I was a high school student, studying full-time and working forty hours per week, waiting tables at a fancy five-star resort, living off my tips and saving my paychecks. I pursued and landed my first job as soon as I turned fourteen, making arrangements with a family friend, Mary Alice Kelly, to drive me back and forth to work at the Nottawasaga Inn as a bus kid, then a banquet server and then, as the gift shop clerk, working seven days per week.
For me, doing homework at 9:30 at night was no big deal. By that time, the house was quiet. There were no fights going on those quiet nights, and I could spread out on the kitchen table and get it all done, or hunch over my shiny new Apple IIe and dot matrix printer, writing essays for myself, writing reports and essays for other students (it paid), and writing one or more poems per day. I printed them off and folded them, tucking them in a shoe box under my bed, where critical eyes (and lips) could not find them. Being a writer it seemed in our house was another indication that I was unexceptional. An artistic flake. Some fat girl with no talent.
By the time I got to University, my parents had figuratively washed their hands of responsibility for me. Despite promises that my education would be supported by them, neither one was vested in helping at all. In addition, my Dad was unwilling to ‘sign off’ on me for tax purposes as a dependent. It brought him perhaps an extra $1,000 at tax time, but for me, it meant that I didn’t qualify for student loans or OSAP. Despite the fact that I was very self sufficient, having paid for my own car, repairs, gas etc., since the age of sixteen.
Working two full-time jobs was born of necessity for me. I WAS going to go to University and College. While my friends enjoyed their college experience with both student loans and the support of both parents, I found myself working at least two jobs to get by, with part-time hours folding jeans at Levi’s, coffee shops, etc. One time when I had no food and no money in Sudbury, I skipped class for three days to take a contract position to separate newspaper flyers on a skid. I made $200, and spent the weekend catching up on homework. But I had groceries.
After I left University, unable to continue to afford tuition and books and (for all intents and purposes support myself), I headed into the work world with a three-year diploma in marketing, and three years of University under my belt. My intention was of course to go back and finish my BAS in Marketing, and pursue a Masters Degree. By the time the funds were actually there to do that (in my first marriage), the ten year window had passed, and my credits were non transferable. I was gutted, but assured by my husband that, with his very successful job at IBM Canada, I had enough education to “play marketing executive”, and eventually, I would go back to school. After we had children. Neither one of those things happened, but I continued to advance through hard work, volunteering and strategic roles that enhanced my event management, marketing communications and brand management portfolio. After all, if Steve Jobs and Stephen King made it without formally graduating from University, I could too with perseverance. I was a talented writer, a solid organizational kind of person, and people enjoyed working with me.
When I divorced, my budget for transportation and groceries (after the high cost of rent) was less than $250 per month. Working at the College of Pharmacists, you could often get a free catered lunch virtually every day of the week (given events) and sometimes, that was my best meal of the day. I had coffee for breakfast, lunch at work, and then soup or rice for dinner. I ate pretty clean for someone on no budget, and munched on carrots and watermelon a lot because they were cheap.
From that budget, and thanks to befriending one particular person who nudged me into freelance work, I pursued writing contracts on the side. Soon, I was making an extra $250 per month and real food revisited my 375 square foot fourth floor apartment. When my writing and freelance work began to earn me $700 per month, I continued to live small, and started to chip away at the debt I had been gifted from my first marriage. It was about $27,000 of debt, which is gargantuan when you are making about $35,000 per year. At 29% I didn’t make much progress, despite all efforts.
The best thing for me would have been to stay in Toronto, without a car, and riding the subway to and from work and growing my business. The calamity of my mother’s financial and marital affairs hit me at a very low time in my life. I was lonely, heartbroken, beat up and feeling more than a little lost. I moved from my quiet life where I was making a “little” progress to the country, and out of the frying pan/into the fire of my mother’s substantial financial and relationship problems. It was my bad. I was craving the love of a parent and the feeling of safety; even a return to my roots and fresh start. What I got was negativity, violence, bitterness, lying, and hell.
