Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Posted: September 25, 2013 in Guest Voices
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Mid-Week musings on Mid Life

(I occasionally run stories from friends in similar situations as mine. Here’s one of them.)

Yellow Brick Road artAh, the Great Recession. First it took my industry, then my house, then my savings. But I’ve come out of it all OK. Not exactly financially sound, but OK. Not exactly working in my industry, but working. Not in my own house, but I have a nice place to live.

Let me back up.

I got out of college in 1992 with an utterly useless English degree and a wind-swept plain where my career aspirations should have been. I. Had. No. Idea. So I worked retail for a couple years, then had a couple of traditionally terrible publishing and editorial jobs, then decided to go back to grad school and get a journalism degree (foreshadowing, dear reader).

After grad school I got my first job (at a mediocre paper) then a great job (at a major metro daily). I was in heaven. I worked there for a year before the freelance offers started coming and I thought, “Hey, why not?” So I left my job and went full-time freelance. Honestly, it was pretty great. I had benefits through my husband’s job, I had time to be an adjunct at my alma mater, and the freelance work was interesting and plentiful.

Fast forward a few years and throw in a baby, a cross-country move and a divorce. My husband and I split during the height of the real estate bubble, which was a good thing, because after we sold the family home I walked away with a down payment for my next house for me and my daughter. Then the bubble burst. That 20% down payment nest egg? Gone. When predictions said it would be 20 years before I’d get even my down payment back, I decided to take the credit hit and do a short sale.

My house sold for about a third of what I paid for it.


At the same time freelance work was drying up or, at best, paying a mere fraction of what it had. The newspaper industry was crashing, and my job was being outsourced to India. I went to the “Dark Side” and got a job in corporate communications, which at least paid the bills and provided benefits.

Even with those setbacks, I figured I’d eventually recoup my financial losses and someday be back where I started, if not better off.

I was wrong.

Now, three years later, I’m extremely grateful just to be employed. But my job is a job, not a passion. I live in an amazing home that’s not mine (I rent) and I don’t expect to own a house for at least another decade, if ever. I have $500 in savings and a nonexistent college fund for my 11-year-old.

My industry has essentially disappeared, and I’m at a point of not knowing what the next step will be. I’m staring down the barrel of middle age and I really want to do something I enjoy, even if I have to take a pay cut to do it. But I also have a family to support. And after seeing many of my loved ones (including my partner) lose (multiple) jobs, I’m getting quite the wedgie riding the fence between being grateful to have a job and shriveling a little bit every time I step off the elevator into the office every morning.

What’s kept me sane? Buddhism. No, I’m not a Buddhist, but I have found that I really did need to let go of expectations, which I believe is an underlying principle of Buddhism.

While I never consciously thought, “I will have it all!” I’m realizing now that I kind of expected to have it all. Not only that, but I felt I was entitled to it. Not very pretty.

So, what has the failed economy done for me? It beat me down a little, sure, but it also forced me to make hard choices that distilled what was really important to me.

I no longer expect to “have it all.” I expect to have some, however. The old me would have thought that to not want it all was somehow showing a lack of confidence. I was supposed to shake life by the scruff of the neck until it coughed up what I wanted. But the new me understands that, first, having it all is a pipe dream and, second, I survived my reversal of fortune (the short sale and my relationship nightmares) and I’m still here. I’m OK. I am in a very satisfying relationship. My friendships have deepened and become far more honest. We have food on the table and my daughter has people who love her, a safe home and school and a bright future. My job pays the bills if it doesn’t make my soul sing, and I can wait it out.

I think this new-found patience is a function of Recession Roulette and experience. I’m willing to let things ride. I’m willing to say no. I’m also willing to say yes. I’m willing to have my mind changed. I’m not holding a gun to the head of my future and saying, “My way or else,” because I know that any illusion of control is just that, an illusion. And really, if everything had happened the way I envisioned it as a 24-year-old, I might be smug and satisfied. But the white-knuckle moments have made me a better person, aware that the adventures around the corner will definitely be scary, but they will also bring unexpected delights and broaden my horizon in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

(to be continued…)


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