she done grown up now
A few minutes ago, one of my Twitter friends asked a really great question.
My answer actually surprised me. A lot.
Having grown up in extreme poverty, I’ve always almost worn it on my sleeve with a profound sense of pride. Mostly because I was able to do things everyone said I couldn’t. I was/am proud of my accomplishments. I overcame a lot to get to a place of comfort. Not riches, mind you, just comfort.
Because of many other things that happened in my life, I never pursued money. I pursued knowledge. And the price of big paychecks never appealed to me. I’ve never respected people with money. In fact, I have a lot of disdain for them–which has both served me and gotten in my way.
A few years back, after thinking I’d left that old life behind–that I was finally stable and could breathe–I had some major financial setbacks. It was every worst nightmare I’d ever had since crawling out of all of it. I didn’t think I’d survive it. It tore up my entire sense of identity. But, in a strange way, it also rebuilt it and made me a lot better at working and staying true to me. I was really fortunate to get back on my feet, and I found a new confidence I never thought I had. I became unshakably convinced that I could survive anything. And it also made me rethink the things I used to think about work and money.
For me, money has always been a necessary evil. I’ve often wished for more so life would be less complicated. I have conflicting views about work and its connection to money. For my parents, and my grandparents, money was a means to an end. It meant we survived or we didn’t. Lacking money meant suffering indignities and working harder than most people could imagine. Work was the way to get money. It didn’t matter what you did–just that you did something that brought in enough to pay the bills. On-time. That’s it.
Work was not your life. It was not something you did into the wee hours. It was not worthy of overtime or mental anguish. It was getting up every day at 6 am, leaving at 7 am, and coming home at 5 pm. You didn’t make friends with your co-workers. You endured it. That’s it. And when you left, that’s when your real life began. Simple.
I was never of that school. For me, money meant I got what I needed. It meant I could learn. It meant I was exposed to people and places and things I’d never see if I didn’t have money. You worked to get money, sure–but working hard was also payment…in an odd way. Work meant approval. It meant exploring ideas and seeing what your talents were. It meant being seen.
I’ve never really liked work, but masochist that I am–I really like working once I’m stuck there. I find myself having a good time, in spite of all of it. It doesn’t really matter what it is. I like challenges. Mostly, I like doing things. No one has to tell me what to do. If I’m there, I’ll work hard. It’s who I am. If I’m loyal to you–if you’ve been kind–I will run myself into the ground to help you. If you’ve disrespected me, I’ll work as hard as a normal person–but trust that it’s not my normal–and you could get a lot more if you just said thank you.
My mother used to say I care too much. About what others think of me. About what I’m doing and what it all means. About the things things aren’t. I don’t like doing just anything. I like to know why. If I can connect to it, I’m happy. If I feel like a robot, I’m not.
I’ve struggled most of my life to find my calling. That right thing that would fill me up. That thing that wouldn’t feel hard. That thing that would pay my bills without stealing my life. I’ve made mistakes in this. I’ve compromised too much, only to believe too much in things that weren’t mine. Only to stumble into things that made sense. And then compromise for the meantime because there is always more work to do before I’m at the top of the stairs.
A girl’s gotta eat. And not die.
I don’t know what the answers are for me. I’d like to think I do, and that I’m doing them.
I am not ashamed of my past poverty–or even afraid of it anymore–though it took me a very long time to be able to say that. And that poverty? Well, it still lives inside me and can cut me sometimes if I’m not careful. Poverty can trick you into thinking you’re something you’re not. And it can make others believe it too.
I’m still amazed by how insidious it is.
It is not noble to be poor. Sometimes, I think I thought that. That I was somehow a better person just for that reason. But, I’ve learned there are some nice rich folk with morals who aren’t so bad. Though I probably will judge them when I first meet them.
There is nothing wrong with money or having enough. There is nothing wrong with admitting being poor is terrifying, and you’d rather have money. Because it opens doors and gives you choices. I will admit that.
I’d never exchange my life for some rich person’s. I gained so much knowledge of human nature and myself. But I wish it would have been easier for my Mama. I wish all of it wasn’t so hard and didn’t linger like moldy cheese. I wish I could help people who are in the situation I used to be in.
I don’t believe in either/or anymore. I don’t believe that work is everything or nothing. I believe, maybe foolishly, that I can work hard and still take a lunch break. And it will be okay. Though a past me probably objects. Vehemently. I don’t believe I have to hate my job to earn a living if it’s not my purpose. I think you can do things just because you need to, and it’ll be okay. But if you set yourself up to hate it, you absolutely will. I believe that–if something really does matter to you–but pays you nothing and doesn’t take care of you–it’s probably not what you’re meant to do. And if it really is something you’re meant to do–you will find a way to use it to meet your needs. Sometimes, it takes time and creativity. And working 14 hour days. But you can change what your life is like. You just have to figure out what the needs are and ask the Universe to meet them.
I say all of this at the end of one of the worst weeks of my professional life. I’m working a job to get me somewhere else. And I don’t mind it–or, at least, I haven’t minded it for the better part of a couple years. But life changes, and you find yourself elsewhere–and you have to change, too. All of this stuff lands on you when you’re not standing up inside yourself. And, for many reasons, I haven’t been. But I did yesterday and today. And I changed things inside myself and rethought this in between. And let’s just say more change is coming. And it may actually surprise me. And it may make the rest of it make sense.