From 2010 to … 2015 I guess, I rocked a day-job and my small subcontracting business. The years 2013 and 2014 were impressive income wise, and 2015 (while elevated by day work from January through June) my income was very successful. In that period, I used the extra money to pay off things and get ahead, and we got established in a home, paying cash for new (but modest) furnishings and things we needed. In January of 2015 I realized that I had all the money we needed, and no time to spend it. Our kids were lamenting the fact that I was “always working”. My husband Kevin, while very supportive of my business, was missing his wife. How can you have a relationship with someone who is locked in her office for 17 hours per day? We bickered and then one day, unexpectedly, I was let go from a small business in Sherman (who decided they could hire three locals for what they were paying Toronto girl) and I was home, rebuilding my business and contract clients.
I felt like a failure. But my husband was elated at my new schedule, and we pulled together financially and cooperatively, and with some hard work, it just… worked. At less than half of what I was making only months earlier. And the kids were happier. The dogs were happier. The house was spotless and the laundry wasn’t piling up. I was taking writing breaks and throwing the ball to my dog Dante in the back yard. I was doing my grocery shopping on Tuesday mornings, when the place was stocked and empty. And lately… I’ve started going to the gym again.
Not two jobs… just one business, within the confines of new boundaries set for life balance.
I have ambitions to grow my business, and there are times when deadlines overlap and I will put in many late nights to deliver content on time to clients. But that is how any small business owner rolls, and it’s not abnormal. But this u-turn … I sleep better. I eat better. I exercise more. I am a more cheerful and positive person, now that I am not running myself into the ground, giving my spouse and family the dregs of what is left over after my pursuit of dollar signs.
Can you have less, and have more?
About 3-4 times per month, a recruiter will contact me about a Marketing Manager or Director of Marketing role near Dallas. The salary is definitely much more than I am making right now, and I feel a pang of guilt. Am I living into my potential, right this moment, by not rocking the day job and working 30+ hours per week as a part-time evening/weekend consultant? Am I being responsible to my husband, because yes, that money would definitely escalate our plans and schedule. It would buy fancier things, and get us to Disneyland with the kids sooner too.
But who I am when I work two full time jobs is money rich, and spirit poor. My health tanks (and I am ambivalent about that when I am over worked). My mood changes. My outlook on life changes, and I become detached from everything that I am (supposedly) working so hard to support. A life. A marriage. Parenthood. Pets. Fulfillment and meaning in my life.
I do know what it feels like to earn more than $100,000 per year. I did it for a few years at a cost. Scaling up my business is still something that drives me, but not at the expense of being grounded in a life that means something to me.
When I am dead, I want my life to have been filled with more than decimal points. I embrace the wonderful, talented, beautiful artistic soul within my body and honor it now. No, everyone cannot do what I do… that’s my gift from God, and it is mine to use to it’s full potential IN BALANCE with the wants and needs of the heart and soul inside me.
There are many days when I wake up and think… “I wish I still made what I made last year,” and I am proud and supportive of those I know who are banking it. But when I tell them that I take writing breaks in my garden, or throw the ball to my dog, or that I can compose content on my iPad on my covered porch, listening to Robins and Blue Jay’s and Cardinal’s singing, I see something glimmer in their eyes too. It’s not dollar signs… it’s regret.
That’s not to say that I will run my business forever. The job proposals are always tempting (providing I want to drive four hours per day … which doesn’t work). Sometimes I miss the money, but I am working on fixing that, and growing steadily every month with new business contacts. But I don’t miss the life of exhaustion, detachment, making big priority relationships lower priorities with less available time, and sadness.
My husband is convinced that in this journey, I will finally sit down and crank out a best seller. There are a few of them in my head, and children’s books too. I trust the path and the process of being a writer, and designing a life that I love. For me, that doesn’t involve the “rat race” anymore. It involves following my passion, believing in my small business, and embracing my new life and all the love in it, with an open heart and mind.
Decimal points and zero’s on your pay stub are only one way to measure success. For this small writer, they are no substitute for a walk in the park with my children and dogs, or a few hours of quiet fishing with my husband. That stuff you see, is priceless.