Putting on Your Big Girl Pants

I have a friend. She is very intelligent, generous and a person who strives to do what’s right. We’ve always had much fun together. She accepts my quirks and I appreciate that dearly. Because Lord knows I got some quirky phobias.

But this friend is also not very smart when it comes to life. The hard, hateful, bad things happen to good people, while white collar crooks slide around effortlessly in the pan of life like eggs on Teflon.

This friend is single, no children and is late 30s. Like me she has been chronically unemployed or underemployed. Unlike me who was mostly unemployed from layoffs, she has quit more jobs than she was laid off from (At least in the years I’ve known her). Get ready, because this is a judgmental post.

So we’re talking and she describes a few incidents from the most recent job she quit–a nanny position. From descriptions from other friends who’ve held that job, too, I know as one military branch puts it, “it’s not a job, it’s an adventure.” She was fired from her previous nanny job 6 months ago. Without all the details, let’s just say, I wouldn’t blame a person for quitting that gig. Where my friend and I differ is that I’d have kept that job until I had next gig already in hand. Even if that required a couple more days or weeks of a completely disrespectful kid, and totally weak and clueless parents. Because if your unemployment check is cut-off (due to political power struggles) and you’re already working only part-time, well you still HAVE BILLS TO PAY.

Luckily, her temp agency actually finds her a permanent job and she gets it! Office Manager job. She doesn’t take it.

She can’t afford her apartment, can’t move to a smaller one, has bills and turns it down because it pays less than what she made at her last full-time job 2 or 3 years ago. The salary is closer to what she was after graduating from college. Let me pause her story to relate my own, just to give you the foundation of my judgmentalness. It’s kinda long.

At 30, defeated from layoffs, failed romances, and the high cost of Hotlanta living, I chose to save myself by moving back to my parent’s home after almost 13 years away from it. Independent woman moving back to a small town with few marriageable men. I sucked it up and thankfully my parents opened the door. Years later, back in a mid-sized city, continuing to rebuild, but still on shaky financial footing, I get laid off again.

After 3 months of chillin’ (and not taking the COBRA), because I have two degrees, I’m smart and I’ll get a great job no problemo. Then I discovered upon my first visit to the unemployment office, that the job market was real tight as I was competing with a boatload of unemployed IT types for plain ole service industry jobs. Suddenly, I realized I had to get off cloud nine and get real. I took a part-time job at Victoria’s Secret, collected my unemployment and unsuccessfully hunted for a full-time, good-paying w/benefits, permanent gig. Yes, I have a Master’s degree. But I had bills to pay. I finally got several office temp jobs. And yes, they paid probably about the same amount I made coming out of grad school. And offered benefits I could not afford to take advantage of. But I had bills to pay.

Finally I took the job I have now. A $10,000 pay cut from my last full-time job. A move that took my fragile finances and tanked them. I was now no longer in that coveted A++ credit score group, not even the middling group. I was the bottom of the barrel that us Americans love to look down on. Only I still looked and had the credentials of a solid middle-class citizen.

I sucked it up, went to financial counseling and cried as the planner both helped me and gave me a good dose of reality medicine. It’s hard to hear that you’re not entitled to a great life because you view yourself as middle class, was born into a good family and are highly educated. Hard to hear that you’re living beyond your means when you believe you have cut expenses to the bone just because you shut off cable and stopped drinking Starbucks.

That financial planner got me a part-time job. For a while I worked 7 days a week. But I was able to cover my expenses even if it was only making minimum payments on some. I was exhausted, my job performance wasn’t the best, but I was not asking friends to live with them or trying to game the system. I was doing what adults do, what black and darker latino people (don’t act like you don’t know) have done for generations. Work hard, unlikeable, thankless jobs to feed themselves and their families. At least I was in an office environment. I didn’t have to take truly thankless jobs like house cleaning or serving as unpaid labor in the fields. For 5 years, I worked two jobs and dabbled with various side gigs like cake baking and writing. Until finally I had enough income from one job to continue to chip away and finally eliminate my debt. It meant saying no a lot to trips, lunches, nights out, shopping and all the things we ladies love. It meant seeing family and friends less and not giving extravagant gifts. It meant riding out the wave at my primary job when things got VERY rocky and I thought it was time to bail. It meant people who judged me because I hit a financial rock bottom and them not understanding there but for the grace of God. It meant tears, buckets of tears and many whiny, selfish why me moments.

As an added bonus, each of those “until I’m back in my career” jobs I took allowed me to meet people who either became friends and/or connections that led me to other resources to help me a variety of areas in my life even now.

My friend is spoiled and irresponsible. She would rather feel as if her friends should give her a place to stay, while she continues to jet off for extended west coast trips. She won’t consider moving in with her parents even temporarily despite the fact that desperate times call for unpleasant measures. Yes, many jobs suck and not earning what you’re worth, well that sucks, too. But when you become an adult sometimes you have to do the hard things to survive.

I hated every minute of that rough journey. I’m sure I learned some lessons that I needed to learn. But honestly, I’d rather have had an easier time like the wealthy Teflon folks or the brats that can’t see how blessed they are to have the jobs they have right out of college. Who’ve never had to scrap it out on that level or feel that desperation. To really have to decide when you need to eat and keep a roof, am I going to keep my morals and ethics, or be criminal like other folks to go after the fast, illegal money because it’s easier.

While I shared some of this with her, I mostly listened to my friend. I wonder now if I did her a disservice. Because I didn’t tell her what I maybe should have.

There just comes a time when you have to put on your big girl pants.

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