This year I made more money than I’ve ever made in my life.
And I have almost nothing to show for it.
This is not another post about how to manage money. This is not about budgeting, or priorities, or learning to live with less.
This post is about learning to let go.
Why did I have so much money this year?
Well, this year I worked what is, in academia, “full time,” and now, I’m back to “part-time.”
Note: the terms “full-time” and “part-time” have nothing to do with actual hours worked; they have to do with job track. “Full-time” means tenured or tenure track, which is a permanent position, with corresponding pay and requirements, and a yearly salary.
“Part-time” is a “contingent” contract; you get classes if there are any and no tenured person wants them. You could have one, two, three, or, (and this is fun at the last minute), none. Instead of being paid on yearly salary basis, you’re paid for the class – in my case, a three or four month contract, per class.
Everyone I know, tenured or not, works far, far more hours than what they spend in class or meeting with students, and most of us work way over 40 hours a week, no matter how many classes we have. (Something I plan to change for myself, but that’s a post for another day.)
This year, I held an odd third position my college calls “annualized.” I was “full time equivalent.” (Which means all the perks and responsibilities of a tenured person, but for only the one year – no future promises.) I made what the tenured people make, which is at least 1/3 more than I’ve ever made, even with a “full load” (i.e. three classes). It was far more than I needed to live on.
Yesterday, in the car on the way to the store, I realized that I could have had at least $5,000 saved up – without really missing it!
I almost slammed on my brakes – $5,000! I need $5,000! I could have had $5,000?
And the lovely internal monologue started. You may be familiar with it:
- You’re an idiot.
- You’re irresponsible.
- You’re a stupid fool who was too lazy to bother pulling a lousy $250/paycheck, out and transferring it to another account. You didn’t even have to go to the bank; you could have done it online!
- How lazy are you!?!?
- You’re lazy AND irresponsible.
- You’re an idiot.
Et cetera and so on….
Where did all the money go?
Well, the problem is that I was massively overworked, crazy-stressed-out, and miserable. I didn’t have time to think straight, much less shop, clean, cook, pay bills, or even sleep half the time.
It went to fast food or ordering in, because shopping intelligently was way beyond me, and when I actually managed it, I usually threw most of the food out after it became “green slime in a plastic bag” in my refrigerator, because I had no time to cook it (that would have required doing the dishes first and clearing a space on the counter – things way beyond me for literally weeks at a time…
It went to eating out, because I didn’t have the mental wherewithal to say no – it’s so much easier to just go along. And bam, there’s another $30, $40, $50 bucks gone. But, hey, I had to eat anyway, right?
It went to lattes and energy drinks, several a day. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d bought them at Costco or something, but well, that would have taken too much time and Starbucks and 7-11 are on the way to work….
It went to buying things online on impulse or without research, discovering they were all wrong and not having the mental wherewithal to return them. Anyone need a pair of size 16 mens’ dress shoes?
The money went to late fees on my bills – I had the money, but no time to think about paying them. When I could clear the mental space to sit down at the computer and actually face the bills, I was spending extra because they were late or underpaid – I just threw money at them, I didn’t actually read the statements. That’s crazy talk.
It went to medical bills – the migraines (I had one that lasted 28 days). The back aches. The flares (for new people, I have AS, which is kind of like rheumatoid arthritis, and means that, at the best of times, I’m 75% of a normal person my age). It went to the insane amount of OTC or prescription pills I was taking, so I could power through the headaches. Then I had to take stomach pills to make my innards accept more pain pills, caffeine, herbal energy, or whatever the hell I thought might keep me alive for another day, hour, minute…
In short, the money mostly went to surviving what I was doing to myself by taking on the “full-time” position.
Does this mean that all tenured college professors and instructors are insane lunatics who live in slime-filled kitchens with overflowing cat boxes, with very sad dogs, because Mama has no time to play? (And yes, I begged and paid people to walk my dog). Of course not – although it is the only job I know where we make our own work (the pained cry of “What was I thinking when I assigned that!?!” can be heard in any hallway in academia) – most people don’t tackle things quite the way I do.
Most people don’t revise the content of every class, every quarter – including a never-ending hunt for a better method, better software, better websites, better pacing, better techniques, better images, better assignments, better formats….you get the idea.
Every class. Every quarter.
Most people are reasonable enough not to try to redesign the curriculum for the whole college, not to join three committees, not to take on mentoring other faculty, not to learn a new course management system, not to start degree advising with all its complexities and redundancies and, god knows, acronyms…all at the same time.
I could go on, but what’s the point? I’m not sane. I realize that.
I was killing myself, and I realize that, too.
I finally broke down, decided not to do it any more, and took (halting, baby) steps in another direction – my real dream.
And now, it’s summer. The Year From Hell is over. I’m back to being “part-time” – and planing to make that a very real term, not just academia-speak for “not tenured.”
My old habits are kicking back in – paying attention to what things cost, analyzing if I really need them or not, and keeping track of how much money I actually have. Not buying that allergy med at the drug store, because you’re going to go to Costco tomorrow, where you get a year’s worth for the same price… Remembering that I own a sewing machine, and don’t need to order that pretty pillow on Amazon. …(New litany: You don’t need that new software. You don’t even know how to use all the software you bought in the last 9 months of sleep-deprivation haze…Your phone is FINE! Defrag it and it’s fine. Yeah, PitaPit delivery sounds good, but I have spaghetti right here…)
It was the process re-orienting myself that way that led to the mental math on how much money I could have been saving, which started the entire litany.
Yup. I’m broke.
I’ll be making good friends with the Top Ramen here very soon. (I wonder if the dog likes Top Ramen? Hmmm.)
But the headaches are fading, I’m finally not waking up so exhausted that my eyes leak.
And I need to remember what I was doing that made me too overwhelmed to deal with my work (okay, my entire life) – and remember that I handled it the best way I could at the time. Would I do it differently in the future? I’d like to think so, but probably not.
The lesson isn’t to sternly remind myself to be better at money management in the future (or go out and find software to manage if for me – stop that!).
The lesson is not to put myself under such terrible strain again.
And to forgive myself for not being perfect.
When I forget (and I will, not being perfect – heh) I will come back here and re-read this, to remind myself of that lesson.
And maybe, if it helps you forgive yourself for doing things – or not doing things – that you normally do when times are, well, normal, when life is NOT normal, then it’s doubly worth it.
I need to go pay some bills now. On time.