A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way


Screaming Inside My Heart

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about looking for a new job. I focused on how I'm going to find employment that plays to my strengths and experiences! And pays me some real money for once! And doesn't erode my mental health! I'm not compromising this time!

I'm back to say that 

1. these are all good thoughts,

2. but we are in a pandemic

3. and if I thought job hunting was hard before COVID, haaaaaa. 

Because now? It's soul-crushing.

Job hunting has never been easy, but in the past, I've always been able to get promising feedback and at least a few nibbles within a few weeks of putting some effort into it. In the past month alone (please note that I have been looking for work since March, although I've ramped up my efforts lately), I've applied for 55 jobs. In every case, I met at least 90% of the stated qualifications. Also, I currently have a part-time job that supposedly looks good on paper and that I've held for more than a year; according to traditional employment wisdom, that should make me relatively attractive as a job candidate.

I've received a grand total of one interview offer since August. The interview didn't happen because the HR person ghosted me after I replied with my availability.

I understand that this takes time and that I may need to submit hundreds of applications to get anywhere. I also understand that we're in a period of massive unemployment: millions of people are looking for work, and my field has been particularly decimated.

But knowing these things doesn't make this situation easier. This past week was a nonstop struggle inside my head: how did I get here? Why is everything so hard? Why haven't I been more successful? 

Followed by rumination on the long list of choices I made that seem terrible now in retrospect.

It's hard not to worry.

First of all, there's the basic concern of HAVING MONEY TO FUND EXISTING, which is almost impossible not to obsess over if you don't have a job or, like me, are massively underemployed. Time seems to fly by in Coronaworld, and soon it'll be March, when we have to decide whether to keep renting our current place (which we cannot afford unless we start making more money) or find another, cheaper place to live in our town (aka unicorn hunting) or move to another town/state altogether (I don't know where we'd go, and also, moving is expensive). 

A few people have told me that I should focus on the moment and not concern myself with the unknowns of five months from now, but if you're on a train with no brakes and the train is heading towards a wall miles down the road, good luck not thinking about the wall (even as you're grasping at passing tree branches and assiduously trying to slow your roll).

Second, there's the pesky issue of feeling like a completely worthless failure. I've been lurking on Job Reddit a lot lately, so I know this is a very common sentiment amongst people looking for work. The general advice seems to be, Keep your head up, stop those negative thoughts, you silly cow, and go back to night school to become an electrician! 

But now that I am in the thick of this job-hunting situation, with people constantly telling me I'm not qualified to do things I've already successfully done (or even am currently doing now, WITH SUCCESS), I'd like to say that a) it is hard not to feel like a CWF and b) it's better not to offer these shallow, useless suggestions.

Third, there's enough stress to go around even without the job hunt: avoiding COVID, making sure my kid is actively participating in remote learning and not having a nervous breakdown behind my back, being around other people 24/7, maintaining relationships with people I haven't seen in almost a year, wondering whether our democracy has completely fallen apart, worrying about family members across the country, watching the death toll increase exponentially, and basically grappling with the fact that we're dealing with the worst crisis in more than a century. That's MORE than enough to handle. Stack employment worries on top of all that and it's too much.

Finally - and excuse me for shouting here - but


People are out of work, struggling to pay the rent and buy groceries, and we're supposed to be grateful for the $1200 that we got back in ::checks notes:: May? As a taxpayer, I want Congress to stop throwing my money at the Cheetolini's golf trips and start giving its citizens some real financial support. 

But oh wait, I forgot. If we don't have work, we're just not trying hard enough to find it! And besides, we were all supposed to be prepared for this singular global catastrophe! We should have more than a year's worth of savings in our healthy bank accounts! Heck, if we'd made any effort at all, we'd already be financially independent and retired early! 

Unfortunately, many of us were too lazy ten years ago to get a six-figure job, ride the wave of the stock market, and invite Our Lord and Savior Mr. Money Mustache into our hearts. So when our landlords evict us and we wind up camping out in our cars, eating cans of cold Hormel Chili with plastic spoons we stole from Micky D's, we need to remember that we deserve it. We brought this upon ourselves. If we had just been better prepared, we, too, could be using this unprecedented opportunity to invest in Tesla and purchase vacation property.

Anyway, where was I?

Right. My point is, after nine months of this pandemic, I am extremely stressed out, disappointed, resentful (yes, I am, I'm not ashamed to admit it), angry, and sometimes scared. 

I think a lot of us are wondering where the recourse is, and whether there will ever be any, because of course we're supposed to do it all for ourselves, by ourselves. It's hard to feel hopeful right now.

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Back on the Job Hunt - But Here's What's Different This Time

Wow, it's been nearly a month since I've posted. My mind has been consumed by the election and other assorted things, and the blog's been sitting cold on the back burner. With the Biden/Harris win yesterday, I feel like my focus has finally been restored along with some semblance of hope and optimism.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I've gone into hardcore job-hunting mode lately. It's been more than 1.5 years since I quit my last (absolutely terrible) full-time job and more than a year since I landed my current part-time online teaching gig. Under normal circumstances, I might be happy to maintain the status quo; after all, I generally like my job. But the pandemic has had a major impact on the way I see work in general and the role I want it to play in my own life.

Reasons I'm back on the job hunt:

1. We need to earn more money to cover the bills.

I absolutely do not regret that Fortysomething quit his teaching position in September; aside from his employer's poor handling of covid concerns, his direct boss was treating him like dirt. Meanwhile, he was offered contract opportunities that excited him. It was time to leave, and I fully support that. 

