It’s been almost 2 years since I gave up paid work. Two years since I drew a monthly salary, albeit a modest one. I knew at the time I had enough tucked away in savings to fund a two year sabbatical if I was careful with my finances and fundamentally changed some of my financial bad habits. Now I’ve come to the end of that period, I’m rather strangely in the position where I actually have enough left to cover a further 2 years, should that be necessary. However, there do have to be further cutbacks.
It’s rather strange, this month, to find myself actively looking for paid work. It’s showing me how much my priorities have shifted since I decided to put family and mental wellbeing first. Firstly, I am fortunate not to have to work full time – I can only thank my naturally workaholic Husband Underfoot for giving my that grace and support.
Secondly, what I do matters. It always did, but there was an element of feeling trapped in a well paid cage with sharp bars by the time I left my last role. After the first year of dithering around trying to pull my head together, I spent the second year in a more constructive if not productive manner. Year 1 was so coated in emotion that I was doomed to fail to achieve any of the stupidly lofty goals I’d set myself, year 2 was the realism year. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my volunteer role as a researcher at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil on the impact of World War 1 on my hometown. I’m now taking that forward as a volunteer copywriter on an ebook they are pulling together.
This was an unforeseen change of direction. I’ve always thought of myself as a fiction writer, when the truth is, I am a writer. Full stop. I have to thank other people for helping me see this, the excellent editor in chief Simon at Den of Geek being foremost amongst them. Since November he has published 3 of my articles – modest to some perhaps, but I’d never considered myself an article writer and these fledgling footsteps have helped to boost my confidence in my own voice. The comments and support on those articles (pretty personal, in the main) has been invaluable.
Apologies, I’m veering off topic as I have a tendency to do. Let’s just say I’m not really making much in income. What I’m gaining in experience is priceless. I have copy filing deadlines on the WW1 project. I have to summarise large pieces of research down to 250 easily digested words for broad audiences. What I’m gaining is professional feedback and a potential loop back into education that I hadn’t anticipated.
So I’m cash poor. I’m pretty life rich – in a personal sense. I struggle sometimes with the things outside of my control (most notably the health issues of those closest to me) – but I can’t do anything about that and I was building a prison of anxiety around myself by constant worry. However, today I can step out of my front door and walk down to the sea. I can walk into my small town and visit my excellent library. I can get on public transport and visit the Lit & Phil, or one of the excellent free museums in Newcastle.
I can just stop, and appreciate everything that I have.
I don’t have a new car, an endless bank balance, a show home, frequent holidays, or an endless supply of new clothes. I don’t need them (though a comfortable yet stylish pair of boots has become a wardrobe essential!). One thing I do miss is a paid up travel card but I just can’t justify the cost.
I do have a wonderful family, brilliant friends, a small but supportive network of creative people. I’m reasonably healthy. My legs work just fine and propel me to where I want to be most days. I bank my small change once a month and treat myself to coffee and cake, rather than assuming I’m entitled to it daily like I used to.
I have total creative freedom in my fiction writing. It’s early going, but this year something has taken flight. I have to thank my writing retreat tutors for telling me to stop overthinking and people pleasing, and to just follow the joy. My joy.
My financial poverty is relative. I can’t afford financial luxuries that I once took for granted – the latte twice a day, insanely expensive branded alternative clothes and boots that I wear perhaps 4 times a year, insatiable book buying (thank you local libraries, for being so good), my strange infatuation with beautiful stationery. All those moleskine notebooks I bought are finally being used for the purpose they were created. I can’t buy expensive presents for those in my life anymore – the flip side being I put much more thought into what I do spend my much smaller coin on.
I am so bloody lucky. I may find a job tomorrow, next week, next month. It may not happen for a year, but I can cope with that. Because my life is rich in it’s own way. It isn’t without worry or anxiety, and at some stage those anxieties are going to come home to roost. To be human is to lose those we love the most – and it’s coming. But right now, right here in year 3, I have this glorious open window of relative poverty – and I’ve never felt so free.
Postscript: I realised after reading this there are 2 things I can’t scrimp on – haircuts and hosiery! Both are essential to my wellbeing 🙂