How to be supportive when you're really worried about the future?
January 15, 2014 8:22 PM   Subscribe

My husband is miserable at his job and would like to change. This will likely mean a cut in our income and taking on more debt for him to go to school. How can I be more supportive when I worry about the change in our financial circumstances?

My husband and I are both making good money for the first time in our almost-middle-aged lives. I spent the last 5 years finishing my bachelor's and master's degrees in order to work in what I thought was my dream profession. It turns out to be less of a dream and more a job like other but at least it provides a wage that is solidly middle class. This process has led to us being about 50K in debt thanks to my student loans.

Through all my schooling and the year post-school that I was looking for work my husband has been working for Amtrak in a job that often frustrates him. He's basically working glorified food service but thanks to Amtrak's union he makes a higher hourly wage than my "professional" job and has excellent benefits. He doesn't have a degree and the only two things he's ever wanted to go to school for are creative writing and culinary arts. He's miserable and is beginning to look around at culinary schools in the area but I'm having a hard time being supportive when we have so much debt and are finally comfortable financially.

I know being content at work is very, very important. I've struggled with depression over work in the recent past and it can be terrifying to try to move forward. But we want to have a family and buy a home sometime soon and we're going to have a hard time doing that if he takes a huge pay cut and starts incurring more debt for us. I've always had more of a money brain than he has so I think part of me thinks he's not really thinking about the consequences. But something has to change... how can I be more supportive while making sure we can keep our heads above water financially?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Being supportive doesn't mean unabashedly accepting a plan to quit a job and go into debt. Being supportive can mean that you are willing to work with him to create a plan to find a new job, find a way to get educated in his interests while not incurring more debt, find a way into a work/life balance that is more workable.
posted by xingcat at 8:35 PM on January 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

Personally I'd rather be happy and in debt than miserable and debt-free. What good is being debt-free if he is miserable?
posted by Dansaman at 8:35 PM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think the first thing is to empathize with and validate his feelings -- his frustration with current circumstances, his desire for something better. You can validate those feelings without agreeing to any particular plan. When it comes talking about potential courses of action, you can frame things honestly -- 'That's a really exciting idea. It may take a little while to get there, but your happiness is very important to me, and if this is what you want then I want to help you make it happen. A major career change will almost certainly mean a big drop in income for a good while, if not permanently. We'll probably have to cut back our spending pretty drastically, for a good long while. That's okay, I don't need to sleep on silk sheets. If this is what you want then let's figure out a way to do it.'

And go from there. It certainly won't help you to characterize him as not having a good head for money, or not thinking about the consequences. Treat him like the adult you need him to be.
posted by jon1270 at 8:41 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Communicate communicate communicate.

He needs to understand that you have concerns and reservations, but that you want to support his happiness and satisfaction. The two of you should sit down and discuss what each of you consider necessary changes, versus "nice to have" changes, as well as what your time frames must be for each of you to be satisfied.

There was a great comment somewhere on AskMe talking about asking for your "hundred percent" (that I am currently unable to find). To (poorly) paraphrase, you explain your best case scenario and he describes his best case scenario and you use that information to try to reach the best possible place for both of you.

Good luck!
posted by blurker at 8:53 PM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Oof. Has your husband done any research on culinary work? Chefs work ass-long hours for meager pay and few benefits. It's a young person's game, because to move up you have to spend years of your career doing shitty grunt work (i.e. dishwashing) and even in later years you're running everywhere in shitty conditions for 12+ hours at a time. And culinary school tends to be a total money waste. No restaurant is going to hire you out of culinary school unless you have serious kitchen experience under your belt, and most career chefs consider culinary schools to be a joke unless you're talking Le Cordon Bleu or something like that. What does your husband envision himself doing?

It's important to support his dreams, but perhaps encourage him to speak with career chefs (or whomever is in the type of position he wants) and ask them what they think of his plans. "Follow your dreams" does not have to mean "blow a hole in the side of our rowboat".

(I'm guessing from his interest in culinary school he understands a degree in creative writing is not going to lead to employment any time soon)
posted by Anonymous at 8:54 PM on January 15, 2014

I understand (OH DO I UNDERSTAND) being miserable in a dead-end job, but there's also something to be said for a pretty brainless, good-paying, stable union job.

And I'm sorry, but creative writing and culinary school are just not worth the debt it takes to get those degrees. You can work in both of those fields just as well with a lot of hustle and no degree.

Can he take some of those sweet union wages and take classes in his spare time? Can he write and/or start a catering company or food truck in his spare time? I know there's not much free time with a full-time job but going to school for those subjects feels insane to me.

That said, truly, money isn't everything and I hate treating life like some weird game where you MUST make the most logical decision. I do, however, think the idea of going to culinary school or writing school and expecting anything like a living wage when you get out (plus the debt!) is really naive.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 8:55 PM on January 15, 2014 [38 favorites]

I think you need to approach this (to him, and in your own mind) with this frame: "how can we make this work?"