But from a practical point of view, we will not be able to meet all of our financial obligations next year unless we boost our income or Fortysomething gets a slew of new contracts (this work can be highly sporadic and isn't guaranteed at all). We do have a modest amount of savings, but I'd like to avoid getting to the point where we're relying on that for the bulk of our expenses. Those piggy banks tend to empty out quickly.

Fortysomething and I have done this a lot over the years: alternated between who works full-time and who works part-time. Makes sense to swap places again now that he's back to contract work.

2. I was worried about health insurance (and still am).

Prior to the election, I started to panic about the possibility of losing affordable health insurance if the current person in power won again, and that lit a fire under me to start looking with more intensity.

3. My part-time job is a total dead end. 

Again, my current gig is fine in many ways. It's work I feel competent doing, my boss doesn't micromanage me, and it hasn't taken over my entire existence the way that previous jobs have. However, it's also a total dead end. There's no path to promotion, the pay is kind of insulting, and there's very little chance that my employer is going to offer me a raise given how many people the institution has laid off since March. The message I'm getting is, "Here are the scraps we can give you, and you can either thank us for them or leave."

Plus, while I appreciate that my boss doesn't breathe down my neck, I find it disconcerting that we rarely communicate. The last time I had a semi-substantial interaction with her was back in July. In the interest of being collegial, I've reached out to her a couple of times this fall to ask softball questions and let her know I hope she's doing okay, but the responses I've received have been short and kind of chilly, as if I'm bothering her. So I stopped.

It worries me that our interactions are so sporadic because it's easy to get rid of people when you don't have a connection with them. The school could let me go tomorrow and I doubt anyone would feel even a little bad about it. And why should they? To them, I'm a distant, faceless individual whom they contact only when there's a problem.  

Anyway, the job is consistent and mostly enjoyable, but I'm feeling a) disquieted by the radio silence, b) unappreciated by my supervisor and employer, and c) uninspired by the work, since I do the same thing every day. What I do on this job will never change. It will never be challenging. It will never use more than about a quarter of my skillset. 

4. I'm bored out of my fucking mind.

I realized a few weeks ago that a savvier $76K could have spun this blog and its message a whole different way after quitting the Job From Hell. I could say that I'm partially retired! BaristaFI! because really, how am I not? I am rich in time! I've made it!

But good lord, if this is what it's like to be partially retired, I do not want to retire. Ever. It is not for me. I have never been more bored in my entire life. I underestimated my need to do things. I am like a cattle dog with nothing to herd.

(Disclaimer: I know that many people are the exact opposite of bored right now, juggling work and relationships and kids in extremely close quarters and longing for some breathing room. I understand that, and I empathize. I also understand that I am lucky in many ways and why do I have to keep posting these disclaimers????  I'll just say that all of us are feeling majorly challenged in different ways, and what's hard for one person doesn't diminish what's hard for another person. Like, we can all struggle simultaneously with different shitty facets of 2020.) 

I spend 3-4 hours a day on my current gig; I could get it done in far less time, but I'm an hourly worker and so I make myself find things to do because I need the cash. Aside from that, I apply for jobs. I work out consistently, every single day, for 1-2 hours. I bake and cook. I clean the house. I have reached the end of Netflix.

But. I did not spend 20 years in school to do what I'm doing now. What I'm doing now has never been my goal, and it's not what I want.

I want to have an engaging role at an employee-friendly company that's doing something at least semi-meaningful and that trusts and values me. This was where I went wrong in the past: my jobs were either exploitative or didn't allow me to live up to my potential. But I'm never going to be happy in a job where I'm working 60+ hours a week. I'm never going to be happy in a job where I'm micromanaged and confronted on a daily basis with a breakdown of my fucking KPIs. I'm never going to be happy in a 100% customer-facing role. I'm never going to be happy in a job where I'm doing the same thing day in and day out with no room for growth. And I'm never going to be happy in a job where my pay doesn't reflect my skills, experience, and strong work ethic. 

I want: autonomy, balance, challenge, appreciation, CASH MONEYS. In the past, I told myself I could have some but not all of these things, because who am I to be greedy with my expectations? Who am I to think I deserve it? 

But now I'm realizing that's where I went wrong. I kept settling because I thought I had to settle. 

This time, I'm not settling. Give me something I can sink my teeth into. Pay me fairly. Trust me to do what you hired me to do. Let me work with other smart and driven people. Give me some flexibility so that I can deal with my health stuff. In return, I'll throw myself into the work and add value to your organization. I WILL HERD YOUR CATTLE BETTER THAN ANYONE HAS EVER HERDED YOUR CATTLE.

I don't know if that's possible anymore, but I hope it is. 

5. I want to make money so I can give it away. 

This is a personal goal that's emerged during the pandemic, and I'm extremely motivated and excited by it. If there's one thing I've learned in the 3.5 years since I started this blog, it's that money is powerful - in the sense of giving people power, sure (ugh), but also in the sense of providing relief. I would like to be able to support anybody who asks for support. I would like to help remove other people's burdens so that they can move forward without that stress and worry. I would like to donate to organizations that know what needs to be done so that they can go and do it in the way they want to do it. I would like to spread the wealth - maybe a little to make myself feel good, if I'm being totally honest, but mostly because I think the wealth should be more spread out. 

Of course, there are many other ways to assist others, but I've always burned out on people-facing volunteer roles. They don't play to my strengths (even in non-pandemic times), and you know what, at this point in my life, I've decided it's okay that my strengths don't play to them. 

But signing checks? I could do that. I'd love to do that. 

Anyway, all that to say, I've been ramping up on job applications. It's really not fun, and I refuse to pretend it is. It is degrading, frustrating, and a little soul-destroying, frankly, but I'm going to keep at it until I find what I want.

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