I am a person who particularly likes to see the connections in things. Like the time where I noticed that the random vampire that Jason and his V-addicted girlfriend had locked up in their basement in True Blood was also a guy who was frequently on Roseanne (we were watching Roseanne reruns at the time) and was in fact also the guy who played Milton in Office Space and then at the same time I happened to notice him in a small part in a movie about whales that I caught on TV one day. I tend to see connections like that — like suddenly Milton from Office Space was everywhere. Or like 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon.
At the beginning of August I decided to start doing the August Break photo challenge. It’s about slowing down and looking around and paying attention, and I know for sure I could use more of that. So I’ve been posting pictures based on the photo prompts. You can check them out on my Instagram feed.
Yesterday, I was scrolling through Facebook for reasons unknown as Facebook usually manages to anger me, but there I was doing it anyway, when I saw that someone had shared a post to a Reddit thread about a guy who was complaining about how his girlfriend left him homeless and could she really legally do this. The TL;DR version of this thread (which I recommend reading anyway) is that the guy is an abusive douche and his girlfriend finally got sick of it and made a plan to get rid of him in the most legal and safe way possible.
Anyway, one of the Reddit commenters noted that the girlfriend in Douchey McDouche’s story had a “Fuck Off Fund” and left a link to an article called A Story of a Fuck Off Fund, which honestly, should be required reading for all teenagers and pretty much all adults too. It reminded me a bit of the advice that mom repeatedly drove into my head, which was “never rely on a man to support you.” And although my mom’s advice was given to me based on her experience as a woman and the fact that she had daughters, and in fact the article above is written for women, the advice is solid and stands for all people. Not only is a good idea to learn how to support yourself, it’s an even better idea to have a Fuck Off Fund because trust me, someday, something shitty will happen to you. And when the shit comes, it doesn’t care about your gender or anything else.
What does any of this have to do with connections between things? It shall all become clear.
Yesterday’s August Break photo prompt was “5 years ago”. So I figure I’ll use Facebook’s handy dandy “memories” feature to find memories from 5 years ago, but Facebook comes up with nothing particularly interesting, and certainly no pictures. So I start scrolling through Facebook photo albums instead and I find an album from a trip that I took to Vegas about 5 years ago. My friend and I had both turned 40 in October of 2010 and we decided to take a trip to Vegas to celebrate, which we did in the summer of 2011. So I decide to use a picture that I took on a hike we went on in the Valley of Fire during that trip (the very same picture you see in this article in fact). A short, easy hike in ridiculous heat, and at the end of the hike my friend made me eat an apple that I didn’t want to eat and it turned out to be the best apple I’ve ever had in my life. Anyway, I love that picture. I had it blown up on a canvas so I could hang it in my family room. As I looked at the picture, I started thinking about that trip to Vegas. Our flight from Ottawa to Newark was delayed so much (thanks United!) that we missed our connection to Vegas, necessitating a stay in a $35/night hotel that the airline reluctantly put us up in, and we even more reluctantly stayed in because a $35/night hotel looks exactly like you think it would. The upside though, was that I was travelling a lot for work at the time, and as such I had Air Canada Elite/Star Alliance Gold membership and we got rebooked on the first flight out and they gave us exit row seats. I recalled how the $1 margaritas at Casino Royale do not in fact have any alcohol in them (get the $1 beer instead), and how much I enjoyed the Penn & Teller show and how I still don’t regret not jumping out of a plane.
But then I recalled something more significant about that trip. During that trip, my boss’s boss called me to let me know that my boss had been laid off. He assured me that I had a job to come back to, but that there might be some people in my group (I had people reporting to me) laid off, and he would let me know if that happened. A day or two later, he let me know that 2 people in my team had been let go.
That was the beginning of a big change for me. That was the beginning of a slow descent from a job that I loved to a job that hated. To a place where I wanted to cry every time I had to get up in the morning and go to work. A few months after I returned from Vegas, my team was restructured, my position eliminated, and I was offered 2 options: take a different job with a $15,000 pay cut, or take a 14 week severance package. I was given 24 hours to make a decision. I decided to take the lower paying job. I was a single income earner with kids to support and a mortgage to pay, I wasn’t sure that I could get a job that paid as much in the 14 severance period and I honestly didn’t feel like I had any other options. A job is better than no job, right?
