Wednesday, September 01, 2010

On Becoming Dependent

I start school in less than a week and have been valiantly trying to make these last few days really feel like vacation. In part, I've succeeded. I've slept in, gone running along the water's edge, had bbq's in the backyard with Rico, suntanned, drank beer, read the entire September edition of Vogue, and watched plenty of trash on tv.

However, in between the sun and exercise and celebrity gossip, I've also been working exceptionally hard. I've been preparing tons of new jewelry for a trunk show at a local boutique, and am trying to get my online inventory up in preparation for the holidays. I also did a record number of translations in August and, despite having sworn to myself that I'd take a vacation, just accepted two new assignments yesterday.

Even though Rico has a stable income these days, it's really hard for me to snap out of "freelancer mode". When you are a self-employed consultant, you never know when your next job will appear, or when your clients will get around to paying you for assignments you've already completed. It's a cash flow nightmare, and Rico and I became very good at dealing with the unpredictability. The key? Accept (nearly) every job that comes your way, even if it means you are triple-booked and working 90 hours a week. You never know, you may have to rely on that income for the next four months.

And thus, even though my husband now gets a regular paycheck that covers our living expenses, I still feel compelled to take on work even though I'm supposed to be on vacation or am super busy with school. Part of it is residual consultant mindset, but part is also a matter of pride. For the first time in my life (well, for the first time since I started college and was weaned off the parental financial teat) I am dependent on another person to pay my bills, put me through school, buy my clothes, cover the mortgage, pay for trips and entertainment, etc.

When Rico and I were in the throes of financial uncertainty back in Mozambique - in the good old days when we were just starting to work as consultants, trying to establish a reputation for ourselves, living off $800 a month - I always thought that having someone else take care of your cash flow worries must be the best thing in the world. Certainly, I am blessed that Rico has a great job, and that our situation allows me the luxury of going to art school and following my dream of being a full-time jewelry artist. However, it's been surprisingly difficult for me to accept that I am now financially dependent on Rico and - to make matters worse - not only am I not bringing in a big income, I'm also running up expenses right and left thanks to the astronomical tuition at CCA.

I don't think I ever realized how much of my identity was caught up in being a breadwinner, being financially INdependent, earning a salary that somehow validated my worth as a professional and as a person. It's been hard to admit, and even harder to let go. Even though I'm happier than I've ever been, and wouldn't want to go back to consulting unless truly necessary, part of me still feels like a "failure" because I'm not bringing in an income.

It's a very strange feeling because intellectually, I know this is ridiculous. That my happiness and well-being are worth much more than any silly salary I walked away from. I feel that $100 earned creating and selling a piece of jewelry is much, much sweeter than $10,000 earned doing some bullshit consulting assignment. However, there is part of me - a stubborn, superficial, distorted-feminist part - that feels ashamed to be dependent on someone else.

Rico has been super understanding of my internal struggle, and keeps trying to get the message through my thick head that his salary is OUR money. He reminds me of the times in our past - when he was studying, or sorting out the logistics of our wedding, or taking care of the bureaucracy of buying our house - when his income was zilch and I was bringing in the big bucks. He asks whether I thought about the money I earned during those periods as our money. Of course it was OUR money. "But that was different," I protest. Rico will then look at me with a raised eyebrow and as me how, exactly, it was different. Of course I have no good answer, and we laugh together at my stubbornness.

With each day that passes, it becomes a little easier to accept that I am lucky enough to be in this situation, that I am deserving of the support of my family and that there is no shame in giving up my income in order to pursue my dream. Now if I could only have the gumption to turn away the next translating assignment...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Ali. Do you think you'll slow down on the translation assignments once you get in the thick of school? Do you worry about maintaining your Portuguese ability? I am so glad that you at least have the option to pursue your dreams professionally without worrying about financial stability IN a house that you guys bought IN California which to lower cost areas like Houston is amazing. Just continue to enjoy yourself.


--jenna said...

I know what you mean. I find myself trying to take on extra writing jobs to "justify" expenses that I'd always treated myself to in the past, like a manicure or a new top, because it somehow seems frivolous to be spending "his" or "our" money. And while not being allowed to have a job in Brazil isn't the end of the world, it definitely limits my ability to feel like I'm financially contributing to our marriage, which makes me feel like I really AM a "madame de Leblon!" Ack...

Ali la Loca said...

~Rainbowlens - I'll definitely slow down on the translations once classes start. I don't worry about maintaining my Portuguese because Rico and I speak it at home, and I'm at the point where I've spoken Portuguese for so long that I doubt I'll ever lose the language. I feel very lucky about my situation, make no mistake!

~Jenna - Why am I not surprised that you understand? :)

Alina Popescu said...

This sounds so familiar! I've been employed since my second year in college (full time, lots of night shifts, generally a nightmare) and am used to be perfectly able to pay for my expenses. It's hard shifting your mind from I have to pay for everything to we have to pay for everything. Like you, I cannot seem to see the problem if for one month I am the one bringing in more money :)

It takes some time, especially to people like me for whom a previous "our money" experience has left a bad taste, but you get there :)

Jody said...

I gave up my career so my husband could follow his dream career and I also struggle with the guilt of adding costs while not contributing (I am doing MSc although slowly because we move so much). Such an internal struggle!

It is hard, but you will be so much happier when you let go!

UGh... been so busy moving that I have not read your blog in weeks... I have some catching up to do!

Brandie {Out and About Africa} said...

Thanks for this post. I've always wondered what it's like to be on the other side of independent and to be financially dependent on a partner. It seems that even with the 'right' person, this can be a hard transition. I guess like everything else, this too takes time to adjust to. Good luck and please keep up these wonderful, insightful posts

Ali la Loca said...

~Alina - I really appreciate knowing that I'm in such good company regarding the "dependency struggle". I owe you an's on my list. :)

~Jody - I hope the move went well and that you are feeling somewhat settled in your new home. What was your career previously? I'm curious!

~Brandie - It is a hard transition, especially - I believe - for women who have always been very independent (financially and emotionally). I realize that I'm in such a blessed situation, but it's definitely been an adjustment to embrace the idea of 'WE'...that you give, but you can also freely take.