Handle your shit: A guide to swatting away haters who doubt your “real job”

I work from home.

As a writer, I am proud of the work I do, but no matter how many times I try to explain that, yes, I do real work and, yes, I make real money, some people still ask:

“When are you going to get a real job?”

Or ask its cousins: “Don’t you want a job with more stability?” or “Wait, what do you do all day again?” followed by a skeptical raised eyebrow.

I get it. Being self-sufficient working from home on our laptops is a little unorthodox. Like meeting a unicorn that people have heard of, but are shocked when they actually see one in the flesh. 

Dealing with this stigma can be frustrating and make you feel as if you have something to prove. Psychologists refer to this as “social undermining,” which in the words of this study published in the “Journal of Organizational Behavior”is:

“Behavior intended to hinder, over time, the ability to establish and maintain positive interpersonal relationships, work-related success, and favorable reputation.”

You can’t always recognize social undermining when you see it, but a question like “when are you going to get a real job?” is a damn good example.

It’s worse when these come from friends and family who are ostensibly concerned about you and your future, but the underlying message is loud and clear: “I don’t quite believe in you.”

Regardless of their intentions, it can take an emotional toll and be toxic for your motivation when you’re trying to plant your flag in the entrepreneurial world.

For me, I definitely felt like I was marooned on an island with little to no support. Worse, they amplified that lingering feeling of doubt that I can actually find the success I want and that, yes, this life was the best decision. I used to spend so much energy being fiercely defensive and bitter that people doubted me instead of just keeping my head down and doing the work. I worried more about what other people thought about ME, rather than what I was doing.

The only way for me to keep at this entrepreneur stuff was to … get shit done.

I’ve written about implementing ways for you to do the work, day in and day out, regardless of whether you “feel like it” or not. And once I started to take myself and my goals seriously, doing what needed to be done, people’s judgment of my work started to affect me less. I don’t care if my aunt can’t grasp my day to day life if I’m launching successful products (or at least, I have more patience to handle and explain). People also started to ask me these questions less, though the turning point wasn’t because of any particular thing I did.

It was … everything that I did, over time.

Let me explain.

There’s this common refrain: “Show, don’t tell.” You don’t tell people things. That never sinks in. You show things and let people draw their own conclusions. Thanks to social media, this is much easier to do now.

For me, it meant that I stopped trying to explain that “I DO have a real job, OK?!” I instead focused on my work and moving toward my goals, and made things happen. People saw my articles in reputable places. They saw the kind of lifestyle my “real job” afforded me: traveling to many places, meeting people from all over the world, working out in the middle of the workday, and so on.  

I’m not saying to actively brag about what you do. There is a fine line between publicly celebrating your accomplishments and outright bragging. Again, the idea is to show, don’t tell.

Still, people aren’t going to always get it. That’s normal, but there are also ways to make it easier and frame yourself in the best possible way.

To own your work-from-home life in conversation rather than shrink away from it, you’ve got to confidently live it. Here’s an example from Kristin Wong, an author and writer who works from home: “I made a dedicated office for myself. I stopped wearing sweatpants all day and put on a damn blazer.”

Notice that she makes it a point of acting like a serious professional, even though literally no one else is keeping tabs. Small changes like these help her mentally.

“People are less likely to ask, ‘So what do you do all day?’ if you position yourself as a businessperson rather than someone who sits at home all day waiting for work. None of this is about keeping up ‘appearances.’ It’s about working from within, making yourself feel more empowered and more productive. When you feel powerful, you don’t care as much about what other people think,” added Wong.

I can agree with that.

Ultimately, what would help you keep going is to just … trust in the process of doing the work. And if you do feel like you have something to prove, perhaps it’s time to look inward: do you actually have a plan? Are you actually working hard enough?  

Once I started achieving visible results from my consistent work, people (including my parents) just stopped asking. In fact, their attitudes about what I did changed. They were proud! Once you find a certain level of success from a solid work ethic, it’s not difficult to keep your head up and revel in your own self-confidence.

Also, understanding that people’s ill judgments aren’t necessarily a personal assault. It’s not about you nor is it your fault that people act that way. These are not the people you should seek validation from anyway. And no one action is going to flip a magical switch where people suddenly understand. The best middle finger to all the haters is to keep your head down, do the work, and live the life that proves you are (and are capable of)handling your shit.

So handle your shit before you worry about other people worrying about you handling your shit.

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