I did poorly in maths in high school, but in my first year of algebra in college, it “clicked.”  It was either my maturity level or interest in truly learning, or maybe the skills of the professor and how he conveyed the information, but something made sense that had not made sense before.  It was one of the first times of my life when I understood that every problem really does have a solution, that solving for X may not always be obvious, and frequently has too many Y’s to seem manageable, but is for the most part, able to be figured out.  Much of my adult life, well, to be honest, all of my adult life, has been figuring stuff out…sometimes in a dread filled way, as in, “how in the heck did I get myself into this mess?” and sometimes in a joy filled way, as in, “how the heck did I get so lucky?”  but regardless of the highs and the lows, my years of adulting on this earth have taught me that most of what we do, every day, is in some way or another, just figuring things out…

I’ve worked at jobs that were easy and jobs that were not.  Before these recent years of self-employment doing work that is physically challenging, I worked for a big company where the work was mentally challenging, and before that I had 20 years of retail, which I loved, and at times was both.  I knew the corporate world of insurance fraud investigation was no longer for me, despite the giant paychecks, paid vacation, medical coverage, and a  401K, when I sat down one morning for work and my hands were shaking uncontrollably.  I literally could not stop them from shaking.  I could not turn on my computer or pick up my phone.  My eyelashes were falling out daily in clumps and I was not feeling “me.”   Mind you, I had the amazingly good fortune to have gotten a job in Maryland, and worked from home…SO despite having the giant paychecks, paid vacation, a health-plan, and retirement contributions, AND getting to work from a home office that my dad built me off of my laundry room, I was NOT enjoying the job at all.  I did not know what to do.  It was early June, my daughter was in high school, I had a mortgage and a Pathfinder payment, and I just quit.  I turned on my computer and sent an email to my manager, the human resources lady, and the boss…I thanked them for the opportunity and for the five years of employment but explained simply that I just could not do the job one more day.  My LexisNexis account was closed immediately, my email was shut down and I was told to mail my computer back the next day.  Investigating insurance fraud and having correspondence with lawyers, doctors, judges, hospitals, and insurance companies provides you with a LOT of personal information about a LOT of people and so once I quit, it was like they erased me…and the last paycheck was the last paycheck…

THEN, later that morning, after another few cups of coffee came the realization that I was in a situation that might not be figure-outable…I had a daughter in high school, a mortgage, a car payment, and now as of that morning, no more giant paycheck, paid vacation, health insurance, or 401K.  OH MY GOD!  WHAT DID I DO??  I don’t remember if I cried.  BUT what I do remember, is that after a few hours I realized that my hands were not shaking, and my breathing felt like normal breathing, and although I was worried sick about what I was going to do, I felt healthier than I had felt in years.  WHAT a shocking discovery.  I discovered that my super good corporate job was making me positively miserable.  I loved that it afforded me the ability to buy a house and a Nissan and to take my daughter to Nordstrom’s whenever she wanted, and to own ridiculously overpriced handbags, but at what cost?!  I guess that was my eye-opening realization; I figured out that I was doing a job that did not make me feel good and the only thing good about the job was the money.  Did I really think that?  As if money didn’t matter?!  Money matters.  We live in a world where it pretty much is all that matters when you break things down into basics.  We live in a world where you need it for every basic NEED, never even mind the WANTS.  Here in New Jersey, my property taxes each year are more than I spend on my mortgage.  Food, clothing, shelter, can’t be bought with my positive outlook and cheerful disposition, I need money.  Also, being single and having no partner to share the expense of the food, clothing, or shelter, meant that I was the only bread-winner in my household, and if I did not figure something out there would be no bread, and there would be no house…Although that was 13 years ago, the thoughts of trying to figure it out, and the worry associated with those thoughts, are still clear.

In my experience, it’s always people who have money who say that money does not matter.  I have walked to 7-11 in January to use the payphone with my baby in a stroller and had $11…No car, no phone, empty oil tank on the side of the apartment where I lived while my job was closed for the off-season, so my baby was wrapped in all the blankets at once and wearing two footed sleepers, with $11…to avoid having to tell your parents how terrible your life has become, you stand in 7-11 in a January of 1987 and figure out how to make that $11 buy some food and baby formula that will last through the end of the week and you hope that your husband will show up sometime soon and that he will have money…talk about figure-outable…That was of course during the darkest days of my life, my bad-sad past as I sometimes call it, and when my family and friends helped me from that life, it got better very quickly, but it still was my life at that time, and so unless you have ever been in that kind of bad-sad situation, it might be easy to think that money does not matter very much.  So, anyway, back to my point, those are big things to think about, there is sometimes an immediacy to a situation that must be figured out…

When I left the hospital on a cold January Saturday in 1986, a nurse handed me my big fat healthy baby, but no instruction manual, no how-to booklet, just a pat on my arm with a smile that seemed to say, “you’ll figure it out.”   When that baby was 17 months old and I was away from my bad-sad life, I decided that I had better figure out what kind of future I might have, so I signed up to take two classes at the county college, three nights a week, after work, and there was no guide-book to tell me how to work 40 hours a week, take care of a baby, and do homework.  That I lived with my parents and my sister at that time was a blessing. After the Associate’s Degree, when I found out that to apply to a college to get my Bachelor’s Degree I would have to take a full-time course load or I’d not qualify for financial aid, there was no self-help brochure to tell me how to work only four days a week so I could go to school three days a week, and still afford my house and expenses and do it for two full years, including independent study and summer classes, while raising a little girl.  And while all of this seems a lifetime ago, it was all of this that lead me to where I am now…someone who somehow figures it out.

In these years since I dumped the big-deal job, I’ve had some months, many to be honest, where I was robbing my left hand to pay my right.  Solving for X became how to pay all the bills coming in with the paltry sum of income coming in.  Figuring it out becomes a necessity, not just a wish to get an answer right.  Some months you just have to figure out how to pay for the roof over your head, and the gas to heat the space, and the electric to illuminate it, and not go hungry.  Some months are filled with more figure-outable moments than others.  Some months, like this one, there is money to pay the bills, have a sushi date with my boyfriend, and buy a new washing machine.  Had my washing machine died in the dead of winter, either my parents would be buying it for me as my Christmas present or I would be using a washboard and a galvanized bucket!  Being self-employed is scary sometimes, a lot of times actually.  It’s only August 4th and I am already beginning to panic that I have no big jobs lined up for after Labor Day, let alone work scheduled for the winter, but I suppose I will just figure something out as the summer comes to a close.  Sometimes it is quite terrifying.  Having nobody to depend on but yourself is often daunting, despite some of the perks; like being able to leave work at 2:30 three days a week to get your grandchildren off the bus during the school year, like being able to work several nights in empty houses so as to leave work early in the busy summer season to go with your daughter to the bridal shop for her wedding dress fittings, like being able to take off a Friday in August to go to New York state because your boyfriend and his band are performing at the famous Daryl’s House.  I have to work on Saturday morning, two houses need to be cleaned and readied for renting, so most pressing on my figure-outable scale is how I am going to drive home from Dutchess County New York in the wee hours of Saturday morning and be lively and energized for work a couple of hours later…but I guess I will figure it out when I get there…


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