"Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for--in order to get the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it." - Ellen Goodman
The above quote today reminds me of that old parody of the Seven Dwarfs song--"I owe, I owe, so off to work I go!" To tell the truth, that could be my theme song. Yes, I admit it. I don't work for altruistic reasons like "making a difference" or "changing the world." My altruistic tendencies are better served in my volunteerism. No, I work for strictly practical reasons--to help pay the bills! I'm not a romantic when it comes to my career. If I were debt-free (dream on!) I would gladly and happily retire in order to pursue the activities that I find life-giving and meaningful.
Don't get me wrong. My career has its rewarding and heart-warming moments. Considering that I work for a non-profit organization, my salary isn't terrible, just lower-end middle class. If I had to make it on my own it might be difficult, but as a second-income it's not bad. I began working to help save for college and in that regard it worked: my eldest two children have their education paid for in full. They have no enormous student loans hanging over their heads and for that, I'm grateful. I'm glad that I have been able to contribute to both their education and their freedom from educational debt.
But now, well, tuitions have been paid and my work seems less rewarding. Now it's just to pay bills, many of them for things that I don't need and no longer seem to want. My desire becomes to simplify my life--not to collect more things but to give some away, to de-clutter both my inner and outer worlds of unnecessary "junk." Perhaps I will just open the door to people looking for bargains, allowing them to make me an offer on whatever they see! Not only would this relieve me of the chore of packing things up and throwing things away, but I might make a buck or two to boot!
And yet, as nice as it would be to retire, to simplify, to begin enjoying all that life has to offer in the way of opportunity and freedom, I can't think of a single way that this might help to pay the bills. In the last couple of years, we have taken on new debt in order to make needed improvements on our old house. The lenders expect these loans to be paid, in spite of the failing economy and the high cost of living.
And so it's off to work each day for an indefinite number of years. My challenge has become to find new causes that can benefit from the spoils of my salary. I contribute to my favorite charities and to my choice of presidential candidates. I raised my church offering to help cover their ministies and outreach programs. I help to pay for my granddaughter's preschool tuition. I can send the occasional care package to Amy in Japan and sometimes help Jeff with his travel expenses.
And so it seems that my earlier comment is not completely true: I do work for altruistic reasons, at least in part. I need a sense of purpose for what I do--good reasons beyond "making money" in order to pay my creditors. I long to contribute to the causes and purposes of real people who are trying to make their own difference in this world. In small ways, I help support others who may be struggling, often though no fault of their own.
And so, the clothes and the car are purchased so that I can go to work--looking professional all the way. And I leave the dogs in an empty, but updated, house that needs to be paid for. My guitar needs dusting, my piano tuning and my laundry and dishes pile up. I'll get to them eventually. While this doesn't feel like "real" life, it is what I am required to do right now.