My New American Dream: A Backyard, Family, and Freedom from Chasing the Chase (Iowa?)

My hair stylist is my backup therapist. She is this perfect blonde who always seems to be in a good mood despite it being way too early on Saturday morning. She is consistently perky, routinely, as I go in to the salon on random infrequent intervals to get my frayed locks trimmed, to maintain some air of exterior professionalism and polish while my mind remains frayed and in desperate need of its own snip.

While I think of my hair stylist as old(er) and myself as young(er) she’s actually 31 and I’m 30, but she’s married with older kid(s?) and I’m single and finally moving in with my long-time boyfriend. Her life is very different from mine, and who knows if she’s actually happy, but she seems to appear calm and content. Still, we both share a longing for a house with a backyard, for her, a place for her kids to roam free, for me, a place for my future children to cut themselves on sharp blades of grass and dig up worms under the slip-and-slide on long, hot summer days.

The “seizures” have stopped, for now. I wasn’t going to even call them seizures but my expert-in-epilepsy neurologist said my experiences certainly sounded like they could be temporal lobe seizures. My MRI and EKG checked out fine, but she said seizures can only be confirmed if they occur while you’re having an EKG so she wanted to treat for them regardless.

She put me on 25mg of Topomax (also known as dopomax, apparently, thanks internet) as a starting dose, to build to 200mg over 4 weeks. I didn’t even last the first week. My brain felt scrambled, and I had even more of a headache then I did without the medicine. My neurologist, who I corresponded with via email messaging system, didn’t seem too thrilled with my decision to stop medication after just five days of taking the preliminary dose, but I was a hot mess and couldn’t handle it.

Besides, I’m thinking even if what I was experiencing was mild seizures, the deja-vu, surreal sense, metallic taste, feeling shot into another world and locked in somewhere inside my brain for 30-60 seconds before the intense sensation of sadness passed, they haven’t come back since I left my last job, so they were clearly somehow triggered by the immense stress. I’m going to try to treat the stress for now, sorry neurologist (anyway, that’s what I get for picking the seizure medicine that also helps one lose weight vs the one that is supposed to, as an off-label use, treat anxiety. #fail)

My actual therapy sessions these days, which are now weekly and taking a huge chunk of my paycheck (since I like my therapist even though she’s out-of-network), are helpful. I always cry a lot, which is ridiculous, but that’s what happens at therapy when you’re a depressed and anxious person. We focus on relearning how to breathe. Just. Breathe.

I really, really want to be thrilled about my new position, because it’s incredible for so many reasons, yet there’s a voice in my head that is asking me how on earth I got here and reminding me how much I don’t belong here. For the better, I’ve begun to accept my natural talents and strengths as highly-valued abilities/skills that are actually worth charging for. I’m a pretty good writer, an excellent storyteller, I see the big picture and am able to deliver strategic direction by processing a lot of qualitative information, and I’m a decently likable person when I’m not intoxicated and I’m delivering on the things to which I’ve committed.

But when it comes back to the question of — what do I want? Why am I not happy now? I just think of how my life has really become sheerly about making money and saving money. If all careers paid the same amount and I knew for a fact after a year or two in school I could switch careers and get a job in another field, I’m confident I would not stay in my field. I’d be a designer with a bonus skill of UX copywriter, no question. I’m too ADHD for marketing. There are so many — so many — little items that need to be executed on, and it never stops.

I like feeling competent. More than competent. I like feeling special, as if I’m somehow divinely gifted and offering something no one else can. I know that isn’t ever real, no one is special unless perhaps you’re Albert Einstein, but my whole life I’ve been chasing this desire to feel like I’m just so special and unique. When that faded a bit, the next easiest goal to chase was money — which is an interesting case because having saved $250k I feel like I have a lot of money saved up yet not anywhere near enough to live the life I want, where I was hoping to have $500k by now (not a ridiculous goal for affording life in the Bay Area.)

I’m just tired of chasing after money. It certainly doesn’t help that in my relationship I’m the only one chasing this. I try to push my boyfriend to get more jobs and charge what he’s worth, but then I realize that I’m just trying to push him towards what already makes me so unhappy. Maybe it isn’t the end of the world if I end up in a state-sponsored senior home completely out of money in my final years of life. Maybe I don’t need to achieve my somewhat aggressive savings goals that are perfectly reasonable on my current salary but would be unobtainable if I were to go back to school and study for a lower-paid profession.

It’s just my life, today, is my job. That’s ok for a couple of years. That was fine for my 20s. But I’m tired of it. I thought switching to a new company would change that, but I just don’t have the passion for making my job my life anymore. I want time to live. And I certainly will want that even more if I ever get around to having a family. That will change everything. I’m figuring that I need to focus on saving as much money over the next 2-3 years because when I have kids I’m just not going to be able to save as much. If the stock market tanks, so will my savings. It’s all very scary. I hate how in order to afford “retirement” one needs to take such immense risk in the market (even on stable stocks — this is still an immense risk — who knows what the future holds with the current state of the world?

