Tradeoffs.

August 23, 2012 at 11:26 am | Posted in Career angst, Crazy Talk (aka: Therapy) | 11 Comments

I’m miserable as an accountant.

There, I said it.

The commute into Boston absolutely fucking sucks. I spent anywhere from two and a half to three hours in my car every day I work. Which is four days a week. 12 hours – a week – of DEAD TIME. 42 hours – nearly TWO DAYS a month – sitting in traffic.

I thought I was supposed to GAIN more time by working part time. I’m actually losing it instead.

Then there’s the woman for whom I’m working. She’s smart, and driven, and a really nice person. But she’s kind of a nightmare to work for. Because she needs things done NOW; which isn’t how I operate. I need to step back, slow down, proof my changes if she wants me to get it right. What she has me doing is making stuff on the fly and hoping I don’t miss something big.

Not to mention that EVERY.TIME I send her something to look at, there’s always myriad things wrong with it. She’s a really, really good auditor, and she questions everything I do. Why did I do it that way? There’s a better way to make that calculation. We need to make sure that this all works this way all the time. Etc etc.

She exacerbates my own self-criticism, makes me feel like I’m failing nearly every time she looks at my stuff.

To be fair, she DID tell me that she’s not the kind of person who will point out what I do well. I know she’s happy with my work, because she thanks me and keeps finding me new jobs.

But I haven’t felt good at my job in a long time. And so working for her is torturous.

And then there’s the work itself. I’ve done three different things for her; an annual SEC filing, an IPO SEC document, and now internal controls work.

It’s not that I hate the work. I don’t, not really. I just don’t CARE. It’s changing words, running numbers, busy work that makes it seem like we’re doing important stuff.

On Monday, in therapy, I remarked to my therapist that even though I ate and drank my way through vacation and was up a few pounds, I was looking at myself in the mirror and thinking “I look GOOD” right now.

Which, honestly, is unusual for me. I RARELY see the skinny me in the mirror; always looking at the extra pounds or the flabby belly or whatever.

She said, Sounds to me like you’re in a place where you’re not beating yourself up.

Not more than 24 hours later – my first day back at work – I looked in the mirror as I was washing my hands, and thought, Good god, Serenity, you HAVE to take that vacation weight off.

And the lightbulb went off.

Holy shit, I thought. I beat myself up for feeling crappy at my job. How did I not see this before now?

So I came home, and told Charlie that I wanted to quit my job. (Not right now, mind you. At some point in the future.)

Really what I wanted to do was start a dialogue with him about how we’d manage if I was a SAHM. And so we talked about it for a while.

And you know what? We could make it work. Right now, even.

It would mean tradeoffs, though. The daily stuff we could manage. But the big stuff is the kicker. Our travel budget would pretty much go away. My race schedules would be more local, and spread out, and we’d have to be really focused on our budget and making sure we don’t go outside of it.

And the thing is this. Charlie and I sat on a beach in Fiji 8 years ago and talked about what we wanted out of our life.

We wanted a family; ideally two kids, a couple of years apart.

We wanted to travel.

And we never wanted to have to worry about money.

We have our family, but it’s not how we thought it would be.

We travel, and we don’t worry about money.

And if I quit my job, it means that we’re choosing not to live our life the way we wanted to on that beach so many years ago.

I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to let go of what we wanted back then. Maybe it’s because of infertility, which has taken away my power to have had the family I dreamed of most of my life. Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent 36 years hearing about how my future was wide open, I could be whatever I wanted to be, as long as I worked hard. I’ve worked my ass off over the years to get to where I am now, and I’m scared to walk away from it.

Even though it makes me miserable.

And I am fully aware that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, either. But I’ve spent some time looking for much more part time, lower stress, closer-to-my-house jobs, too. And every one I’ve looked at I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm for it.

What I do know is that I’m burned out, and unhappy, and stuck. I know that I can’t do 12 hours in the car per week much longer.

I also know that I am, right now, scared to walk away from the life we have now for something that’s completely unknown.

