I didn’t talk about this terribly extensively last year, but I was essentially unemployed for half of the year. My teaching assistantship ended in June, and I didn’t find a proper job after that until December, so I cobbled together my savings and tutoring income to make ends meet. I’ve always lived a pretty skimpy lifestyle, maintaining this whole horse habit on a TA salary (it started around $1500/month after taxes). But June-December epitomized “stretched thin” for me.
I put together an income by picking up a ton of tutoring clients, not turning down a single job that was offered to me (except that salaried one in Santa Cruz, but let’s ignore that), accepting some help from my parents and friends, and not spending money on absolutely anything that I didn’t need to. If it wasn’t gas (to get to work), food for me or one of the animals, or rent (human or equine), it wasn’t being had.
I managed to make things work (I’m here, after all), but not without some heavy exercising of the credit card (that’s how those function though, right? use it or lose it?), an insane schedule, and — let’s face it — some serious help from my friends and family. I regularly drove 100 miles a day, getting back and forth between all the students that wanted my attention. I lived essentially rent-free at a few peoples’ houses, put all my stuff in another friend’s barn, and nobody ever thought to kick me out or make my life difficult because things weren’t going according to plan. I even had to let my barn owners know that I needed to pay board late a few times because paychecks were delayed for one reason or the other, and they didn’t blink. Murray received the same excellent level of care he’d been getting all year long, and if his grain was down to one pound instead of two each day, I don’t think he noticed or cared.
I found out I’d be hired on for a 50% contract in early December, and this week my contract was increased to 100% while we take advantage of some grant money. I’m earning what is considered a small salary for many, but is an absurdly lavish amount of money for me (2.1x my prior salary, but full time, if you want to know). I have health insurance, my horse’s rent is paid, the credit card bills are almost gone, and I’ll be able to survive for a few months after the position ends while I look for a new job — even with a horse show or two in my life. I keep up with a couple of my tutoring clients after hours and on weekends, even though it makes riding that much harder. Every hour I struggle through with one of my students — which really is not that many, to be honest; they are mostly great kids — I think about the next bill that will get paid off, my new dressage saddle, an entry fee, or Ellie’s upcoming orthopedic surgery. I don’t love not getting home until 8:30 to eat, but I also didn’t love not knowing if I’d have to move back in with my parentes in any given two week period.
And through all of this, I’ve been incredibly privileged. Nobody once questioned what I was doing with my life, why I didn’t just get a job or work harder, or threaten to throw me or my animals out because I wasn’t paying on time. At one point I lost my deodorant and smelled AWFUL despite upping my shower frequency, and still my friends tolerated me (as a result of this I now have sticks of deodorant squirreled away everywhere). There are so many people who are unluckier than I am in similar circumstances. I have parents to move back in with, who wouldn’t consider it a great burden to have me for a few extra weeks or months.
I am lucky.
I’m working three jobs right now, and I don’t regret it. It’s not always easy, but I make it work, and I try to squeeze a private life in there on the weekends somehow. The goal is one job — ideally a flexible one where I don’t have to sit in the office 9-5 so I can go ride in the daylight sometimes — that meets all my needs, but if I don’t have that for now, it’s fine. I know I can make ends meet.
If you’re in that boat — keep hustling. I will.