Ultimately, though, 30 has hit me like a wall of bricks. I got to $250k, and no one threw me a party or gave me a high five to cheers to my success. I didn’t tell my parents, even though I wanted to, because my dad would be proud that his shoppaholic daughter had actually learned how to save, but that would be short-lived followed by expectations and new judgements. My boyfriend knows and thinks it’s impressive, but really doesn’t care, and might be a little intimidated that I was able to save that much throughout my 20s while paying rent and he’s amassed a much smaller nest egg while living at home.

We aren’t going to be rich.

Why am I chasing wealth?

And what is wealth anyway?

Today, as I wrap up the move to our new $2300 a month one-bedroom rental on a street packed with apartment complexes, I think real wealth is a house with a backyard, it’s family, it’s a place to roam free and be free. I like having money to treat medical conditions, to occasionally travel across the globe in relatively frugal style, to go to the theatre, to tip well and treat my friends to dinner parties. I like having money, I imagine, to raise my child/ren with the opportunity to go to a reasonably good public school, to participate in after school activities, to take vacations together where we probably spend a little too much on a few nights at a resort helping increase the stock price of a conglomeration visiting costumed characters paid minimum wage.

What does that actually cost?

I feel like marketing is somewhat safe, if I can pull my act together, because senior roles in the field pay well. And if I can deliver, that’s all that matters. The more experience you have, as long as you’re not a fuck up, the easier it is to get a job. Can I really start over now? I just want to live frugally for a few years and save up as much as possible. Can I get to $500k? If I take home ~$6400 a month after tax (which seems like a lot and is), put $1300 to rent, $150 to car insurance, that leaves me with almost $5000 per month to spend or save. If I can save $4000 a month, in one year without interest I have a new $48k. That’s five years to $500k. That’s my 35th birthday, and if I can make it that long, it may be the day I leave the tech industry entirely. It won’t be enough to be wealthy by any means, but if my man and I get the heck out of dodge, it’s enough in backup funds that we can lead a simple life, work jobs that pay — oh, I don’t know — $50k per year, in a less expensive part of the country, let that grow, and I might not have to worry about running out of money.

My man and I like to joke around about moving somewhere less expensive, and every so often we pick a new state for that dream. Mine was previously New Mexico, as Santa Fe always sounded like a good place to escape (at least the songs in Rent and Newsies make it sound so.) Our latest is Iowa, which is picked out of thin air, as it sounds to be a place where people might be nice and land could come cheap. Maybe, after all these years of thinking I wanted to be a busy, well-off urbanite, all I want is home.





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One thought on “My New American Dream: A Backyard, Family, and Freedom from Chasing the Chase (Iowa?)”

  1. I have to say that I agree with you but your attitude really should change. Living the American dream in the bay area is unsustainable unless you get lucky with stock options, are willing to live like a miser (not really the dream), or are willing to spend 2+ hours of your day commuting. I’ve somewhat given up on buying a house here and would rather rent a tiny apartment and save some money. At least with your $2300 rent, you guys should be able to save a large chunk of change. A mortgage for any sort of reasonable house will probably run you $4-5k a month. And that’s if you put 20% down and buy a modest home in the east bay. We pay the same rent as you, but for a 2 BR. We’re well below market considering that our place is nice, but really small and are just lucky that our landlord didn’t raise rent for the first 2 years we lived there. He caught on and raised it $300 last year and I’m sure he will again this year. We also talk about moving somewhere else in the country/world where our savings (also just passed $250k, but for two of us) will buy us more freedom. Iowa may be nice, but think about Thailand or Malaysia or somewhere else where $250k may be enough for you to retire right now or at least work some very low stress job that generates minimal income. True, we’ll probably never move there, but knowing that we have always have the option to do so is really comforting. It makes you realize that in the grand scheme of thing, you already are rich. Maybe not the 1% of the US, but I’m sure top 5% in the US and probably top 0.1% in the world.

    I also think that you need to start considering you and your bf’s money together assuming that you will get married (which it sounds like you will). Because, once you do, this whole you saving so much per month or year is really the two of you. Even though he earns less, you two should be able to save at a higher overall rate together, which will be nicer. Concentrate on smaller, faster-to-achieve goals and celebrate them when you hit them. Every time we break another $50k mark, we treat ourselves out to a nice dinner. It really does good for motivation. And really, spending $100-200 on a dinner after you’ve saved $50k is really miniscule and totally worth it.

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