You'll need to sit down with him and create a real plan for him to pursue a new career, while still paying back loans and meeting your other needs as a family. This shouldn't be a general discussion about "should you do this?" - it should be a really specific discussion about "How much money do we need to live? To save for the things that matter to us? How much could we cut back, and for how long, while still preserving our goals?" He needs to be in this conversation (not receiving the budget you previously figured out) because people need to be involved in a decision-making process to feel ownership over it.

I completely understand that you don't want to give up your family/house goals. But you also don't want to live with a miserable/resentful (you got to pursue your dreams, but he doesn't get to pursue his?) husband for the rest of your life. Maybe just one of those things can be delayed, if he's really serious about pursuing a new career? Maybe he can pursue writing on the time - specific evening hours dedicated to it - while still working at his union job? Maybe it's something else entirely - he needs to be part of the process of deciding.

And lastly a point about culinary school - it's totally unnecessary. He can start as a line cook and work his way up. No incurring debt, all the practical experience he needs to see if it's what he wants to do. Writing's kind of the same deal - you can do it without a degree. Encourage him to pursue what he loves - but don't go into more debt unless it's really necessary.

That being said - I do believe strongly that you need to support him in some way/shape/form. You may want to share this post with him, and explain to him that you want to help but are nervous and aren't sure what that looks like and what impact that will have on your family unit.
posted by leitmotif at 9:00 PM on January 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think what would help is for you guys to sit down and talk about your goals and aspirations. Write them down or something. Then attempt to prioritize them.

Try to list the pluses and minuses of each goal. See if executing on one goal will affect a different goal.

See if there are different ways to go about reaching your goal.

When prioritizing and negotiating, if there is some goal your husband would like to pursue, make sure you get some sort of commitment for him to pursue it, especially if he needs to change your lives to set off on his quest. It would totally suck to cause a lot of disruption only to give up partway.

Also, get your husband to come up with some realistic ways to address certain risks and minuses, and get him to commit to a plan. In writing.

You can couch the whole process in the language of aspirational self--help books, like 7 Habits or something, to make it less adversarial.

But at the end of the day you need to set down in concrete terms how this will affect your balance sheet, and set down in concrete terms how to mitigate risks, and who is responsible for mitigating risks.

I also don't think that one's job can always make one happy or unhappy. We get clouded by dreaming of the way we wish things could be, "only if..."

But your husband may be chasing a mirage or worse, and you don't necessarily have to facilitate that.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:12 PM on January 15, 2014

I went to culinary school and the only reason I don't regret it is because someone else paid for it. Restaurants have a centuries-old tradition of trading free labor for training and experience, no expensive institutional middleman required. He should consider doing a stage (rhymes with Taj as in Taj Mahal) at a restaurant he admires if he's serious. They'll work with his schedule unless they're assholes.
posted by STFUDonnie at 9:18 PM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Amtrack does hire professional chefs who work throughout their system. Maybe they have a professional development/internal hiring program that would allow him to move into a culinary arts/chef position while retaining his current pay grade? The thing about culinary arts and writing is that neither of them pay well enough after graduation to make taking out loans a good financial idea. This is especially true for you both given that you already have considerable debt and plans to buy property and start a family.

Is he willing to work on developing his skills in writing and/or cooking more independently while keeping his current job? He can start taking classes, join a writing group, or start a related project. Start talking with one another about how you imagine your future lives and what realistic steps you can take to have both stability and satisfaction.
posted by quince at 9:18 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't seem to get this question out of my head.

The thing is, these are both careers people choose for passion, not practicality. Does he write now? Does he cook amazing meals, or nerd out on the mother sauces or build his own sous-vide machines or otherwise show a passion for cooking?

If so, he should be able to get entry level jobs in those fields right now. Which is a whole other discussion than incurring at least another $50k in debt.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:20 PM on January 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

I have a culinary degree. Your husband is smoking crack and needs to put the pipe DOWN.

Kitchen work IS a young person's game and there is zero job stability, shitty pay and hours, and generally no benefits.


While personal cheffing, and sometimes a little catering, can bring in money on the side with little overhead (and is a GREAT way to get your name out there!) restaurants and food trucks are spendy and fail most of the time.

This type of business especially fails for people that are not shrewd about money.


What your husband NEEDS to be successful in a culinary type business is:

- A good food safety practices course. I can not stress this enough!!!

- Some experience in a successful kitchen working for low or no pay.

- A good idea that is executable with minimum start-up costs and maximum profit returns.

- Enough money for licenses (if required) and BUSINESS INSURANCE.


Do not say yes to Culinary School unless (a) his side business makes enough to fund it, and/or (b) he's going to CIA or Johnson & Wales or some equally legit school. If he wants to go to Le Cordon Bleu or FCI, or some similar "accelerated" but expensive program, tell him to re-think his plan.

Or just figure out a way to encourage something more lucrative.

