Deep Down I’m Happy, I Just Want More Than This Provincial Life

Belle’s plight to seek out something more than an average life always spoke to me since the first day I saw Beauty and the Beast at the movies in second or third grade. It’s easy to get caught up in my mood swings, especially the ones that swing be down into depression, but everything in my life is pretty darn good. Even if I lose my job (again), things are ok. I’ve managed, in the last 10 years (and getting fired 3 times) to go from $50,000 in net worth to $1.5M in net worth. I’ve had two healthy kids. I bought a house in a very HCOL area and convinced a bank I’m worthy of a $1.2M mortgage. I convinced a man to spend the rest of his life with me in wedded bliss.  I haven’t jumped off a bridge or overdosed on any number of pill combinations despite that occasionally seeming like a practical solution to the impractical problem that is me and all the things I do or don’t do on a daily basis.

Things are pretty damn good, aren’t they?

It’s ok that things are hard. What isn’t ok is that I’m the type of person who will only be satisfied if I’m doing something meaningful in life–beyond raising two happy, healthy kids and buying a house and having a husband. I don’t know exactly what that is yet, but I’m on my way to figuring it out. It’s tough because I don’t deserve to be successful or unique or to do anything great–but then again, who the hell does? Maybe someone born clearly brilliant, with a ridiculously high IQ. But there are plenty of other people doing great things who weren’t born any different than I was. They may have had parents who taught them it’s ok to take risks and fail, who instilled in them a growth mindset, or somehow learned to go against everything they’ve been taught to take risks and believe in themselves–but other than that–how different are we really?

I spent a good chunk of last night, in between breastfeeding and half sleeping, watching YouTube videos about Adult ADHD. If you know me (or heck, if you read my blog likely) it’s pretty clear that if Adult ADHD exists, I have it. Out of leftover FSA money one year I did a neuropsychological screening and was told I do not have ADHD, but do have severe deficiency in short-term memory, anxiety, and depression. However, had I gone to an ADHD expert for said screening (I did not) I would have undoubtedly been told I do have it. The test used by the neuropsychologist to determine if I have ADHD, the click test, is far from considered an acceptable method of diagnosis by the scientific community, and yet for the last few years I’ve been walking around convinced I don’t have ADHD due to this test and my neuropsychological profile. Yet even the finding that my short-term memory is severely impaired is a symptom of ADHD. Alas.

I also feel like I ought to do something creative in life as people with ADHD tend to do better when working in creative settings and that’s what I went to school to study and that’s what I always though I’d do, but then didn’t, because I was too scared to take such a risk when I knew nothing beyond wanting to not be deemed a failure by my parents, especially my dad. Failure was asking for help–any help–once I graduated college. I was lucky to have my very expensive (too expensive in hindsight) college paid for by my parents, and they never fought me on my degree in the arts despite having no clarity into what a career in the specific field I majored in would look like, or how little of a propensity I had for its technical requirements. But once my final graduation photo was snapped, I was on my own. I had no college loans, but I still had to pay the rent. And then I figured out that having money was better than not having money, and having a lot of money was better than having a little bit of money, so that even with my non-frugal habits I could still manage to survive without asking anyone for help.

Since my creative dreams weren’t fleshed out anyway, they were tossed to the sidelines and my only mission at hand was to not run out of money. My “career dreams” were non existent. Which is ok. Lots of people work to work. There’s nothing wrong with that. And I’ve done that. In smaller companies, at the least, I felt like there was this energy of doing the impossible that I was familiar with from my creative pursuits. Sure, everyone wanted to get rich–but we knew it was a long shot. We enjoyed building something new together. At least that felt a bit more home to me, despite not being right. Had I founded the company–maybe then it would feel right, but inevitably with a thick-headed CEO who thought they knew everything (and clearly didn’t) I ended up, along with my colleagues, becoming frustrated watching our collective dreams turn into a company worth less than investors poured into it.

