be so terrible it will make the economic costs seem piffling in comparison.
I had to be at that meeting. I had to step into that building and join a fraternity of working writers that I have wanted to join since I was a tiny kid. I wanted to meet the people who were newbies like me, all of whom were basically standing on the same train platform waiting on the same trains.
And within a few minutes of being there, I felt better about ditching Tot Shabbat.
Then two things happened.
- One of the speakers told us 30% of new members to the WGA join on their first project (like me) and then NEVER SELL ANYTHING ELSE AGAIN. I mean, is that scary or what?
- I met my assigned mentor/mentee group of screenwriters . They all seem smart and lovely and talented and I’m thrilled to get to know them and work with them. But I pretty quickly figured out that I am hella older than all of them, and I am fairly certain I am the only one who is married-with-kids.
Only two of the six of us are women. (This is actually pretty good odds for Hollywood writers, which on it’s face is depressing enough, right?) We immediately fell to talking about how I possibly ever get any work done considering the 4 kids.
I gave my stock answer of hiring a lot of help. And I said it had made me very very efficient with my time. And then I said something about how when a project is happening, and I’m having success, I feel so good and so thrilled with my life, but when it’s not, or I’m stuck, or I’m between things, I feel like I will never be able to replicate that success, and I’m a fucking mess. And when I’m a fucking mess, at least I get to look at my kids, and think, well, I did THAT. And they have the power to make me feel great, at least for a little while, every day, regardless of how my work is going. So I think having kids is completely worth it, COMPLETELY, regardless of the opportunity costs and career sacrifices made.
And then of course I looked at these lovely smart talented YOUNG people I was talking to and thought, you are all going to achieve so much more than me because you don’t have to PAY those costs.
And I was envious. I really was.
Except, of course, at least for the other woman in our group, there is a cost for career-first, too, because time just ticks on and biology is what biology is and maybe she won’t ever have the family I have, the family she isn’t even sure she wants yet. But she sure as hell has a chance at a great fucking career that maybe my kids mean I won’t.
So here’s what I did with all that information.
- I remembered that I wrote my first pilot when I was pregnant with Gaga.
- When Diddy started school, I finally started making all the career connections that have helped me on this journey.
- That pilot, and those friends, are how I started writing the movie that became NO WAY JOSE. Gaga was 18 months old at the time.
- I wrote my second pilot when I was pregnant with the twins.
- I contracted my first screenplay commission when they were 1.
And all this happened over a period of about 5 years. That may seem slow to people without children, but I think what I lost in momentum, I got all back in a pretty big quality-over-quantity way.
And I type all this sitting in the Member’s Lounge at the WGA, where already this morning I’ve cranked out 10 pages of the commission I’m working on now.
(If you are reading this, Team Berloff, I highly recommend planting your butts in here. It’s amazing.)
Today at least I’m cool with the Mom-costs. Ask me again in a year, now that I’m finally working at momentum again, and we’ll see.