Jesus my f&ck what an awful idea for someone already $50,000 in debt. Just, no no no no no.
posted by jbenben at 9:32 PM on January 15, 2014 [28 favorites]

Did he work a shitty job to help support you while you were in school? Bc I think dismissing it as a " I have more of a money mind" doesn't necessarily look at the fairness factor.
posted by spunweb at 9:42 PM on January 15, 2014 [18 favorites]

Well, one thing I would be careful about is worrying about the debt he wants to take on too much, especially if the only debt you have is the student loan debt. I can see how that might sound a bit like, "It's ok for us to take risks for my happiness, but you, you just go work like a donkey and keep your head down while we take care of the debts we incurred for me."

I'd focus on the practicality of his dreams. It sounds like your dream career was a practical one, even it's not the dream you were hoping for.

I think you need to get on board with the concept of student loans for him too, if not the particular ones for writing and cooking.
posted by bswinburn at 9:43 PM on January 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

BTW, everyone's advice to handle this empathetically and respectively is SPOT ON.

I just wanted you to know about the practical side of his dream, which needs re-sizing to be in congruence with reality.

The nice part is that truly creative people find a way to be successful, and limitation IS often the mother of invention that leads to success. It's sad that right now he wants to use his financial credit instead of his creative wits to power this new adventure.

I hope that changes and he gets the right idea.
posted by jbenben at 9:48 PM on January 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

Perhaps I am also a bit naive, but I can definitely see potential in starting a side-business with either creative writing or cooking. Skip the going-to-school part, and work extremely hard outside work hours to get the side business going.
posted by applesurf at 9:57 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

The thing is, these are both careers people choose for passion, not practicality. Does he write now? Does he cook amazing meals, or nerd out on the mother sauces or build his own sous-vide machines or otherwise show a passion for cooking?

Kitchen work IS a young person's game and there is zero job stability, shitty pay and hours, and generally no benefits.

I want to push back on this point a bit. I have a friend who, as an adult, went to community college for a culinary management-track culinary arts degree, and since graduation he has been consistently and sanely employed managing institutional kitchens/cafeterias (the cafeteria serving the teaching hospital where I work--in the library--closes at 3:30 p.m., for example).

My friend may not make more than your husband does now (the scare quotes you put around professional sound disappointed, so I can't tell if he's making $34,000 or $64,000), but it's possible he would find the work more satisfying, and it could allow him at least make a lateral move away from Amtrak if his solid union job is starting to feel like sterling handcuffs.
posted by pullayup at 10:29 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like most people are missing the point: do you see your husband as an equal?

You have "more of a money brain" and your ambitions/dreams are more valid than his because x? Yeah, doesn't sound like it.

Why was it okay for you to take 5 years for school and take on 50K loans that he now shares with you but it is not okay for him to do the same?
posted by travelwithcats at 10:52 PM on January 15, 2014 [11 favorites]

I think you need to be honest with your husband about your fears and let him know that adding to your already large debt really scares you. You should also be prepared to acknowledge that he supported you as you got your degree and that you want to do that for him but that you're worried he'll end up in the same position as you: in even more debt and in possession of a degree that offers no return on your investment whatsoever. He needs to hear this from you so you are both on the same page.

Next, I think you need to abandon your desire to have a family soon. His happiness at work is more important and will have a long term impact on your success as a couple, so invest in that first before having kids. My dad took a job with great benefits even though it made him miserable (and still does) so I could have a good childhood. I'd give anything for him to have taken a job he was happy at instead.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:19 AM on January 16, 2014

I'll chime in to say that culinary school would be a waste of money and would lead to a career with poor job stability and shitty pay and hours. Especially if you are thinking of starting a family, I would avoid this route.

My husband went to culinary school and worked for eight years as a chef in restaurants and catering; he became disillusioned with the industry because the high stress work was not worth the poor pay, benefits and hours. Last year he left the culinary industry to take a unionized "glorified food service job" because the pay and benefits are so much better, and he is much less stressed out now.
posted by zosime at 12:21 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Why was it okay for you to take 5 years for school and take on 50K loans that he now shares with you but it is not okay for him to do the same?"


There's a popular narrative, probably traceable back to Anthony Bourdain and supported by Top Chef et al., that the culinary arts are an enormous human pyramid of suckers supporting a handful of celebrity chefs and everyone is trying to claw their way up to glory. Much of the advice in this thread ("IT'S A YOUNG MAN'S GAME/MOST CULINARY SCHOOLS ARE A FUCKING SCAM/THE CHEF WON'T TRUST YOU IF YOU WENT TO CULINARY SCHOOL/HE HAD BETTER BE THE TYPE TO NERD OUT ON MOTHER SAUCES/HE'LL BE UP UNTIL 3 A.M. DOING COKE EVERY SATURDAY") is very heavily invested in this version of what working in a kitchen is like. And, especially if you live in a major city, it can be like that. This may even be the life he's dreaming about, but the evidence in the post is, as usual, thin. (If he is, he should listen to what everyone is saying.)

