I'm Working Again, and I'm Terrified

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BlogHers, the unthinkable has happened. I have stumbled ass-backwards into a job. A real, honest-to-goodness, 40k-a-year permanent temp job. I even found my first paycheck sitting in the credit union account last week, by accident. I had forgotten I was supposed to get paid for schlepping up the turnpike every weekday.

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Credit Image: Sean MacEntee on Flickr

When I told himself that last bit, he just looked at me. He gets this look on his face when I say some things, specifically related to my strange attitudes about money. Fact is, I don’t trust it. See all these frugality articles in my profile? Those aren’t there only to be trendy. That’s pretty much all I know! But now it’s a hot topic, the saving of dollars and pinching of pennies. That’s my normal. I have never made this much at a job. Ever. And it’s scaring me.

My resume bears a pattern I suspect is unique to caregivers, especially those of us that started at a young age. I have a lot of experience and have logged full-time hours *at part-time jobs*. That’s the problem: On paper, I seem like a dilettante or someone who can’t hold a full-timer. The reality is that I could not because I was always taking care of someone or another, and I was earning my degrees. Something had to give, and that thing was work. I was afraid to leave school once I started, since I had this vision of waking up one morning in my forties and realizing I never tried for that master's degree. So I did it. And I felt horribly guilty, because I wasn’t using those years to build a career. Even those years saw one of the worst job crises in decades, and I was probably better off continuing as a grad student, because I could at least some explanation for my resume’s “gap”. Then, once that freak-out was over, I felt even more guilty because I am the first woman in my family to get a higher degree, and there were so many people through the years that encouraged me to do this.

Side note: If someone is used to the social capital from a family where high education is a given, it’s hard to imagine the special meaning a degree has for other families. Well meaning but somewhat shortsighted friends have often said, “What’s the point?” or, “You’re smart enough; anyway, you don’t need it.” But to me, that bachelor's degree, that master's degree -- those are my tickets far away from the welfare line I knew as a child. Call it programming if you will, call it a shell game, whatever, but I considered those degrees mandatory, even if now I’m unnerved by them.

In my darker moments during that nearly year-long unemployment spell, I did fantasize about tearing my master's degree to bits, shredding it, burning it. Completely hiding any trace of shameful achievement and “not knowing my place”. I had some dark moments, folks. The degree itself is safe -– tucked into a bottom drawer under some cans of loose-leaf tea. Who knows if I’ll ever display it. But now I have a job to go with it. And I’m all a-flutter again. I’m earning money, I’m doing a good job, I’ve got insurance, a pension (!), and regular paychecks.

Now I’m scared it’ll stop! I suppose I don’t get a rest, ever.

Going back to the original image of my “forgotten” check and my dumbfounded spouse ... the only thing I can draw from this, besides the need for therapy, is that I feel like I’m betraying something. I really do -– I meditate on this weirdness surrounding work and money, and the only word I can come up with is “betrayal."

I get up at 5:30, I put on nice clothes, I get into a nice car, and I leave a nice house to go to an office where the lights are on, the phone works, and there’s a seemingly never-ending line of funding for important programs. I type on a brand-new computer, answering emails all day, I fax (yeah, we still do that) travel arrangements for Big Important Credentialed People to come and talk at our conferences ... and I go back home to a nice house, the nice couch, and a bank account that is no longer at zero. Sometimes, I even drink nice wine with nice friends.

And when I think about it all too hard, I feel tremendously guilty. I “got out,” finally. I have no one sick or dying to worry about. I have no huge bills hanging over me, save student loans. I have a good, supportive, wonderful spouse, and (in case she reads this) an amazing mother-in-law. I seem to have made it. Why do I feel so bad?



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