But in a big company, where money flows into bigger salaries and stock packages, especially for those considered rockstars, there is a clear focus on work for work’s sake. I sit back–fall back–and watch those around me operate flawlessly, with the energy of a doctor saving the life of a newborn child, to promote a product designed to help automate processes and save costs by removing human labor (amongst other useful but equally dystopian value props.) As I’ve managed to double my net worth in the last hand change of years, many others who, pre-covid, sit alongside me, are off on a rocketship straight to the .01%. And those fresh out of college, lucky with a relatively small grant that has turned a small amount into a large amount, are not set for life, but on the path to far greater wealth than I’ll likely ever see. These people work hard as hell (or fake it well enough that even intuitive I can’t tell the difference.) They send perfectly-scripted email notifications that thank everyone who contributed to a project while, barely reading between the lines, self-promoting their own work. These people talk the talk so well, from using all the business jargon without a hint of irony, to making everything sound so damn important. There’s humor as well, but a certain type of humor that is not dark or witty or particularly funny. It’s careful and redundant, and yet everyone laughs anyway because that’s what you do. Those who can’t do humor tend to avoid it until their boss tells them to throw a joke in their next speech, and we continue to laugh.

I’d rather get to the point, I guess.

What is the point? My point. My point is that I don’t fit in this world. I like making money. Clearly. It’s pretty incredible. Necessary, of course. How else does one pay off a $7k a month mortgage? Even if it’s $5k a month now with my FIL paying $2k a month in rent–in a few years it will be all us. Can we really afford this? I guess so. Eventually $7k a month will seem reasonable… maybe. Going rent for a house here was around $5k, so in some odd years it will catch up. But then there’s the cost of keeping the house functional. So many things have popped up. I’m now budgeting about $2k a month for house stuff. Some of it is must have, some nice-to-have, and maybe eventually we’ll be able to bring that down to a lower amount. This doesn’t include utilities and such, but everything else that goes into owning a house. It’s not cheap.

The house does kind of lock me into this high-earning lifestyle, even if I’m unable to get a job ever again that’s quite as high earning (likely.) That’s why this year is so damn important. It’s crazy that every 3 month I can make about $200k ($100k after tax) on top of my salary and such. I’m basically making 4 years of normal income in one year, which doesn’t make it possible to quit corporate America and spend my waking non-parenting hours on passion projects, but it’s a start. It has me questioning–from the moment I wake up the instant I drift off to dreamland–what the fuck is next? Do I seek another rocketship? Do I learn how to play the game better next time (and maybe not admit to my boss, in a momentary lapse of judgment due to the sleepless nights of being a new mom, that I’ve been fired numerous times in the past and that I think I’m overpaid — oops) and see whatever’s next as another step towards freedom to do something meaningful, whatever that is? I won’t see a stock package like this again unless I manage to obtain a very senior role which is a bad idea for numerous reasons even if I could do that–but staying in my current company won’t ever see this kind of income again either (I’m not getting stock refreshes since they don’t actually want me to stay–it’s clear I’m going to be leaving by choice or by force at some point and this time I prefer to do this by choice, I think, though a few months of unemployment and COBRA may be just what I need next year–but I don’t think I can handle the mental toll of losing yet another job. I should leave on my own, with my head held as high as I can hold it, weak neck and all.)

But–where was I? I guess, I feel like maybe if I lean into this ADHD thing and try strategies that work for other HSP with ADHD then… maybe I can find something that works for a bit longer than 3 months > crashing and burning in whatever new job I take on. Maybe it’s finding a different yet still decently-paid career. In order to afford this house, this $84k a year of mortgage/taxes/insurance, we need to make $300k a year (if you go with the 28% rule.) My husband makes $100k at the moment (though that’s 1099, so we can reduce that to $85k, which means that need to make $215k a year in order for our house to make sense. Anything above this is great. But I don’t have to make more than $215k. The question is, how do I make $215k consistently? If I can get on a career path where $225k-$250k is the norm and I can get one one that I’m decent enough at to not lose my job every few years then — we’re ok. If my husband can keep his job (which he will unless the org he works for goes out of business) then I just have to get that $215k each year and we’re doing ok. Not living a fancy life, by any means, but we’ll be able to pay the mortgage for the next 30 years.

That’s clearly not what I want, though — 30 years of my entire life being centered on making $215k or more. From 37 to 67, needing every single year to have a career making such income is pretty darn depressing. My dad died at 67. So there’s that. I don’t want this to be the rest of my life. At some point I want to be able to take a risk. Make something. Do something meaningful before I die.