But this isn't the work most AS-level culinary arts/hospitality management degrees are intended to qualify you for. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities, university and corporate cafeterias, convention centers, country clubs, zoos and museums all employ people in non-glamorous, non-insane jobs managing their food service operations. If this isn't the "glorified food service" he's trying to escape, it could be a viable career option, and he probably has a significant amount of relevant experience. My friend (mentioned upthread) is the trailing spouse of a PhD psychologist. His career has proved reliably portable through several cross country moves, and his degree cost less than $15,000.
posted by pullayup at 12:48 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been skimming through these answers to see if anyone else had the *ding* moment that I did when I saw creative writing and culinary interests together, but I didn't spot anything, which means I get to (I think) be the first person to suggest this alternative to him packing off back to school.

What about.... food writing?

By this I mean maybe restaurant reviews, maybe recipe reviews, maybe from a nutritional perspective, or maybe gourmet. Whatever his favoured approach is.

The great thing about Getting Your Own Blog is that it's free, you can do it at the same time as holding down a regular job, and it can be anywhere on the scale from hobby to second income. Worth a thought?
posted by greenish at 2:38 AM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

jbenben, could we do without shouting, please? Thx.

If culinary school/ a creative writing degree is a good idea or not has been commented on. OP, please think deeply about if you consider the needs/dreams/ambitions of your husband as important as your own. From your question it seems like it is your student loans that he is helping to pay down ("has led to us being about 50K in debt thanks to my student loans") but you don't want to extend the same courtesy. This could have a negative impact on your relationship.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:43 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Honestly, he would probably have more success treating this as a side thing and skipping the degree/s. Most people don't get to do the thing they love, but the thing they do helps them to do the thing they love. If he is not happy in his glorified food service job, he is really not going to be happy changing to either of his mooted alternatives. What he's doing now will enable you to start your family and give him a really safe chance to explore these interests - maybe you just need to tell him that what he's doing now is very valued and is ultimately helpful to him, not a hindrance.
posted by heyjude at 3:01 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you need to sit down an discuss what your REAL goals are - not just "this career seems less shitty than my current one" but a real "this is where we want to be in 5, 10, 15 years" discussion. Maybe the solution is getting on a crazy strict budget, knocking out that debt, heavily funding your retirement accounts and retiring early to travel or pursue other ventures. He doesn't want to do this lucrative career anymore, and that's fine. But what is the real goal here? Spending another 2-4 years in school, living like students, and ending up in more debt, just in a maybe-more-interesting-but-financially-unstable-job through your 40s and 50s? I'm all for chasing your dreams and changing careers and even overschooling, but at a certain age, the way you change your quality of life is through your savings account.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:37 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

"We went into debt for my plan that didn't work out as well as expected, so now it is your turn to sink us further into debt with an even less viable plan" might be fair but only in the sense that your house getting robbed and the burglars only taking your things means you will now leave the door unlocked so they can come back and take his, too.
posted by griphus at 4:46 AM on January 16, 2014 [16 favorites]

My partner works in a restaurant kitchen and so do many of our friends. There is virtually no wage difference between a journeyman/non-journeyman, except the folks who went to school have debt. The ones who make a good living work in institutions (hospitals, nursing homes) where they do not get to be the least bit creative. The ones who make really good money work offshore on the rigs, usually on a 3 week on/3 week off sort of schedule. And don't get me started on the hours. Long days, split shifts, kiss your evenings, weekends, and family dinners goodbye in many cases.

My partner turned 40 last year. Those people saying this is a young person's game are correct. Such work is unforgiving to the body.

I have a few friends who are published authors. Not a single one of them has a creative writing degree. I enjoy creative writing and cooking and would absolutely love to make a good living off either one. Fortunately, both are things I can work on and enjoy in my spare time while having a stable career that pays me much better. Going into debt for an education only works when there's a payoff at the end.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:38 AM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you can work with him to find a balance between your valid concerns and his valid desires.

What if he kept his job and took one class/semester that you paid for outright? This won't bind him to a degree program, will give him something he enjoys doing, but also won't let him cut the cord with work entirely.

It sounds to me, more than anything, that your husband wants something engaging in his life, and while for some lucky people, that is work, for those of us who are not so lucky, we need to find that engaging thing somewhere else.
posted by zizzle at 5:54 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing that going back to school and taking on a lot of debt while not working for a couple years in return for probable unemployment at the end does not sound like a very good idea.

There are lots of options to "I hate, hate, hate my horrible job." You guys can brainstorm other alternatives besides going back to school. Honestly, quitting and getting a job slinging burgers sounds a whole lot better than going back to school--but there's probably better options than that.
posted by mattu at 5:58 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree that your husband should find work that he doesn't hate. I also agree that going into debt for either culinary school or creative writing is NOT a good idea.

You two really need to sit down together and discuss an actual plan for how to help him into a job he doesn't hate (notice the incredibly low threashold here?)

Husbunny was an RN for ten years, he grew to LOATHE it. It was a great career on paper. He never was unemployed because he was a great nurse. Our phone would ring off the hook with job offers. The job stressed him out unbearably. He went from care plan assessment, to working in a nursing home to being an asthma nurse for an insurance company. He flat out could not stand the work.