Because I’m aware, too, that being a SAHM has its own set of emotional challenges, a stillness within chaos which is hard to reconcile when you’ve spent so much time working so damn hard for something you thought you wanted. Or still DO want.

So many tradeoffs. I wish I knew how to navigate them to find a place of contentment.

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11 Comments »

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  1. Right now? Well, I mean, it’s good ultimately that you have options. But you’re right – it would be really different dropping that extra income. A whole different budget and lifestyle. Not necessarily bad, but not what you imagined.

    I know I’m more likely to get budget tips than give them to someone of your qualifications, but what about really off-the-wall ideas? Do you have enough equity in your house to rent it out and make it pay its own mortgage, effectively freeing you to take a low-income option in a low-expense (overseas) location? What about if it was a few years away and you had built an income-generating investment, too? What if you stayed with at least one of your jobs (and hence the income level) but looked at working in other locations around the country or across the globe – would that feed your desire to travel (like a prolonged working holiday lasting several years at a time)? (I can’t promise it’ll resolve your worry about money… the opposite, I’m sure, in the short term, but perhaps no worse or even better than what you’re considering in the long term.)

    Just throwing ideas into the mix. Even if they’re totally unsuitable, knowing what’s unsuitable (and identifying why) can help you work out what to do sometimes.

    Bea

  2. I have read a bunch of studies that show that money doesn’t improve people’s happiness levels…but only once they make above a certain threshold (I think it is $75 or $80,000 a year). Until they reach that point, making more money does improve their happiness levels, I guess because it becomes much easier to travel, save for retirement, etc. But once you hit that magic marker, more money doesn’t help. (I don’t know why I felt this was appropriate for your situation but it was the first thing I thought, so I wrote it down.)

    This is assvice, but when you crunched your numbers, did you include things like retirement savings? O’s college fund? School trips? Extra-curricular activities that come with costs like sporting equipment or whatever?

    There are tradeoffs with any decision. I know that I couldn’t live with a decision that meant Q. and I would be really close to the line- we would both spend all of our time fretting. We still fret about money, but it is never in a “do we have enough money in the account to pay the mortgage” sort of way. I never want to have to tell E. that he can’t go on a school excursion because we can’t afford it.

    You have always struck me as being so much like me, and I guess I would worry that in the sort of situation you’re describing, where it was doable- just-, I would end up trying to control the money and being obsessive about the budget, etc. That wouldn’t be good for my mental health or my relationship with Q.

    Next question- how would you feel being totally reliant on Charlie?

    Next question- what would you do to occupy your (obviously very clever) mind? I have a friend who is a SAHM to two boys because she has a DPhil in English Lit and now lives in Virginia and can’t get a job that pays enough to make it worthwhile with daycare costs. She is literally counting the days until her youngest is old enough to start kindergarten and she can look for work again. She loves her childre so so so much, but it is killing her slowly.

    I know you said part-time jobs don’t seem interesting, but what if you took the attitude that your REAL job was looking after O. (or writing or whatever) and your other job was just what you did to pay the bills? Find something with a really short commute and good hours and just try it out for a year. That would give you a taste of less work pressure, and a taste of being more focused on home and O., but still give you some financial flexibility and freedom. You could keep looking for other options, explore new ideas, but you wouldn’t be stuck where you are now.

    Just assvice.

    I lived close to the line (oh so close to the line) as an undergrad, and as a child when my parents divorced. I never want to live like that again.

    xoxo
    T.

  3. So, Turia’s comment clarified a lot of what I wanted to say. First, living that close to the line is so, so stressful! It occupies so much of your time and energy. And having to explain to a child why you can’t do certain things is heartbreaking (even if they’re things he doesn’t really need).
    I also know I could never handle being totally reliant on K. As much as I love that he’s earning a good salary know, it stresses me out not to be the primary breadwinner anymore. I miss feeling like I could make the decisions (which really should be shared anyway, but that’s how I feel). But maybe you could – I don’t know.
    I feel like I know so many people who became SAHMs because they’d never had a job they liked. Granted, they do generally end up happy, but I can’t help wondering if the right job was out there somewhere for them. You have to know that you wouldn’t end up feeling like you’d “given up” by becoming a SAHM. Not that any of US would judge you, but you need to know that thought isn’t going to surface down the line (or at least know what you’re gonig to tell yourself if it does).
    I think of all the people I know who are primarily SAHMs but do something, very part-time. A lot of them are fitness instructors or yoga or pilates. One woman I know bakes challah to sell. Others sell Avon or Mary Kay. Not that any of those things are necessarily right for you, but I think it might be helpful to be doing something for pay, however small (both for your income and your sense of accomplishment).
    Anyway, it’s your decision! Hope this is helping and not making things worse.