Does that make me a selfish person? An unrealistic one? Maybe. But I have dreams. I might be getting old(er) and grey(er) but I’m not dead yet. My kids remind me of the dreams I once had when anything was possible. I didn’t notice the moment when life switched from everything is possible to practically nothing is, but somehow that switch triggered and I missed it while I was counting up my net worth and figuring out how to convince my boss to give me another 30 days before pulling another trigger to have HR walk me out of the building. The years just go. And soon they will be gone. How do I make any of this make sense while not putting my family on the street? I guess it’s not that dire. We’ve got plenty of savings now. Enough to ride of a few bad years. But I don’t want a few bad years. I want many good ones. And I’m desperate to find a path to them.

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4 thoughts on “Deep Down I’m Happy, I Just Want More Than This Provincial Life”

  1. Why is your husband limited to $100K, perhaps that is a limiting belief? At your ages he should still be on the steeply increasing wage curve, generally people don’t see wage flattening until they hit their fifties at the earliest. The sooner he can reach 150K the sooner you can drop to 150K. Maintaining your income without the stock gifting is probably going to be much more difficult than raising his pay. Going from $100 to $150K is a very small step.
    Steveark recently posted..Free College for Rich People

    1. My husband’s situation is — interesting. He has worked for the same non profit in a flex role for the last… decade. Though he never asks for a raise, they seem to be giving him a 5% raise now each year, but not sure how long that will hold up. This is the one and only job he has ever worked. He has a lot of anxiety issues too and this job works well for him. Now that we have kids it is helpful as he works from home with flexible job and can watch the kids part time splitting childcare with his father who lives with us. He could possibly stay in this role for the rest of his career — which means he won’t get to 150 for a long time. However, if the non profit shuts down, which is very well might when the owner retires, my husband will have to find a new job, or become a FT SAHD. He thinks he is unemployable as his one and only job is very specific to this small non profit. I think if he got even a basic entry-level job here with his academic credentials he could make at least 100k plus benefits. I worry whatever job he goes to will not pay him a fair wage as he will not negotiate, so he may end up working a lot more for a lot less. I’ve encouraged him to seek out additional clients but he refuses. This one he only has because he briefly worked there full time and then when he tried to quit they offered him a contract role and he took it. So I don’t really see him earning 150k but maybe in a few years that will be realistic as a base salary when he needs to find a new job. I am thinking if we can just get through the years our children are at home before school, then I can encourage him to get a better paid job. If I have another kid that will be in about 7 years. So in 5-7 years I’ll see if he is open to working full time. If I can hold out that long I can be in a much better position to move into a contract role, and be more involved with my kid’s lives when they are in school, which I would like to do. So maybe it will all work out. I do wish my husband tried to get more freelance work but right now w a toddler and baby it’s prob best he doesn’t.

      1. You’ve really thought this through, I hope I didn’t come across as being critical. People in very specific niche positions do have a harder time negotiating because there isn’t much of a job market, especially if you’ve got a two career marriage. Plus he is already earning a very good paycheck. I was always very ambitious and good at negotiating pay increases but as a former boss I know that many people aren’t built like that and many positions don’t have room for large increases in any case.
        Steveark recently posted..Free College for Rich People

        1. Not at all. I don’t even expect my husband to make more than he’s “worth,” it’s just frustrating that he will never ask for a raise as he does about 8 different jobs for this org and if he ever left they would have to hire multiple people to do the work he does, and those people would like be far less responsible and capable. With the raises his boss is kindly giving him each year, even though he doesn’t ask, he is finally at six figures, which is exciting indeed. I don’t like to negotiate either — which one reason why I change jobs frequently. When you start a new job you’re expected to negotiate a bit. And you can ask for whatever you want. Once you’re in a role, it’s much harder. Since my husband has worked for this org for… 15+ years now… wherever he goes next will prob be his forever company when the time comes. So it’s important he goes somewhere that either rewards top performers without further negotiation or asking for raises, or he at least goes in with a decent salary. Right now the set up works for us — he has a very flexible job and his income is more than it would cost to put our kids in daycare. But he could try to take on a few extra projects a year for other clients… just to diversify in case his org goes out of business, etc. Meanwhile long term it would be best for him to get a full time job because my mental health makes it dangerous for the family healthcare to be all riding on my ability to hold down a job. As for pay increases, the reality is that $10k or even $20k is pocket change to most any org (except for very very small businesses) but is significant to a family of 4. I easily spend $20k in a week on services and such in my role, $20k a year for a valuable employee is nothing.

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