Finally, we decided to sell our house and move to Atlanta so that he could attend an actuarial science program at Georgia State University. This was a serious financial discussion, and it had significant impact on our total financial plans, but getting him into a profession that he actually enjoyed was worth it.

I was the sole support of our family for 2 years. We lived in an apartment, I got a transfer with my job, and he went to school full time, with us paying out of pocket for his tuition. (I have never taken out a student loan, and I never want to.)

Now, prior to his being an RN, he completed a 4 year degree in mathematics, a 1 year post-grad fellowship in Germany in mathematics and ABD on a Ph.D. in mathematics. He didn't just pull this out of his ass.

After two years, (with a brief flirtation with a Ph.D. in Actuarial Science) he went to work as an Actuary. He enjoys the work, he makes decent money at it and he's not a ball of stress and depression any more.

My point is, we had a plan, and we sacrificed to make it happen. There was a foreseeable end-point and the return on investment would be worthwhile.

Let's be real. Does he acknowledge that a degree in Creative Writing, while totally fun to do, doesn't prepare him for a particular job? What exactly would be the point of getting that degree? Ditto culinary school. If he were truly passionate about cooking, he could get a job tomorrow as a line chef and start there, he doesn't need culinary school to work in a kitchen.

There's a difference between a logically thought out plan to move from one profession and another, and a pipedream. BUT, he needs to arrive at that conclusion for himself.

Rather than quitting his job, how about he enrolls in Community College and takes the core courses at night? Start with one course that sounds like fun, hell, enroll in a Creative Writing course. If he likes it, he can complete his AA at night, for very little money, without getting more debt and without threatening your current financial standing. Hell, Amtrak may pay for his tuition.

Don't shoot him down, but support him in something that makes sense. If he wants to get a degree, he can do it the same way I, and a bunch of other people have done it, in night school.

It may turn out that he HATES school, or doesn't have talent, or whatever, and you don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater to find it out.

Support him with good, common sense.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:10 AM on January 16, 2014 [12 favorites]

It sounds like you are beginning to enjoy a life that money brings, but your husband's unhappiness is about to shatter your happiness. You are not nervous - you are conflicted.

His job fuels your middle class dreams. You have to be careful about this - this is one of the reasons why cheap labor is so addictive - it gives the rest of us a quality of life built on someone else's back. But, he's your husband and both of you need happiness if the marriage is to prosper. Take a look at the idea of sacrifice, see how practically that's done within a relationship, and then have the conversation about supportiveness, loans, culinary careers, etc. and choose a path that gives both what's best. Good luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:50 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with leitmotif and others. Sit down with your husband and write down some scenarios. Set up spreadsheets. Figure out your likely money inflows and outflows in your best-case and worst-case for each scenario. You'll both need to do a little research in order to get these numbers.

This will do two things: it will give you a better picture of the consequences of a decision, which should demystify it and make it less scary, and it may suggest new options that you and he had not thought of before.
posted by adamrice at 7:22 AM on January 16, 2014

I have a creative writing degree and I routinely come into threads here to defend creative writing degrees against their many critics, but this is a situation where I think your husband should not do a creative writing degree. Even a fully funded MFA is going to offer "bare-bones grad student" type money, not "buy a house and have kids" kind of money.

What you might consider: "I know it's your dream to write but it's just not practical for you to quit your job and become an MFA student right now. But I will give you an hour a day, every day, where you're alone at your desk, no housework, no interruptions, and that is your inviolable writing time." I mean, don't get me wrong, that is a big sacrifice for you, I get that. But it's a way to give him a way to keep his dream alive without screwing yourselves financially.

And he might find -- a lot of people do -- that, given that hour a day, he doesn't really want to spend it writing. Better to learn that lesson the cheap way than the expensive way.
posted by escabeche at 7:23 AM on January 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

But we want to have a family and buy a home sometime soon... how can I be more supportive while making sure we can keep our heads above water financially?

If you both want to have a family and buy a house, then you need to sit down with him and show him the figures for each plus showing him the cost of going to school. That's step 1.

Step 2 is paying attention to the good info you have already received upthread about quitting a job to follow something that may or may not be what he wants when he starts working with the reality. He can find out about the reality of each profession by shadowing someone if they will allow him (working in the kitchen, etc.).

I have no experience with the culinary arts, but I have published hundreds of articles in multiple magazines and newspapers as well as having freelanced doing corporate writing for businesses and all three levels of government. I have also worked for 10 years as an administrator for my provincial writers organisation. I can tell you absolutely that going to school for a creative writing degree is absolutely not essential to work as a creative writer. It may satisfy a part of his soul, and that's wonderful--but in that case he can do it one course per semester on top of his day job.

If he is thinking he'd like to get that degree so he can write for publication (say, a book), please tell him that a degree is not necessary. Thousands of people with and without degrees write books each year. The competition to get these books published is astronomical and there is no assurance of success.

If he does manage to get a book published (and it can take years to do so) he will not make much money on it. 10--15% of the selling price is the usual amount for the author. The rest goes to the publisher, distributor, bookseller, etc. Yes, there are some authors who make a living by their writing . . . but they didn't just quit their day job, they worked up to it.

