By Caitlin Kelly
I loved this recent post by a friend and colleague, a Toronto-based travel writer, Heather Greenwood-Davis, who has seen much of the world, and even took her two young sons and husband globe-trotting with her for a year.
Heather trained as a lawyer and did well, but…
My marriage suffered. My friendships suffered. My health suffered. I began to shut out the world and as a result the very people I thought I was suffering for.
It made no sense.
What was the point of a full bank account if I wouldn’t be around to enjoy it with them?
And so I downsized my career and upsized my happiness. I followed my passions and though there was an immediate hit financially, the life I’ve been able to craft with my family has more than made up for it. The happier I became, the more I earned.
As long-time readers of Broadside know, this is really one of my obsessions and an issue I care very deeply about.
Do you know this book — written by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter? — The Two-Income Trap? It argues that chasing the American Dream might be a fool’s errand.
If you’ve never read this classic book “Your Money or Your Life”, it’s an eye-opener. It makes clear, in plain and unvarnished language, the very real choice we make — we spend our lives focused on making (more and more and more) money, grow old and die.
That’s normal life for 99% of us.
But should it be?
We’re not robots. We all need a hand, a hug and some help!
Do we all really need the biggest, fastest, shiniest, latest, 3.0 version of everything?
The tiny house movement addresses this longing as well, as some people choose to live in homes of 200 to 300 square feet, giving them the financial freedom to make less punishing choices than staying in a job they loathe to…pay the bills.
And so many students are graduating college with staggering debt and having very little luck finding a good job, the kind they hoped that college degree would help them attain.
For too many hard-working people, the “virtuous cycle” of work has long since been replaced with a vicious one, as so many us earn less than we used to, costs rise, good jobs are outsourced and turned into “gigs” with no benefits or access to unemployment insurance.
Whatever loyalty many people once felt to a job, employer or industry….Today? Not so much.
Every year, surveys show that a staggering portion — like 75 percent — of Americans are “disengaged” at work.
They arrive late, take sick days, dick around when they’re supposed to be working. They hate their jobs or, at best, feel bored, stifled, under-challenged.
This is brutal.
This is heartbreaking.
We only get one life — and it goes by very very fast.
I so admire Heather for making a decision that goes against every sociocultural imperative: get (and cling to) a fancy job, make tons of money, make more, buy tons of stuff, buy more.
We’re urged by everyone — friends, teachers, parents, bosses — to keep climbing the ladder of material success and professional glory, no matter what it costs you emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually.
I live in the same one bedroom apartment I moved into in June 1989.
If you had told me this would become my life, I would have laughed. I moved around a lot, and liked it.
I’d never before lived in any one domicile more than four years — and that was back in high school, with my father.
But my chosen life in New York also threw me a bunch of curveballs: three recessions in 20 years, a brief first marriage, an industry — journalism — that fired 24,000 people in 2008 and is in serious chaos today.
Life, if we are lucky, is a series of choices that reflect our deepest values, principles and priorities.
I didn’t want to change careers or leave New York, still the center of journalism and publishing.
I had no wish to assume enormous student debt to return to college to retrain for an entirely different line of work.
I didn’t want to move far upstate, or out of state, where I could live more cheaply, and possibly face serious social isolation, which I’d hated in New Hampshire.
My stubbornness created its own challenges!
How much is enough?
I don’t have children, so did not have those serious financial responsibilities to consider.
I’ve been very fortunate to have maintained health insurance and good health (even with four orthopedic surgeries in a decade.)
My priority, always, has been to create the freedom to travel and to retire, (and we have) and to work on issues and stories that make sense to me.
It means making, and spending, less money.
We’re outliers, in some key ways:
We drive a 15 year old Subaru with 166,000 miles on it.
We don’t buy a lot of clothes and shoes and electronics; our splurges are meals out and travel.
We’re not close to our families, emotionally or physically, so we don’t spend thousands of dollars each year on travel to see them, gifts for them or their children.
I realized — after working at three major daily newspapers and a few magazines — work is just work. Like many others, I’ve also been bullied in a few workplaces and terminated from a few as well.
That left some bruises.
I enjoy writing. I love telling stories.
But it’s only one part of my life.
I have many interests and passions, not just the desire to work, make money and become rich, famous, admired.
I’ve become a nationally ranked saber fencer.
I’ve been able to help care for my parents through health crises because I didn’t have to beg an employer for time off.
I’ve been able to help friends as well, like taking a recent day off to get a friend home to Brooklyn from Manhattan after day surgery.
Now that my husband is also full-time freelance, we can take a day or two during the week and just have a long lunch or go for a walk or catch a daytime film.
Jose and I really enjoy one another’s company.
I’d much rather have a day with him, just chatting and hanging out, than making an additional $1,000 to buy…something.
We met and married later in life, and we have both had terrific, satisfying careers in journalism.
Now our priority is one another, our friends.
How about you?