  4. I struggle with this too, even though I’m in a job I actually like and telecommute from home. Of course, the kids are at day care, since I can’t do my job and watch them too. Every time one of the kids is sick, or I am sick yet again, I feel terribly guilty and wonder if I should quit my job.

    I know we need the money now, and will be debt-free except the mortgage as of June next year, but Mr D will need a new truck, and we need to save cash for that, and I know we can pay off our mortgage within 6 years as long as I continue to work.

    But….I also feel I can make a good crack at being a writer, and it is almost impossible to do while working full-time and managing the kids. And if I didn’t work, I couldn’t travel as much as I want to, keep the cleaning lady, and I’d struggle to get the massage therapy that helps my chronic pain.

    I know I tried the staying at home thing, and could not handle being dependent on Mr S for money, though he never ever once made me feel bad for asking for money. There seem to be major trade-offs no matter what I choose. I sometimes envy my husband. All he has to do is work in a job he enjoys, that pays nicely enough, and has decent hours and commute. I have to do all of the above, and still feel torn about the children and their care.

    Could you afford to do a career change?

  5. I didn’t realize that we live in the same general area of the country. I’ve been reading your blog a long time now. When we started treatment and had our girls we stopped traveling so much so when I became a SAHM this year it wasn’t that big a leap on that front though I do love travel. I hated my job and I resented it taking time away from my family. That being sad being home can be maddening at times but I think about how I had to take care of everything before and pay for someone to watch DD. I hope you can come to a decision that makes you happy. That commute sounds awful. I am stressing about driving into boston once in a while for children’s hospital not 42 hours a month. I would lose my mind!

  6. So, after discussing it, you ‘could’ make it work right now, but you’re conflicted b/c of a long ago dream that you never wanted to worry about money. And, would you? Would you really have to worry about having your basic lifestyle needs met? You’d be able to afford groceries? You’d have medical/dental ins? You’d be able to afford the costs of living in your home, including utilities/taxes/ins? You’d be able.to afford transportation & its associated costs? If the answers to those questions are yes, I’m trying to see where the worry comes in.

    And, is this intended to be a forever decision or a ‘for the foreseeable’ future kind of decision, with some finite period in mind? Because it seems to me, in terms of trade offs, given just how much you hate the work, coupled with the commute time, coupled with the soft costs of how this job makes you feel about yourself, that the trade offs now are much greater than some finite cost containment measures will be.

    Why not do it? What are you really afraid of? Given your credentials, you could go back at any time, if you wanted, or while being a SAHM you may discover a different paid calling.

    I don’t often quote Dr. Phil, but how’s what you’re doing working for you? And what’s the pay-off to continuing?

  7. First off, I live only 20 mins from Boston–and I won’t bother with the commute! Bravo for you trying it!! 🙂

    I can work a job that I don’t have passion for–my husband cannot. He NEEDS it to be interesting and challenging. (I like my job to have challenges too–I just have a different philosophy concerning my job). So I understand how the need to have a fire/passion for a job can make one reevaluate.

    There are no easy answers on this one–but I like how you are exploring the trade offs.

    We are, by necessity, having to do the same. (I can tell you though–I am NOT SAHM material–part-time SAHM, sure–but the whole kit and caboodle–too damned hard!!)

    Wish you luck, hon!!

    (Oh, and some good advice in the comments!)

