George sent along a link to a NYTimes article that discusses some of the challenges African American literary authors may face over the course of trying to build a notable career. A quote from Edward P. Jones (author of The Known World) really touched a nerve. When asked why he didn’t quit his day job after receiving critical acclaim for his first book Lost in the City, Jones said:
â€œIf youâ€™re born poor or youâ€™re born working-class, a job is important. People who are born with silver spoons in their mouths never have to worry. They know someone will take care of them. Worrying about not having a job would have put a damper on any creativity that I would have had. So Iâ€™m glad I had that job.â€
Lately I’ve been thinking about hanging out a shingle as an independent usability consultant/interaction designer. When I read Jones’s quote, it was as if every doubting voice I’d ever heard in my head had been put before me in stark black-and-white relief. In the years that I’ve been working in the usability game, I’ve yet to meet any black colleagues who have taken the leap into working independently. I don’t want to suggest that this is a race thing; it could be that there are colleagues from a variety of ethnic backgrounds who have grown up poor and who never want to experience that feeling of want ever again in their lives.
I don’t have a safety net. I don’t have a plan to fall back on if my consultancy fails. Although I live a comfortable existence, I am all too aware of the reality of living paycheck to paycheck. I know the security one gains from having a steady income, and I like knowing that I can provide for my family. If I were out there on my own, I’d be so stressed from the daily hustle that I’d never get any work done, and the quality of any work I managed to produce would suffer tremendously. So I sit in my cubicle feeling humbled because I know in my head that sitting back, shutting up and taking it is far safer — but not better — than the alternative.