Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Starving Artists, A Starving Nation

We’ve all heard stories of celebrities who endured hardships before they received their first real break and became famous. It’s hard to feel sympathy for them now that they’re successful, right? Just because we can see how their struggles have paid off, doesn't mean we should discount them. It is easy to admire their tenacity. Not everyone reaps the rewards for their efforts, however. Many give up when things get too difficult and they choose to follow an easier, less satisfying path simply to survive.

The most difficult thing about sticking to your beliefs and pursuing the kind of life you truly desire is not the notion that you’ll never achieve it, but having to deal with all the hardships that will either make you or break you. These challenges come at you every day and they’re not just the obvious issues like trying to meet your goals. I’m talking about what I imagine many people have experienced in this tough economy: the inability to meet the basic needs of living (food, clothing, and shelter). How is it that the wealthiest nation in the world can have so many people out of work and hungry?

When I lost my job two and a half years ago, I never imagined that I wouldn’t be working again right away and I certainly never thought I would be unemployed for such a long period of time. I’d never had trouble finding a job before. In fact, I’d always been able to get any job I’d ever wanted in the past. However, harsh economic times hasn’t been the only factor playing into my inability to find work.

Many companies now use credit scores as a means to determine how responsible someone might be. If you have a bad credit score, you won’t even be considered for employment with many, many companies. Well, of course I have bad credit – I’ve been out of work for two and a half years. What are they thinking? I paid all of my bills when I was working and even while I was receiving unemployment compensation, but when that ran out, so did my ability to be responsible? I think a reality check is required here. One can have a decent credit score for years, but it only takes a few months for all that hard work to be completely wiped out.

As an older American and a non-minority female, I’m also finding it increasingly more difficult to compete with the younger, fresh-out-of-college market. My college education was so long ago that it doesn’t seem to have any influence at all now. Even the continuing education classes I’ve taken in more recent years don’t really have any impact because the rapidly changing technology makes it nearly impossible to keep up. Despite the fact that I worked in the high tech industry for 14 years, my knowledge is now obsolete. I am obsolete. I am old. Put me on the shelf and forget about me.

I first studied computer sciences in college before changing my major to business administration.  I’ve worked in an assistant’s role for over twenty years. I’ve hired, fired, evaluated, scheduled, and supervised employees. I’ve created and coordinated events. I’ve dealt with corporate directors and VPs and their million-dollar budgets. I’ve written books and started my own business. Yet, today… I am unable to meet my very basic needs. I can’t pay my rent or my bills. I can barely feed myself.

Whenever I sell a set of meditation beads, I feel prosperous. I do Tarot readings for people and lead small workshops to share what I know. I studied Reiki, hoping to add that service to my list of offerings. I am forced to look for any opportunity to earn some money – including cleaning houses. Individually, none of these efforts bring in a large wad of cash, but they do help and it is honest work. If not for the generosity of friends and family, I would be homeless and have nothing. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating … but just a little bit.

Having my own business and being my own boss means having the freedom to do what I want, when I want. It means that I make all of the decisions and reap all of the benefits. The downside is that it also means I have no one with whom I can share the mistakes and disasters. I have no one to blame when things go wrong. Freedom isn’t cheap, either. True freedom costs money – a lot of money. In order to live a decent life – one where you can expect to eat right and pay your basic bills and grow your business – one must have a reliable source of income. In order to experience true freedom – the ability to make true choices with your purchasing power – one must have more money than what’s required to cover the basics.

True choices? This means having the ability to decide to take a drive in the country because you don’t have to make an eighth of a tank of gas last for two more weeks. It means being able to decide to spend your time doing something that nourishes your soul because you don’t have to think about how you’re going to pay for your next meal. Having a true choice means that you can choose whether to call someone or send them a text message because your phone service hasn’t been cut off. No one should have to make a choice between buying groceries or filling a prescription for blood pressure medication. No one should have to choose between barely getting by and truly enjoying life.

In the past, I could not only meet my basic needs, but I had enough money left over to help others who weren’t as fortunate. Now all I have to offer is my time and effort, which I give freely whenever possible so that I can still make a difference in people’s lives. I barter for as much as I can. I take nothing for granted. In fact, the one good thing about having my phone service cut off is that I no longer have creditors calling me at all hours of the day in an attempt to collect my debts. I take my victories where I can.

Since I’ve been unemployed for so long, it might seem obvious that I’d have all the time in the world to write – an enviable benefit for most part-time authors who try to squeeze in a few hours of writing after a long day at work. Yet most of my energy is spent finding ways to earn some money. Probably the one most regrettable part of unemployment/self-employment is that I have less time and creative energy to spend on my writing than I did when I had a full-time job.

If not for the fan who called to ask if my third book was out yet, I’d probably give up on the notion of being an author. However, I am an author, and for that one fan (and all the rest of you who don’t know you’re going to be fans yet), I will continue writing. I will finish that third book. I just have to remember that there are people in worse predicaments than my own and all of this will one day make for a great story which can be used to inspire others to keep going when times get tough.

“As Bob is my witless …”

1 comment:

  1. ... So this is where Nick gets his talent... Congratulations to you J. D., on keeping to the path. Keep your spirit up. Good news is on the way...


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