$4.73. That’s how much my Starbucks drink costs. It’s a Grande Caramel Macchiato w/ soy milk, whipped cream, and light drizzle.
In my last life, my weekly trip to Starbucks was a treat. I would run around, day to day, carpool, to work, to carpool, to after school activities, to errands to home, to bed, to carpool, like a hamster. My weekly trip to Starbucks was my quick treat in passing, my reward for running a full week through the cycle. One day I was at the grocery store and I realized a gallon of milk was $3 and something cents and it was like a light bulb went off. GASP. (I actually gasped out loud, I didn’t just think that.) That’s how much a cup of coffee costs. Well, that’s how much what I used to drink cost. A Grande Caramel Macchiato skinny w/ whipped cream. I know, I’m a daredevil switching it up with the soy. What can I say.
But these days my Starbucks weekly treat has turned into a daily treat. Not because I am making more money, working harder, out of the house so much that the drive thru is the only place I can find a decent cup of coffee…but because it gives me something to look forward to. Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed and thankful for my everyday life. But there isn’t much like that warm coffee flavored with the right amount of whipped cream, caramel, and vanilla to roll me out of the bed every morning. The first sip is always the best. If you’ve never had one, try it. That little bit of whipped cream that creeps into your mouth before the caramel and warm espresso? I can’t even begin to tell you how invigorating it is. It sets the tone for the rest of the day. Luxury is simple and gratifying when you can barely afford it. Try it. It’s the best. You’ll thank me, I promise.
There are lots of everyday stories about the good things that are happening in the world as a result of the horrid economy. I read testimonies daily that move me, about people in the position to help other people and are doing so; I drink up the stories of charity, random acts of kindness, the angels helping other people really struggling to get to the next day. I am touched especially by the stories of people who have lost their jobs for one reason or another and somehow have found peace with it.
In our American culture, our work is who we are. It’s such a deep rooted part of our identity, that having it grabbed and twisted and yanked at the base is traumatic. I once attended a conference in Brazil, where only four of the attendees, including myself, were from the United States. The first question that our international friends asked me was always something about my family: How many children do you have? Do you live close to your parents? Do you have any brothers or sisters? The first question we asked other people: What do you do for a living?
When I lost my job, it happened really a year before thousands of others lost theirs. My “separation” (because that word is better than laid off, fired, canned, or terminated) was a result of some specific medical leave policies and my inability to convince a cardiologist that even with a recovering and swollen heart, I could sit at a desk and punch numbers. If I had realized what was going to happen next: the lay offs, the downsizing, the thousands of people living off unemployment….I may have ignored my doctor’s orders, and gone back to work. In retrospect, I would have done a few things differently, including file for short-term disability or unemployment. I was qualified for, but didn’t do either. Pride would be another quality that makes me distinctly American.
Yanked by the base, my roots exposed, my leaves all but dying, and forget any blooms: being unemployed challenged my ideas about identity, education, society, work ethics. I was proud of my office’s big windows, my degree, my business cards, the authority I felt I had the right to speak with as I was backed by the nameplate and title on my door. I took satisfaction in my 50 hour work weeks, taking my work home, constantly thinking of ways I could impress, excel, demonstrate my effectiveness with perfectly tidy spreadsheets where the bottom line always represented my best.
While I lost my job for a different reason than many of the people who have found themselves in the same position in the past year or so, I imagine the questions we have asked are the same. Who am I? And how did I get here? What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? I did everything I was supposed to do…and yet, here I am, considering on the daily where my family’s next meal will come from and if our water will stay on. I daydream about the day I will go to our local social services office and ask about benefits we may qualify for. Surely with four children, there must be something. People waiting in the lines will justify their need based on income or lack of income; I will feel the need to defend myself for driving up in a European sports utility vehicle. I sometimes consider parking in the back and walking all the way around, four kids in tow. I imagine I will make a mental note to not wear any of my jewelry and try my best to not look at my iPhone. Getting rid of any of these things will not help us. Trust me, I have gone over the calculations over and over again in my head.
Something happens to a persons decision to choose when they review these questions repeatedly in their minds. Well, I suppose there are two choices. Giving up is one of them. This would include days, weeks, months of sleeping on your couch, bed, floor. Sometimes it involves Oreos, but if you can’t afford Oreos, there are some nice generic brands as well.
But the other choice, before or after you stand up and wipe off the crumbs, is to wake up every morning and to commit to a no excuses attitude. This choice includes giving in to those questions, to submit to not knowing the answers, and allow your roots to crawl around until they find some fertile ground. This is my choice. I am excited and proud when I meet others who have decided to do the same. I am drawn to these people and they are drawn to me. We recognize the questions and lack of answers in one another, and I start to be whole again.
For some people, this means that they have enjoyed time off for the first time in years, for others it means they actually get to walk their kids to their bus stops, and be at home when they get out of school. For others it means working on home improvement projects or finally finishing degrees in fields that actually interest them…that they always intended to and never had time for. And for others, it means thinking outside of the box ~ not in the way that the person who interviewed me for my last job asked me to ~ but really THINKING outside of the box.
We are finding better ways to work, not just smarter and not harder, but more creatively. We are looking for the things we love to do, and finding ways to make a living from them. More and more, I am meeting people doing jobs they always dreamed of doing, but never had the courage to try; people starting their own businesses, using their natural skill sets, instead of the ones that a diploma, a business card, or a nameplate defined for them.
I roll out of bed every day, knowing that there are others like me. I know my roots are grabbing what they can as they crawl through a business idea I have worked on for three years (and never had the courage to try). It will be a while before my leaves are full again and even longer before I’m rewarded with a bloom, but I know I’m in good company. Until then…as long as I have $4.73 every day? That’s my identity. Warm, sweet, invigorating, with every sip. I can be that.