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05. the price of freedom

It is almost midnight, where did the day go? There is so much I still want to do!

My productive pause and I have tried to give my days some structure by utilizing my digital calendar. No seriously, I have a full 8 hours planned for myself tomorrow as well, it looks a bit like:

7:45am – wake up, brush teeth
8:00am – try to finish unemployment benefits claim over the phone
8:30am – be okay with failure, make some tea
9:00am – Exercise
9:45am – shower, get ready for day
10:00am – Coursera classes
12:15pm – FaceTime call with friend
1:15pm – Break fast
2:00pm – National Theatre live stream
4:30pm – Yoga
5:15pm – Blog post
6:00pm – Make dinner
7:00pm – Dinner date via Facetime with friends
9:00pm – Duolingo
10:00pm – sleep

This is a full day of doing exactly what I want to do. Okay being in quarantine limits this list a bit, I would really like to be in Hawaii right now too.

This week, I have slowly started to let my family and friends know that I no longer have a job. They have been supportive. They ask me if I am okay.

I have to laugh at that. It is a normal question to ask, and for many, losing a job is like losing an identity, losing a purpose, losing something. Change always feels like a loss, because it is. It is a loss of the familiar. Work is familiar for many people.

“Change always feels like a loss, because it is.
It is a loss of the familiar.”

For years I struggled with work. It was always an exchange of my time (and a willingness to do whatever someone asked) for money. Refill water pitchers at a maternity ward for expectant mothers? Okay. Watch children half my age for a few hours after school? Alright. Create flyers for an open house? Yes, ma’am. Sit at a desk and do “research”? Sure. Create fancy power point presentations, reply to emails, create an excel model or something? Will do.

And there is always someone to answer to. Over time I realized there is the concept of the boss and of the manager. The Boss is someone who is in charge with a sense of finality. Don’t upset the Boss, he or she pays you and therefore also has the power to not pay you. A manager on the other hand is the noun of a verb – to manage. A manager is thus the person responsible for managing, what exactly? People. I think they were originally called people managers and then because it was supposed to be obvious, we somehow shortened it to manager (Disclaimer: I make shit up sometimes, so do your own due diligence for that one, but it sounds reasonable to me!) They’re supposed to tell us what to do.

One day in my corporate career, I looked over at my manager and a realization dawned on me. He may be a few years older, with more work experience and knowledge, and a fancy MBA – but he was just another employee like me. Just another W4 on the company’s payroll, collecting a biweekly paycheck. That despite his nice suit and fancy shoes, he and I get paid by the same person – the company. And the company was public, so it was owned by many, many people. People just like my manager and I. That realization humbled me.

“Just another W4 on the company’s payroll, collecting a biweekly paycheck.”

The realization made me cocky and still I was extremely insecure. I knew that public companies don’t just fire people, and they definitely don’t let go of inexpensive labor (which is what I was) and especially not if that inexpensive labor was good at her job, and definitely not, if that inexpensive labor was underpaid (I was a shit negotiator and still am) and better than average at getting the job done (still am!) But being young and having busted my butt in school and college to finally get a decent job to be an adult – I was terrified by the idea that I could be throttled back into adolescence with the fell swoop of losing a job.

A job meant the ability to take care of yourself, with money and employer-sponsored benefits. A job meant you were self-sufficient.

This short time of being unemployed has taught me that is a lie. A job doesn’t make you self-sufficient. YOU determine if you are self-sufficient. A job can be a pacifier if you suckle it like a baby. Or another metaphor, a job is like the security blanket for adults – you bring it around with you everywhere you go, even when it starts to smell and needs a washing, but you are insecure without it so you cling on… until you get a new one, and then replace it with another one, and another one. Never stopping to think about the utility of that blanket and whether or not it is the right fit for your life stage.

“You write your own permissions slips for life,
no one else is going to do that for you.”

Self-sufficiency comes when you accept the responsibility for yourself. Self-sufficiency is when you decide that you are the Boss. You write your own permission slips for life, no one else is going to do that for you. The greatest truth I’ve learned is that I have all the resources I need – now. Self-sufficiency is built off that confidence that I will be okay. I will figure it out.

I haven’t quite figured out my response to my family and friends who ask me how I feel about not having a job anymore. What I say has throttled between I am grateful to be okay with savings and I am excited for what I get to do with my time now.

“I have all the resources I need – now.”

At first I thought I might double down on my efforts to get another job as quickly as possible. Wouldn’t that be impressive? Any job that paid me six figures so that I could continue being on a payroll to carry on my lifestyle and savings goals. I wanted to save as much money as possible now so I could take a break later. Then I thought, wait, what if I just took this break now? This unexpected interruption that was here, now.

We bemoan being slaves to our jobs, and yet we fear to be without one. There was a saying amongst sociology students: the only worse thing than being exploited by the market, is not being exploited by the market.

So many of us wonder what is the price of freedom. We think it is more money, more affluence, more title or prestige or accomplishments. We strive for more and more. We look to climb the mountain with the dream that one day we might be able to finally reach the pinnacle, with the hope we can magically spread our wings for lift off and flight amongst the vast sky – unobstructed and free. Yet so many of us have forgotten how to fly.

We walk by spring in bloom with our heads in our thoughts, wishing we had a moment to smell the roses. The opportunity for freedom is all around us if we would but stop to notice it.

For the three million people who are filing for unemployment benefits, my hope is that along with the anxiety about rent payments, coronavirus, and what-do-i-do-now, they might also be excited about the open horizon before them. We don’t have to wait for the pinnacle to practice spreading our wings.

What does freedom mean for you? What would you give for that freedom?

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