“So what do you do for a living?”
I low-key hate this question, because I never know how to respond.
I’m a web designer. And a copywriter. I’m also trained as an email strategist by one of the best in the field! Plus I’m a blogger, but…not that kind of blogger…? Oh, I’m also the editor-in-chief of an online magazine, but I don’t get paid for that yet. And I’m supposed to keep a small human alive and generally well adjusted.
These days, I’ve settled on the intentionally comic understatement: I make things on computers and then people give me money.
This isn’t the work life I imagined for myself when I was eighteen. Or twenty-eight, for that matter. I thought that my “calling” lay in teaching high school science, which I did for a total of three years before becoming a parent. And then, after a series of quarter-life crises, here I am: a digital content creator. Which is too pretentious a term for me to ever use in real life, but whatever.
All the signs were there early on. As a child, I filled notebooks with stories – mostly American Girl fan fiction – and designed newsletters and brochures using a delightful Windows 3.1 program called Creative Writer. In fourth grade, while loafing around my dad’s office after school, I started tooling around in Photoshop. I learned what blogging was in seventh grade at the Midwest Chinese Church Association summer conference and never looked back. (Shoutout to Pastor Justin Young who led that workshop!) I spent high school galloping around unsupervised on dial-up Internet, building protoblogs and creating absolutely fantastic examples of early 2000s digital art.
But when it came time to choose a major, I didn’t go for communications or design. I majored in arguably the most ostentatious-sounding department in the College of Biological Sciences: molecular genetics. (And English literature, in a feeble gesture of rebellion and overachieving.)
Looking back, I have to wonder: why did I ignore twelve years of evidence about my interest in writing and art?
A lot of it was not even knowing that creative or communications careers were an option. None of my parents’ church friends, who were my only Chinese American role models, did anything outside the STEM fields or service industry. Some of it was the unspoken and didn’t-need-to-be-spoken parental expectation that I would choose a practical, safe career that was squarely in the purview of the Asian American dream. And some of it was a genuine interest in both biology and teaching, thanks to my skilled AP Bio teacher.
But I think the greatest factor was my lack of trust in my own lived experience. And after a decade of reflection, I have to attribute that mistrust to evangelicalism. For a long time, I believed that my life’s work had to be somehow divinely sanctioned. For God to approve of my career choice, I couldn’t choose something based on my own selfish desires or pleasures. If I enjoyed doing something, then that couldn’t possibly be the work God was calling me to. And I definitely had to be doing something fOr tHe KiNgDoM, even if I wasn’t actually a pastor or missionary. (Purity culture taught me to apply all of these principles to sex and relationships and it was uggggly, but that’s a story for another time).
Life has a funny way of bringing reality to the surface in spite of, rather than because of, our best efforts to seek what we think is true. These days, I do almost all the things I loved as a kid and teenager. Am I changing the world by building websites? Probably not, but I’m doing fulfilling work on a schedule that allows me to be the kind of parent and partner I want to be. (Incidentally, I believe that is my true calling rather than any specific vocation).
As I’ve wandered through different skills and specializations, following my instincts rather than anyone else’s expectations has always yielded the most satisfaction (and the most profit because I’m more motivated). It’s taken me a sadly long time to learn to trust that instinctive voice and value my own fulfillment and happiness more than Living Up To Expectations.
Meeting other Asian American creatives through PAAC, Mochi magazine, The Cosmos and Asian Creative Network has helped a lot. But I still find a dearth of resources specifically geared toward first and second generation immigrant people of color who want to pursue “unconventional” paths. Much of the online entrepreneurship content I consumed in the early stages of my business assumes certain majority culture privileges like large social networks, access to cultural and financial capital, and even just having a name that doesn’t cause people to question whether you can write or speak English fluently.
So in true INFJ 4w4 fashion, I made my own. On my blog and email list, I write about issues specific to Asian American freelancers and creatives, like overcoming scarcity mentality and how perpetual foreigner syndrome compounds imposter syndrome. I’m also starting a podcast called, “What Do You Really Do?” that delves into the work lives of Asian Americans in unconventional jobs. Eventually, I hope to run a series of workshops and incubators for Asian Americans starting one-person businesses. I hope to be the voice of encouragement, imagination, and pragmatism I needed when I was eighteen. (Or twenty-eight.)
So what do I do for a living?
I write, build websites, create graphics, and teach, but you can just call me Auntiepreneur.
About the Author: Jennifer Duann Fultz (she/her/hers) is a writer, web designer, and side project starter. She helps unconventional Asian Americans find their way through freelancing and creative careers. She is also Editor-in-Chief (and Auntie in Residence) of Mochi magazine, a digital publication for Asian American women.