Are You Really Poor or Are You Playing Poor?
I was doing the latter
I was delivering packages, halfway through my route as a courier. Parcels slid around the back seat of my car as I turned a tight corner. My phone rang, bah-bah-bah-bah coming through the car speakers.
What the f*ck now? I just wanted to finish my workday and go home.
“Hi James, how are you?” beamed a voice from the speakers.
I felt immediate frustration. No one, but no one, sounds as faux-chirpy as recruiters calling to pitch you a job you don’t want.
I decided to leave corporate work after my redundancy in March 2020 as the pandemic loomed into view. I hated it so much I vowed there and then to never to go back, no matter how tough it got.
F*ck the carpet-tiled trenches, angry bosses and soulless office routines: I was out.
“We saw your CV on…” the tinny voice said through speakers, making him sound like an enthusiastic Dalek.
I stopped listening. I knew my CV was out there, floating around job websites from God knows when. The recruiter did his best sales pitch. Yadda-f*cking-yadda.
I stopped him.
“I don’t know if I can be bothered to work in a corporate office again mate, truth be told,” I announced.
He stuttered a little, met with unfamiliar honesty.
“But, er, that’s my issue, so go on,” I added, experiencing a flash of compassion for the young recruiter just doing his job.
He continued. It was a project management job for a bank. It sounded horrendous. But then he said it’s a “remote role”. Fully remote. No office, no commute and especially no board rooms full of steely, expectant eyes boring into me. Then he said it’s contract work. 3 months. No long-term commitment and no getting trapped.
Ok, this wasn’t as bad as I first thought.
And then he said the day rate. It was obscene… A monumental amount of money.
“Is that ok?” he asked meekly.
“Er, yes, that’s all fine” I responded after a pause.
How much? How much? How friggin’ much?!
I’d be earning in 3 days what I currently earned in a month.
Is this my market rate? I never knew I could demand so much. 19 years in the corporate world might have felt like a waste, but as I discovered, it meant I could ask for big bucks. Towering bucks, in fact.
Reality hit me like a wet fish around the face.
Weirdly, all I could think about in that moment of revelation was the people I worked with in the delivery job, the people who I see at the depot each morning. These delivery drivers were scraping by on pennies, with two, maybe three jobs. They would kill to make the sort of money I was just offered. And there I was, turning it down out of choice.
I suddenly felt spoilt. I’m not sure why. I’ve never lived on handouts. I’ve always paid my own way, I worked my way through university, self-funded, I took out bank loans to cover my first wedding, I lived on a shoestring throughout my twenties, heavily in debt and dug myself out of that debt.
I’ve been poor and right then, in my car surrounded by parcels, I was poor again. But my issue with it all is that the world is full of people struggling just to afford food or rent and suddenly I felt like I was “playing poor”.
It hit me hard.
In the blink of an eye I’d gone from hard-grafter on a journey of self-discovery to ungrateful, perhaps even selfish, idiot.
That phone call triggered a cascade of emotions that ultimately led me back to the corporate world. I had a family to support; kids, a wife, dogs, cats, a mortgage.
Pandora’s box had been opened and I could close it.
How long could I have realistically toiled away in manual labour jobs, writing and video editing on the side, knowing I could pick up serious, life-changing money if I only bothered to make a move?
I turned to friends for advice. They all said to take the money, but in part, that’s because most of them were already knee-deep in corporate quicksand and would like me to join them in their ennui.
The devil wants you to go to hell because he is stuck there too. Misery loves company, it’s not, however, good advice.
The truth is, there is always compromise to be had. Don't deal in absolutes, it will cloud your judgement.
The job I got was fully remote and, remarkably, I like it. I haven't liked a job in years. Long may it last. But if it doesn't, I can leave. No one is stuck in a situation, even if it feels like it. Baby step your way out. It might not be easy, but it is always simple. You choose again. You try again.
I’ve never been a believer in sacrificing dreams for money (for what example is that to set to children?), but I am a believer in a "third way".
Recently, a friend told me he wants to open a record shop. When I asked why, he couldn’t explain it. He just wanted to escape his current life, which in my book, isn’t reason enough to start such as venture. One must be in tune with their values before considering big changes. Your values must align with your goals and aspirations else you’re on the wrong course and will have to come to terms with it sometime.
Being creative is one of my key values. But so is owning a wonderful, large family home full of financial abundance. I’ve always wanted money because my childhood was blighted by poverty. People say money and creativity don’t mix, that these two values are diametrically opposed, and perhaps they’re right as I haven’t made it work yet. But life isn't black and white, so don't think that way either.
I don’t have answers. They say a man cannot stand in the same river twice as it is always moving, and also the man himself changes over time. All we can do is feel our way through, sense what might be best in our current circumstances and listen to intuition.
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"The devil wants you to go to hell because he is stuck there too." I really liked this line. I felt a kind of hurt in my heart by this line " No one is stuck in a situation, even if it feels like it.". I think it might stem from that privilege and opportunity you've identified (I don't say that mean, more of like taking into the stock the article and reality. Unfortunately circumstances are very different for people. that doesn't mean its not good to try, or to encourage oneself, nor that baby steps aren't a potential helpful approach. I think its good to support people in growing the power they do have that maybe they can't see. But it doesn't always translate to getting out of a bad situation. It can feel very discouraging to think "no one is stuck, but I am stuck, whats wrong with me." The reality is, by life circumstances, people can indeed be stuck. Great article, I really enjoyed reading it, the title drew me in (I wasn't sure which direction it was going to go and I was curious) but the introspection is what made it hit home.
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Nicely written and insightful
They say a man cannot stand in the same river twice as it is always moving, and also, the man himself changes over time. Humans don't control all of the changes that go on in our world. But they can control what happens in their lives.
Truly enjoyed this piece. Thank you for your reflections. I’ve found, in most instances, poverty to be a state of mind. Cheers.
Authentic insight into those subconscious thoughts that can keep us stuck - thanks for sharing :)
Thank you for sharing this. It is full of perspective and honesty.
Thank you for sharing this. It is full of perspective and honesty.
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I thought this might not be for me. Then you said "enthusiastic dalek". Thanks for your honesty. I enjoyed reading it.
Honest piece of work, there's nothing like finding something that makes you look inward,
You did left nothing out there Nice one 👍
Good points. In most of my adult life I've had opportunity to hear people who aren't poor complain about how hard they have it, that there's nothing they can do. Usually they're full of shit. You're poor when you have no choices left. Debt not accrued by lifestyle but by survival and things like medical problems or calamity. Underemployment or unemployment due to inability to work or lack of being hired, not from lack of trying. These things are hard. Hard isn't when you have no money to spare because you're saving for retirement, or you have money set aside for a family vacation. Poor is no hope of retirement, no savings, no vacation, working 7 days a week and still struggling every day. Huge difference.
Wow! What a wonderfully written piece. Thank you for sharing this. It is full of perspective and honesty.
Really well written and very thought provoking. Well done!
I am currently not working because certain contracts have not been renewed, and I relate to this piece a lot. You have to rethink everything we have been taught about work after Covid and go for what gives us stability and peace of mind. "Hell is empty, and the devils ate all in management" (is that the correct quote?) ;)