Losing the house

Possibly one of the singularly sobering moments of my adult life was when I realised I’d rather lose my house than stay in a job I hated.

I’d been with Hell Inc. for about a year.  It was a kind of marketing and communications agency. I was new to the industry.  I worked like a dog.  I had an arm load of clients that I barely had time to service.  And a boss who swanned around in R6000 shoes, barking orders at her minions.

Every day, I cried behind the locked door of the bathroom.  Overwhelmed and inadequate. Huge, heaving, hiccoughing sobs that welled out of me like a tidal wave.  I’d let them come, quickly, hot and full of shame, before splashing cold water on my face and shallow breathing my way into the rest of the day.

It was unmitigated perdition.

I was overworked, under resourced, paid a pittance and glared at if I so much as squeaked.

I’d also just bought a house.  The Crowded House, as it was affectionately known.  Just a postage stamp of a townhouse with barely room to move in.  It was filled with books in plank-and-bricks bookshelves and second hand furniture and low lamps that filled its little rooms with a joyous light.  This house was my first house.  I was so very, very proud of myself. This little warm, cozy refuge that made me feel like a grownup and a good one.

Except it was also a shackle.  With the house came a bond.  And a levy.  And expenses.  And maintenance.  I no longer felt the to-hell-with-it freedom of my earlier years, where a job was just a job and never a means to an end.

So I left the house, worked and wept, and came home again. I drank, probably too much, wine. And I wondered if this was how all grownups felt.  Trapped in a cozy cage.

I lay in bed one night, unable to sleep. Desperate to imagine a way out.  And I remember a feeling of absolute clarity.  I’d rather lose my house than stay in my job.  I’d rather move back in with my parents, go back to waitressing, moonlight and freelance.  Do whatever it took.  I was also privileged enough to be educated and networked.  And I had no children to feed.  I would bounce back.

I quit the next day.  Begged a client to hire me (I was very cheap) and kicked off a decade long journey that completely changed the trajectory of my life. And I even managed to keep the house.

But the clarity of that moment has stayed with me.  I have more responsibilities now, a bigger bond, a child, expenses. .But I’m careful to make sure the work is worth it.  That the balance of what I give and what I get at least makes me content.  And that I never, ever again work for someone who values shoes over humans.

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