When I left my day job to become a full-time writer, I cried.

These were not tears of joy. I felt heart-sick, because I loved my job. At least, I thought that was why I cried.

Since leaving, since committing to writing full-time, I’ve realized the real reason for my heart-sickness. So much of my identity and self-worth had been wrapped up in my profession, that when I left I felt lost. I mourned knowing who I was. I missed the certainty of knowing what I did for a living mattered, made a difference, made the world a better place.

My good friends would say to me, “How exciting! Now you can write full time.”

And my heart would sink, because my choice felt selfish and wrong: to be a writer of romance instead of a biomedical researcher; so I could stay at home with my kids; so we could move to a different part of the country, a place we’ve always longed to live and be.

I loved my job. I loved making a tangible difference in peoples’ lives. I loved mentoring and teaching. I loved research and data. I loved it. But I think I loved the *idea* of it more than the job itself. I loved that I knew, with no reservation and without a shadow of a doubt, that what I did mattered. What I did helped people, helped improve their health; helped children live longer, more active lives; gave families hope. Plus, society told me so.

Without that certainty bolstering my self-worth, I cried because I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t a researcher. I wasn’t entirely certain that my new profession truly made the world a better place, that it mattered. . .

We (my husband and I) went to a party where I knew no one. At the party, a woman– a professor– asked me, “What do you do for a living?” How many times had I asked someone the same question? I was caught. My husband, seeing my indecision, answered for me.

“She’s an author,” he said. “She writes books.”

“Really? What kind of books?”

“Romance novels,” I said.

“Oh. . .” she said. “That’s nice.”

She didn’t ask me another question for the rest of the night.

If this had been six months prior, I would have answered, “I’m a biomedical researcher.” And the night would have gone very differently, because I guess biomedical researchers are worth talking to and romance novelists are just . . . nice?

The truth is, I cried when I left my job because what that woman thought mattered to me. I didn’t want to be dismissed. And once I recognized the truth of my heartsickness, I became disgusted with myself.

Because, you know what? Basing your self-worth on your profession is not okay. It’s a shortcut. It’s a crutch. It’s LAZY. You might be a physician who saves lives (or an author who changes lives through your words; or an artist who makes incredibly moving paintings; or a filmmaker who opens peoples’ eyes to the world around them), but if you’re an asshole and treat the people around you like garbage, then you’re not worth much.

Being a romance author is awesome! But it isn’t who I am.

My self-worth is based on how I treat others, what’s inside my heart, not what I do for a living.

So, I’m glad I left.

I’m glad I made the change.

I’m glad I’m a romance novelist and write about happy endings. I’m glad I write funny books that make people laugh.

I’m glad people see me out with my kids during the day, in jeans and a T-shirt, and make assumptions about who I am. It has taught me not to do the same to others. It has taught me to open my heart and my mind to new people and new friendships.

I’m glad I challenged my own preconceived notions about education, worth, and profession. It’s good to grow, to better recognize my own faults (pride, vanity, envy). It’s important be reminded that I am just a little piece of sand in the vast desert.

<3 Penny