If he'd like to write for magazines, there is no requirement to have a creative writing degree, and he can simply submit queries after finding out the proper procedures by consulting any one of a multitude of books at the library on the subject (that's how I taught myself). Writing for magazines is also not very lucrative--depending on the magazine and the length of the article, you may get $50--$200.

Corporate work (annual reports, web site content, newsletters, etc.) is far more lucrative, but there is lots of competition.

Bottom line: a degree in creative writing is highly unlikely to lead to any paying job.

So I would say that Step 3 is helping him define whether he wants to do these things as a career or on the side. A huge does of realism is needed.

Sometimes the most supportive thing to do is to provide that dose of realism (gently, of course).
posted by Amy NM at 7:23 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your husband isn't happy with his job and the two of you should do something about that. But, and maybe I missed something, I'm not convinced that he has the passion for culinary arts and/or creative writing that he would need to be successful in those fields. I think a lot of people are like, uhh, I like writing and I need a degree, what if I get a degree in writing, I can get a degree in creative writing, I should get a degree in creative writing.

Writing, while perhaps not as punishing as working in a kitchen, is work. Writing (though not creative writing) is a big part of my job and while occasionally the words pour out of me like water from a fire hose, more often than not, it's a struggle. I stare at an open Word doc, hoping that the combination the force of will and power of staring will make words magically appear on a page. To date, this has not worked.

Does your husband actually like cooking? I get the impression that the culinary arts thing is more like, I am currently working in food service so a logical thing to do would be to do more with food. Maybe that is the logical thing but if you don't like it, being logical isn't going to make you like it.

Your husband put his goals on hold so you could get your degree so it would be fair to put your goals on hold for him, to an extent. If you want to have kids, there is a limited time in which that can happen that you both should recognize. But it sounds like he has a lot of working years left ahead of him so it's in both of your interests to make his work something he doesn't hate.

Is there any way that he could move up at his current job? Does he want to? If not, is there a lateral move he could make to a different company or organization where there would be room for advancement or better benefits so he could go to school? What does he do in his free time? Does he need a degree? If so, how can he get one that won't set you two back too much financially?

You describe yourself as having more of a brain for money and that's great but money people tend to be "no" people. Turn down (not off) the "no" part of your brain and have a few talks with your husband about what he wants and see how it goes.
posted by kat518 at 7:25 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

If he's in a union job, his hours are probably fairly reasonable, which means that high pay + good benefits + reasonable hours + not-terribly-intellectually-demanding job is EXACTLY THE RIGHT KIND OF JOB for him to either 1) launch a small-scale personal endeavor (food blogging, catering; personal chefs who come to people's houses and make fancy dinner parties are popular right now); 2) stage at a fancy restaurant in the evenings; 3) take a class or two at a time at a community college or a school that is welcoming to non-traditional students, including creative writing classes; 4) find a writing group in your area that meets monthly and join it. He probably also has reasonable vacation time and maybe he could take a week of vacation to go on a writing retreat. Encourage him to think of his job not as a prison that prevents him from following his passions, but as a safe launching pad from which to explore his creative passions without the risk and paralyzing terror of, you know, going hungry and without health care.

Right now these are escapist dreams -- I want to chuck it all and go back to school for something romantic and impractical. And you are rightly saying, "Your escapist dreams involve ruining OUR life." (And I expect that some of your stress and upset is that it feels like he's saying, "I don't like the life we've built together." Which isn't what he's saying, but I know how it can feel like that.)

Now, the good thing is that these do sound like escapist dreams, expressing his frustration with his work and (I expect) with his personal achievements not being what he'd hope. So, sympathize with the dreams and try to help him figure out what these dreams might look like as actual goals -- does he need more creative expression in his life? Does he want to earn a college degree? Does he want to look at changing careers in the longer term, maybe into some other kind of hospitality management job? Or does he actually want to just chuck it all and flee? If it's any of the first three, you guys can work on it. If it's the last one, you guys need to have serious discussions about your family, not about his work.

You should look at some local four-year colleges and see what their requirements are for literature degrees (or culinary arts/hospitality managements/whatever in that vein) and find out what classes you can transfer (you can call the admissions department for help with this). Then look at your nearest community college at their Gen Ed offerings. Usually you need about two years of generalized college classes and then two years of work in your major, and you can get those two years of Gen Ed classes at any community college. So, take a look at what that would entail, and show him, "Hey, here's what you'd need to do to get to your AA that you can then transfer to $LocalCollege, and we can totally afford two classes a semester, which is a very manageable workload while you're working. Or, I've highlighted a bunch of literature and writing classes if you just wanted to focus on your writing for a while without working towards a degree."

He needs to take some concrete steps towards whatever the goal is that this dream is expressing. If he knocks out his AA while working full-time and has a better idea of what he wants with a BA, then maybe it's reasonable for him to take off TWO years to go to school full time, and that's half the student loans AND he's already halfway to the goal and has showed he's serious about it. But yeah, I think the issue is that these are just escapist dreams and if he wants to actually pursue one of them, he needs to take some steps while still employed to show he's serious, committed, and this isn't just crazy-talk.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:25 AM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

I've been your husband in this situation before. Please do consider that it is "his turn" to find happiness in a career.

