I can’t eat passion and I bet you can’t either

“Work that is traditionally gendered female “is often assumed to be done out of love”; it’s women’s supposedly innate nurturing instincts that draw them to nursing, teaching and care work, not a desire for high pay or high status—perhaps one reason why teachers and nurses who strike or protest for better pay are often vilified.”-  Miya Tokumitsu

In a society where certain topics are viewed as not appropriate for public discussion, I am sure this post will lose me a few readers and while I never like losing readers, the one thing that I do in this space is speak my truth. Or at least as much of my truth as I feel is appropriate for public consumption.

At 42, it seems I am neither old nor young but I will tell you this: I have lived just long enough to know that time is finite and at a certain point, time moves so damn fast that you can barely catch your breath. I am old enough to know that today’s dreams can turn into tomorrow’s nightmares. I am old enough that I now understand that the failure to plan for the future often comes back to haunt you unless you have the misfortune or maybe we should call it the good fortune to beam off this dusty rock early.

I am standing on the crossroads of some heady changes in my personal life that have me reevaluating the decisions that I have made for the last 20 years of my life. Early in life, I heeded the call to help people as my work. I started my professional life working in homeless shelters in Chicago and in 20 years I have worked my way up and through a wide spectrum of nonprofit experiences. I have had the satisfaction of knowing that my work makes a difference. Professionally, I would say the 5 years I spent as the Executive Director at the now defunct Joyful Harvest Neighborhood Center was probably the most rewarding work I have ever done though it was also some of the most challenging work I have done. I probably would still be there had I not felt the winds of change tugging on my spirit.

Despite a career that has been personally rewarding and fulfilling, my career has been a financial bust. Though like many married women when you are being “supplemented” by your partner, you can conveniently overlook the fact that the return on investment on that graduate degree hasn’t been realized and you aren’t getting any younger. In fact women are the foot soldiers that allow certain fields to even exist.  Almost every nonprofit organization that I have been affiliated with in several states now have been made up almost entirely of women until you get to upper management which often even in the nonprofit sector, especially at larger organizations, is male.

In reading this article (I encourage you to read it) I was struck by the hard reality that ours is a culture that speaks in doublespeak, and that doublespeak comes at a price for women and minorities. Following one’s passion is a great idea except that one can’t eat passion and the ideology that says if one works hard, success will follow is often not true in fields that tilt heavily towards women and minorities. Large swaths of the nonprofit and education world are filled with women who love their work and who are good at it but if they weren’t being subsidized by partners and family, they would be a few paychecks away from the food pantry themselves.

Even the world of freelance writing and blogging is dishonest as I have learned over the years. There has never been more than a handful of financially successful bloggers, but many were subsidized and therefore could attend the conferences and look successful. As this article breaks down, the state of freelance writing is pitiful; the internet changed the game alright and pretty much is making it impossible for more than a handful or two of writers to truly earn a living from their words. Articles that take days to research and write net a pittance at an average of $250. I don’t know about you but I would need a lot of $250 pieces to keep my head above water. My current monthly student loan bill alone would require me to write seven pieces at $250 a pop.

Yet women and minorities are flocking to this work because it gives us “freedom” and it’s “creative” yet that flexibility and autonomy comes at a cost: your financial future.  I have been engaged in a series of conversations with several women in my life around money and I am realizing that far too many of us are far too timid around money. Too many of us know we need it and we fear it and we aren’t realistic about it. Society’s prohibition on talking honestly about money keeps us ignorant, for many class straddlers and people of color money is a double-edged sword. The doublespeak on following passion instead of logic further serves to keep us honest about the realities of money.

In some ways, the past several months have been my BIG wake-up call around money, as I found myself navigating my dad’s financial situation and having my own finances impacted. It’s made me think about my own financial future and realizing as I get ready to start life on my own after almost 20 years of being a unit that I am not nearly as ahead of the game as I had assumed myself to be. Yet compared to many women in my situation, the fact that I have maintained a full-time career will at least ensure that I have a shot at not living in a cardboard box or off my kids in 30 years. But that shot relies on me stepping outside of my comfort zone now and shaking off my internalized angst around money and worth. It’s meant looking at myself and realizing that for far too long, I have danced around asking my financial worth because it’s uncomfortable.

Being a writer or really any type of creator in today’s day is an interesting experience and I suspect that even a great like Stephen King might struggle in today’s world if he were just starting off. Rarely are we compelled to pay when we can consume for free. I know…I have been guilty of it myself until I started to see a pattern and realized that our aversion to paying people who create the music we love or the words we adore creates real struggle for those who create. I started noticing that a disproportionate number of crowdfunding campaigns coming across my feed were fellow women of color needing help with basic living costs. I even remembered the young caseworker who I worked with years ago who would “borrow” food from our shelter’s food pantry to get through until payday.

I am now old enough to see the connections between following passion and ending up in a financial jam and I don’t like it. I now know that for every penny less that women and especially Black women earn when compared to white men is just another nail in their financial coffins and that eventually the debt will come due.  I also know that while one can be emotionally and spiritually fulfilled by their work, one also needs to be properly compensated. That in the quest for true justice we cannot continue to deny the link to economic justice in a world that requires money to survive. We can’t ask our on the ground changer makers and people who inspire us to financially bankrupt themselves in order to make this dusty rock a better way.
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  1. September 13, 2015
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