I didn’t have a Fuck Off Fund, so I couldn’t extend my middle finger to the shitty, beneath me job offer, and head out with the 14 weeks they were offering, secure in the knowledge that if 14 weeks wasn’t enough to get myself sorted out, I had more to fall back on. So I took the job, knowing that it was a job I didn’t really want to do, and that I would always be a little bitter about the circumstances.
Financial advisers have always talked about how you need to have 6 or 8 or 12 months salary put away in some kind of emergency fund in case bad things happen, in particular in case you lose your job. It’s obviously very sound advice, but very few people act on it. According to this article, 24% of Canadians have hardly any money set aside. 56% of Canadians have less than $10,000 set aside. Some people simply can’t afford to put money aside. But others can, and don’t. Either because it’s hard, or we don’t think it’s necessary or because we don’t want to be focused on something negative happening for fear of self fulfilling prophecy or something. Of course I’ll never want to leave my partner! Of course he/she will never leave me. That <insert bad thing here> will never happen to me. Ahem. It doesn’t really seem fun to save money in case something bad happens. Never mind the fact that if nothing bad ever happens (yay!) you still have the money (yay!) It seems like more fun to go on trips and buy things with that money and it’s easy to justify not saving with the “it will never happen to me” line, particularly when you’re not going into debt or doing any real damage. For whatever reason, we often don’t act in ways that we know to be logical.
So I took the job with the pay cut, and as the years went on (4 of them, pretty much to the day when I finally got laid off), I hated the time I spent at my job more. Some days, I felt as though my soul was being sucked right out of my body just by entering the building, and I’m not prone to melodrama, I really felt that way. I didn’t know how I would get out of bed in the morning. But I had a job, and I grew up in an era where you were supposed to be grateful to have a job, and where liking a job was not even really a consideration — jobs were not about liking, they were about making money and supporting yourself.
Because I hated the time I spent there, I subconsciously started looking for ways to brighten life up a little bit. Most of those ways involved spending money, at a time when I had less money to spend. To be clear, I didn’t and don’t live an especially extravagant lifestyle — my furniture is all either old or second hand, we don’t have all the latest and greatest technology in our house, my van is 11 years old and I plan to keep it for as long as possible. But I did start spending money on things, rationalizing that I “deserved it” because of how hard I worked and how much I had been through and how miserable and stressed out I was. A couple of additional trips after the Vegas trip — nothing crazy expensive, but still cost money. Buying that more expensive bottle of wine. Lots of meals out because I was too tired/stressed to cook. Books that I just had to have, many of which still sit unread today. Craft supplies and crystals and pretty things. For the most part, small things that added up. Instead of building up a Fuck Off Fund, I kind of built a Fuck You deficit, without even realizing it. And in the long run, I was no happier. The miserable job was still miserable, and I still had to go to it every day, and I still had no other decent options, and while I enjoyed the week in Cuba, the happiness I felt there didn’t extend to my life back home.
If I could re-tell the story, where I had a Fuck Off Fund, maybe I would have chosen to part ways. To take the 14 week severance and walk away and take some time to find a job that was a great fit, or to start a business or something else. Or maybe I would have chosen to stay and take my time looking for something better, or started a business on the side using some of my Fuck Off Fund. Whether I would have made a different choice is not really the point though. The point is, I would have had more options. I would have felt like I had a choice, rather than feeling backed into a corner. And that feeling of having real choices is very, very powerful.
What’s really kind of crazy about this, is that in one day, a few weird and unlikely connections — a Facebook post, Reddit thread, Salon article and August Break challenge have lead me to such a place of introspection that I have come to see the idea of building a Fuck Off Fund (which really is a much more powerful name than Emergency Savings” as kind of an ultimate act of self love, rather than a chore. As a creator of possibility instead of beacon of negativity.
Interesting how seeing the connections can totally change your perspective.
So, if you don’t have a Fuck Off Fund, start one up today.
And look for the connections. You never know what you’ll find.