Once he has your emotional support on that issue he may start to consider more financially viable careers-- the "culinary school" could be the desperation talking. (Says the woman who seriously considered farming instead of software development.)
posted by travertina at 7:32 AM on January 16, 2014

My husband and I were in a sort of similar situation. He hated his job, which had once been his profession of love, and wanted to find a new love.

And without going in to all the nitty gritty details, I think the real problem my husband had, and this sounds like it might apply to your husband as well, is that he thought he should LOVE his job. He believed that you should be able to "follow your passion" and get paid for it. Thus he was constantly disappointed by different jobs, or he dismissed any job which didn't appeal to that excitement or sense of love.

I on the other hand I think, that for MOST people, a job is a way to earn money, and ideally it pays well, is not too stressful and is not too boring (or some balance of all of that). And that my passions and my loves get fulfilled in the rest of my life.

It's a hard shift because I know my generation (x I guess) was sold the "follow your passion" and it'll pay the bills fairy tale HARD. But I think that's a story that has done us a huge disservice.

So in brief, figure out how to pay the bills and then follow your passion in your free time.

And another though, is there any possibility can he work a reduced schedule at work? Thus keeping his safety net and much of the money/benefits but freeing up a little more time for him to pursue his hobbies? He does seem like he deserves a big break/party/shopping spree(fancy kitchen equipment? cheaper than student loans!) something as a thank you/yay/whatever for being so supportive of you.
posted by pennypiper at 8:51 AM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks so much for all the ideas and advice. For those who are advising he keep his current job and work part time or go to school at night or part time, my husband's schedule is a 3 days on 2 days off sort of schedule where attending a class in person would be impossible. Online courses might work if they don't have a scheduled online meeting component. I think he realizes that a creative writing degree is not going to lead to a job so his current hopes are pointing more towards the culinary track. Thanks again for the reality check about culinary work. I'll probably pass this thread on to him so that he can read it.

For those people who are saying I got my cake now I should let him get his too; I think I was hopelessly naive about what getting a master's degree would get me. Hindsight being 20/20 I don't think I would suggest going 50K in debt for a degree that only guarantees 40-50K a year in earning potential. I would love for my husband to be able to go back to school for the pure love of learning but unfortunately, that is not the world we live in.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:12 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm jumping in to add a perspective from someone who worked in food/catering on and off for many years. In fact, I worked full time in prep/line cook/catering for most of my 20s while putting off adulthood. I loved it!! I loved the clique, the insider culture, the food, the hustle, the kitchen prep and the "rehashing the night" chat at the bar after service. It's intoxicating, fun, and also poorly paid, dangerous ( I cut the very tip of my thumb off one day while prepping, slipped on a wet floor and dislocated my shoulder, etc, etc,) It's also unbelievably awful to work in a summer kitchen. Kitchens are NOT air conditioned, as all the $$$ would go up the vent hood. The kitchen temp was routinely 100, and we were literally slaving over hot stoves.

However, the aforementioned camraderie, creativity, hustle, insider status kept me in the life for about 10 years, till I was nearly 30. I had to decide what the hell to do with my adulthood. I was living week to week. Unless you are in corporate catering or are in an ownership position (also iffy, as most restaurants fail), or possibly a server at an expensive restaurant, the money is awful. I had insurance only because my parents chipped in and l lived in a tiny, tiny apartment. I had no savings and fortunately no debt. Kitchen prep work generally pays very poorly, and unless you're in a corporate kitchen there are NO benefits. I'm talking $10.00 an hour. No sick time, no vacation time, no FMLA. There is literally NO WAY an investment in a culinary degree, unless it is from CIA or Johnson & Wales, would ever pay back the investment. With degrees from either of those places, he might get a corporate position -- see notes above about corporate jobs. I didn't want to do that, didn't want to own a restaurant, didn't want to work at a Marriott. I left restaurant kitchens.

I would not underestimate the safety net of the Union benefits and regular salary your husband currently receives, and a realistic look at culinary careers is an important step he and you should take. Talk to a few restaurant workers, ask for an informational interview with a chef at a corporate culinary facility, like a hotel. What is their opinion of culinary schools in your area? Listen to their advice and mull it all over. I still cook, and occasionally still cater, out of my home. At the fork in the road of my 30th birthday, I chose nursing school. There's still an insider culture, an "in the weeds" excitement from time to time - more when I was in a trauma ICU - still creativity to be found. But I have a retirement plan, a good salary, good insurance, and the security to spend my downtime getting creative in the kitchen.
posted by citygirl at 9:13 AM on January 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

I don't know much about the culinary arts, although I've heard horror stories. I do know about writing for a living, though, and I do want talk about that.