  8. I hear you on tradeoffs. We just bought a house, which is part of my dream, but it also means I can’t leave my job, which is making me miserable, because my job offers incredible security and to leave it, even to start teaching somewhere else, would destroy that security. So I have to keep plugging away at a job that brings me no joy, but instead causes me incredible anxiety, so that I can have the financial security to pay for our home. I wish I didn’t have to be so worried about keeping my job, but such is the world we live in. So I’ll stay there, perhaps indefinitely, so that we’ll always know we’ll have my pay check. That kind of security is really rare, and I don’t take it for granted. But it sucks when they way you spend your every day makes that part of your day miserable. It sucks when you have to suffer one thing to get another thing you want. I guess I should just be happy that I can have one of the things I want, and be grateful for that.

    I hope you’re able to a balance that feels better for you.

  9. Twelve hours in the car is a huge chunk of your time. That’s more than a full workday — or several workdays as a freelancer.

    There are always trade-offs. Right now I’m trading greater Social Security benefits and an unblemished resume in order to be home with the girls. (I worked from home on a freelance basis for a couple of years before the girls were born.) And if I had a salaried paycheck, we could likely afford to live in a better neighborhood and drive new cars. But I definitely don’t feel impoverished on one steady paycheck. My freelance income is less than one eighth of D’s salary, but that goes a long way in terms of lifestyle. We have college savings and retirement savings. We do have cable. There’s a little sweating here and there, and occasionally I have to transfer money over from savings to checking just before payday, but it’s transferred back fairly quickly. I manage all the banking, as do most of my SAHM friends.

    Sometimes I do feel pinched, such as when we get an unexpected medical bill. D. changed jobs in May and his new health insurance didn’t kick in until July. The COBRA bill was larger than our mortgage payment. That sucked. My brothers have nicer houses and nicer cars than we do, and sometimes I feel like the poor relation or a cheapskate.

    I think it pays — no pun intended — to revisit your goals and be very specific and realistic about them. What do you mean by “travel”? Where do you most want to go as a family, and how often do you want to go? At which age would Lucky most benefit from that particular trip? What are the top five trips you want to take in the next five years, in the next decade, and before Lucky goes to college? How important is it to run races in other cities? If you ran local races, you might meet more local runners and find potential travelmates/hotel roommates for the out-of-town races.

    And consider what you mean by “never worry about money” — that’s a noble goal, but it’s vague. How much do you need in your daily checking balance, how much do you want in an emergency fund, what other financial goals and needs do you have?

    Earlier this year, I got the book “Organized Simplicity” as an Amazon free download. It’s about determining who you are as a family: your family ideals, beliefs, and goals, and how your choices need to affirm those goals. That made me feel about 100% better about not having the same lifestyle as my brothers, because I could immediately say, “That’s not who D. and I are; THIS is who we are, and THIS is how we want the girls to be raised, and I don’t even know what my brothers’ ideals are!” I can lend you the e-book if you like. It’s pretty short.

  10. Don’t take this the wrong way but – you don’t strike me as the type who would be happy as a SAHM long-term. Lucky is going to be in school full-time next year and if there’s not another baby (and maybe even if there IS) … I think you will be wanting to do something else at least part time.

    But so, imo, if you can afford to? Try it out. Stop working, stay at home. Enjoy the last year before Lucky is in school full time, because you’ll never get it back. No amount of travel will equal a year with your kid. And then … you’ll figure something out, that will keep you busy and fulfilled AND give enough money to do some of the other things you love too. You won’t be unemployed forever, and then you’ll be able to reset your goals to something that allows you to be happy with the everyday, not just suffering through it to have money for the special days.

  11. Thank you so much for the shoutout!

    I think that in many ways, you are a lot like me … the lack of security has been a lot scarier for me than for my husband, who assures me that we are OK for now. And it’s what fuels a lot of my crazy-making, I think. Not to mention that while there are times I love being with N., there are also times when I feel like I need to GET OUT. Part time might help, but only if it paid the bills for day care and brought in extra, which is hard to do on a part time basis.

    On the other hand, I can’t say enough about the incredible feeling you get when you set yourself free from something — or somewhere — that you hate. And you would probably find work more quickly than I have … your skills are in high demand.

    I wish I lived close enough for a cup of coffee. Or tea, if that’s preferable . 🙂


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