Sunday, January 12, 2020

"What do you do?" and the Need to be Useful

Since I have physical and mental health limitations I can't be traditionally employed, and I spend most of my time at home. This has challenged my sense of self-worth and left me wondering whether I am a useful, contributing member of society. Being dependent on others is challenging and at times demoralizing.

Some would say I shouldn't measure my self-worth based on these kinds of things, but it's difficult not to, and I feel like I need to find ways to support myself and contribute to others' well-being.

One of the ways I have done that is by working on Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). Unfortunately it is very difficult to earn any substantial amount of money on MTurk—I earn well below minimum wage—and it keeps me tied to my computer all day on most days, making it even harder for me to contribute in other ways.

That said, MTurk is almost the only way I've found to earn money while working around my other daily needs, so in many ways I feel fortunate that MTurk is available to me; it has allowed me to contribute financially the household in minor ways, and enabled me to pay some of my own expenses.

Unfortunately it can be very uncomfortable to answer the question, "What do you do?" because MTurk is far from prestigious work, and I have to explain the whole system every time someone new asks that question. Sometimes I gloss over the fact that I earn so little, but that's not always possible, especially when I'm asked how much I make on MTurk. I know most people are just interested and curious, but a part of me dreads having to answer these questions, especially in social situations that are already difficult for me due to my social anxiety.

I have tried contributing to technical support forums online, such as the Stack Exchange network, and I enjoy contributing minor things to open source projects, such as Vim, but there's a limit to what I can contribute, because I am unfortunately not an expert at anything. I also help moderate a few small subreddits. These are small but sometimes significant accomplishments for me, but they don't lead to rewards beyond the intangible.

I am trying to learn to notice my successes more, and not dwell on my limitations and failures as much. It's a difficult skill to develop.

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