"Creative writing" is not really a career. True, there are careers - in publishing, journalism, PR/communications, some segments of education or academia - that involve writing skills. These jobs are usually quite difficult to get and not terribly well-paid. They also don't involve much "creative writing" in the sense that we normally think of it, unless you're writing profiles for The New Yorker or you're Andrew Sullivan or something. That's not really a career option, either.

Most writing-related fields operate more like any other job - you're utilizing your skill (writing) in a way that pays the bills. It's like how people who are good at numbers can become accountants, although the pay isn't usually as high. It can be intellectually engaging, but it's not glamorous or any more fulfilling than any other professional job.

Making a living from writing creatively is something that happens to some people through talent, persistence, and a whole lot of luck. It isn't a viable career choice, and having a creative writing degree doesn't seem to have anything to do with it at all.

If your husband wants to write creatively, he should start a blog, set aside time every day to practice his craft, and eventually submit pieces to literary magazines and websites. He should keep his job, and not expect to make very much money though writing.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:47 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

So he stayed at a job he hates in order to support you while you went to school to get the job you wanted? I think it's your turn to be his support.
posted by prefpara at 9:47 AM on January 16, 2014

3 days on 2 days off sort of schedule where attending a class in person would be impossible.

I think you should look at this again.

If he has 2 days off, he may be able to take a course that meets once/week. Many colleges and universities will have 3 hour sections once/week. I'd really consider looking fully into available options at all the schools near you before I'd say this wasn't possible. I have one student who has taken one course every semester, including summer sessions, for a decade to complete her bachelor's degree. She is finally about to complete it this summer. Every course she took was a 3 hour course that met once/week, with the exception of the shortened summer sessions that met for 3 hours 2x/week.

So, it really could be possible for him to find one class to take......
posted by zizzle at 10:46 AM on January 16, 2014

If he has 2 days off, he may be able to take a course that meets once/week.

Hi there! Former Amtrak employee. 3 days on 2 days off means that his days off are different every week. One week will be Sat/Sun then Thurs/Fri off. The next will be only Tue/Wed. That makes it very difficult to attend scheduled classes.
posted by jezemars at 11:35 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe you need to give him some set space and time to follow his passions (creative writing and culinary arts) and really help him in setting up that space and time so that he doesn't have to deal with anything else.

I'm a money brained financially risk adverse person and I have no-school needed interests that I would like to parlay into a job. Every time I think about spending dough for a class i realize it's not really because that's the only way I think I could learn something, but it's a way to legitimize progress, make it more important than some other things (sorry, can't do laundry tonight, need to go to class), and gives a dedicated space and time to the thing that i really have a lot of difficulty finding other ways in my stupidly jam packed like (which is so because of my stupid job).
posted by WeekendJen at 11:38 AM on January 16, 2014

People who are warning you about culinary school are right. There are other paths into that industry, though he will have a hard time with his age. An example is a friend of mine who is a bit older. She taught herself out of cookbooks and videos and became quite good. She started a supper club out of her home and it became pretty successful. She quit her mediocre day job. She was offered a pretty good sous position, but when she started that, she quite within days because of the hours and working conditions, which were pretty standard for the industry. She still runs the supper club and makes extra cash with that, though it's a grey area legally. At least she isn't in debt.

I also know some very successful chefs and few of them have culinary degrees. The one I know who does came from a very rich family who paid for her degree. The rest started low and worked their way up in the kitchen from dishwasher/prep cook to full chef or sous.
posted by melissam at 11:56 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just want to offer another perspective. For many people, there is no faster way to kill their hobby or passion than to turn it into their career. Of the chefs I know, none of them cook at home for fun or any other reason, anymore. The professional writers I know (mostly in advertising) have generally had the joy of the job sucked out them because the reality is, the business side of it takes over and it becomes less and less creative and so many compromises happen to the work that your project ends up being a nightmare. Then there are the hours - there is literally no time for a life at all. Which sucks if you're not enjoying your work but it's all you do.

I guess my point is often you are far better off having a fairly mundane day to day job with decent hours that lets your pursue your hobby in your spare time. I'm not saying he can't find great joy in a career as a chef but with a massive debt to take on to achieve it and at the sacrifice of potential family life, it would be a shame to go through that just to find it's not for him. Can he find a job like that initially at least and allow more time for cooking or writing as a hobby?
posted by Jubey at 5:23 PM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I had a friend who was a chef. He literally fell asleep constantly every time he went to a social gathering. Right before he and his future wife moved out of town, he quit his job a few weeks before the move. At the goodbye dinner, it was shocking to see him literally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed because for once he had enough sleep. I hear he owns his own restaurant now and has a kid, I can only hope that since he owns the place, maybe he doesn't have to never, ever be home any more. This would not be a plan to recommend to anyone who wants a family in the next few years.

I think your husband needs to look for a better "settle for" job rather than one of these. None of this stuff is likely to support a living wage, as everyone else has mentioned. He needs to find a compromise career that works with his level of education or whatever the heck it is that prevents him from doing better. Or get some kind of actual four year degree to boost his chances in other jobs. But culinary school or a writing degree don't do anything.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:50 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

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