My Journey To The Slow Life
I’ll be honest. I’m not living the life that I want to be living. I’m still working a 9–5, grinding away at a desk all day, missing time with my children and my wife, sending my dogs to daycare so they don’t live in crates all day, and struggling to make ends meet financially. I spend far too much time on computers and phones, far too much money on trying to entertain myself enough to make it through another work week without losing my everloving mind.
But I have a growing certainty that some other kind of life is possible for me, and for our family, which I didn’t just a few years ago.
I was raised by a single mother who was always trapped in the job hunting cycle. Money was always scarce and elusive, and having a steady office job was held up as the epitome of what life could offer. A steady office job would give one everything they needed — a dependable paycheck, a pension, a way out of the seemingly endless search for work. Watching my mother struggle steeled my determination to have consistent, reliable income, above anything else.
Even so, in my teenage years I dreamt of becoming a journalist, and then an archaeologist. Neither of those worked out, and so I drifted along as a nanny, a daycare director, and eventually a stay at home mom for a few (glorious) years. I loved my daily life then — playing and napping and baking cookies and staying in my jammies half the day — but it destroyed me financially. I eventually had to sell my car to pay the back mortgage payments, my credit card bills were piling up, and realized that I was living a life that was unsustainable.
An office job was the only way forward that I could see.
So I put myself in more debt, as so many of us do, and I plowed ahead into graduate school. With a masters under my belt, I was able to land an admin job at the same college I earned my degree from. I was fresh out of grad school, with two kids under three, and earning more money than I’d ever made in my life (which was still only $38k a year).
And I was fucking miserable. I hated working in an office all day, hated being away from my kids, hated the tedium and the pointlessness of it all. It seemed like 8 hours of busy work. Surely there was more to life than scheduling appointments for people who were more than capable of managing their own calendars, and frittering away my hours of boredom on tumblr. and getting shit on by faculty members who thought they were better than me simply because I had a staff position. This was…not it.
When I was 35, I blew up my life. I walked out on my job, and my marriage, and spent 6 months writing fan fiction (no, I won’t tell you under what pseudonym or what fandom…unless you ask really nicely) and applying for jobs. Finally I got a job as a barista at Starbucks. And I bloody well loved it. No computers, no sitting on my ass all day making up work for myself. My most frequently worked shift was as a closer, which meant I spent all day with my kids, and left them with their dad while I worked from 3–11pm. I made drinks, and dear friends, and loved every moment of my time at Starbucks. (Also, I met my wife there, so that’s pretty fucking cool.)
But yet again, I was broke. If you didn’t know this already, working at Starbucks is not a super quick way to get out of crushing debt.
With an aging (read: falling the fuck apart) house and two kids who were constantly in need of clothes, shoes, glasses, braces, sports equipment, and myriad school supplies…I knew I needed to step back into the world of higher ed and try to get a job that paid more. Which I succeeded in doing, about two and a half years after walking away from the first one.
To be fair, this job has been a gift. I love the people I work with, and I have gotten two sizable promotions and raises in the short time I’ve been here. I get mostly left alone to do my work, and for all intents and purposes, I’m killin it. I get a ton of praise, I’m well liked, and I’m making $20k more a year than I was 3 years ago. Winning, right?
But I feel so empty. Sitting in front of a computer all day just is not how I want to live my life. I am so tired all the time, and my family never gets the best of me. I never get the best of me. Too much TV, too much takeout, too much running and rushing and feeling like we’ll never get ahead. I still don’t make enough money to fix my house or pay off my massive student loan debts, and there’s no quick path forward. It’s just the constant grind of office work and yearly reviews and 2% raises until you can finally retire and hope to have enough money to get you through until you die.
And shit, I know I should be grateful for having such a solid job, I KNOW that. In many ways, I definitely am. But my soul hurts. This just isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, and I feel that with every single atom of my being.
I can’t up and quit my job. No more blowing up my life. My kids are 9 and 11 now, I’m remarried, and I am the main breadwinner in our family. I have a responsibility to them to make enough to pay for soccer and piano and advance tickets to Frozen 2 (this is a thing my son and I have done and we are excited as hell, don’t mock us).
But I also have a responsibility to show my kids what my mom never showed me — that there’s a different way. It doesn’t have to be like this. An office job is not the only way to financial security and happiness.
So we’ve started making small changes towards a slower life.
I make sure I get up early enough every morning to do an hour of yoga. It grounds me for my day, and allows me time to breathe before everything starts. It helps me think.
I’ve begun knitting, and rediscovered sewing, which I loved when I was younger. We are buying (nearly) all of our clothes secondhand, and I gardened this year for the first time ever. We’re cooking more at home and putting down the devices.
It’s not yet the calmer, more mindful, more purposeful way of life that I envision for us, but I feel like I am on a path now to slow down, to enjoy more, to take in my life rather than just pass through it.
The big step for me will be finding a way to make money that doesn’t require me to sit in this office 5 days a week, but that’s a big ask, and I’m allowing myself the time and space to allow ideas to germinate.
I’m going to be writing a lot as I continue this journey, and I want to share it. I want to share my journey because I am not coming from a big high paying job. I don’t have the luxury of just quitting what I’m doing and buying a huge piece of land and becoming an alpaca farmer. I’m no guru. I have debt, and responsibilities, and a shared custody agreement. I’m a totally regular person who just wants to find a better way of doing this whole existence thing, and I feel like there’s a lot of us out there feeling exactly the same way.