(Writer’s Note: If this blog comes off like I’m fired up and confused, it’s because I am.)
I’ve officially been in business for myself two months. Honestly, I’m having the time of my life. There are plenty of people who are doing/have done what I’m currently attempting. I love that. Not only do I meet like-minded, cool people…we all agree competitively! At this point, I’ve started to gain a following (3,000 fans on Facebook and climbing…add me fast!). I’ve got some local clients, some potentially bigger clients and one extremely interesting opportunity that allows me to keep pursing my current goals while aiming for something much, much bigger. I’m literally moving to Los Angeles in 4-6 months, depending on how everything goes. Not bad for almost no funding and two months work. I’ve got a long ways to go, but that momentum keeps building positively and I’m not stopping. No matter how hard they try to keep me down.
If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that I am a former teacher that is currently transitioning into another career. The career is progressing better than I expected. Of course, the one thing that scares me most (and everyone else who attempts what I’m attempting) is making the finances work until you get to a comfortable point. I’ll tell you what. “They” (and you know who I’m talking about) certainly don’t make it easy. I’m going to lay out my current financial situation for the world to see. Not just so I can prove the legitimacy of my claims, though. I want to show that a normal person who comes from an average background and strives for more is constantly held down by the red tape and “business” tactics in this country. Then, I want all of you to chew on my story…get mad…and then, think about all the people who start with SO MUCH LESS than I did. And get more angry…positively…and do something about it. Like I am.
I had taught for six years. I felt like my time there had run its course, so I was looking for either: a) a new district/place to work in; or b) a new career altogether. Knowing that I was most certainly moving, I did the honorable thing and submitted my resignation to my now-former district. They accepted it and proceeded along, knowing that I would not be renewing my contract the next year. About a month later, my father‘s condition gets worse, my sister becomes pregnant and my family needs me. I’d already been gone 17 years. My father and I realized we wouldn’t be doing anything together in our older days long ago. He’s been sick for a while. Yet, I’m a teacher. I can’t just quit to go help. I’m contracted for a year and I don’t get paid nearly enough. Which means I don’t make enough to have any shred of savings. Between teaching and going to school most of my life, I acquired (like everyone) a lot of student loan and credit card debt.
Quick math for everyone: A teacher in my state, with my credentials and experience, makes about $3,200/month after taxes. The amount of student loan payments and credit card minimums I had to pay each month was $1600. Let that sink in for a sec. Now realize that there are MILLIONS of people my age in the same situation.
Speaking of situations, once I talked to my father and he was so loopy that he wasn’t nearly himself, I freaked out. I needed to go help. If my father lost his mental abilities, he might forget about who I am before we can have closure. So, I asked for leave and it was granted to me. Thankfully! I could help my family. However, I had already spent a lot of my sick days over the year helping my family. I didn’t enough days available to myself to make up all the time I would lose.
Due to the rules, I needed to ask for enough days from all the workers in my district to make up the time I would be gone. The district assured me they would put out a district-wide email, asking for people to give. You know what? I checked and they never really put forth a strong effort to do that. It doesn’t matter, though. Plus, it was a verbal agreement with no guarantee. There was no assurance that I would get these days in the first place…but, they didn’t exactly say that I wouldn’t either. But, it’s my family, right? That was close enough and good enough for me. I hoped that I’d get the days and took the leave.
For the first two months of it, it was truly satisfying. I spent more time with my father than I had in 17 years. It was like we hadn’t missed a beat. We also talked about all the important stuff. You know…closure. Anyhow, I started to settle into my role helping my family and being around. At this point, I was just assuming that I’d get paid through the summer, find a job in a new district and move on. If only it would have been that easy…
Instead, I get a call one of the last days of May. It’s the offices of my former district, letting me know that I did not acquire enough days and that, while I would still be receiving benefits, my paycheck at the end of May would be my last. Well, that sucks, right? However, I did know there was a chance that would happen. What are you supposed to do when you don’t have anyone to borrow money from and your money gets pulled away from you? Of course! You apply for unemployment! Phew! That’ll at least keep me afloat until my next job comes up. Awesome. If only it would have been that easy…
As all of you know, applying for unemployment takes a LONG time now. However, they do back pay you for all the weeks you claim IF they decide that you will be getting the unemployment. Basically, you have to play ball right away, even if there’s a chance they won’t grant it to you. I know my situation was unique and could maybe take some time…but, I figured they’d grant it eventually. Everyone who knew what I was going through echoed the same thought. Six weeks later, after filling out all the forms each week, going to the meetings they asked me to go to and taking time away from looking for work to do these things…I was denied. Now, I’m not spending time with my family anymore due to expenses. You smart folks out there know why, right?
It’s because I submitted my resignation to the district before being granted the leave. Therefore, I “voluntarily” left. To be granted unemployment, you must be let go or fired.
So, how the hell do I pay my bills? I’m a smart, resourceful guy, though. You have to be if you’ve done what I’m doing. Through brainstorming, I finally realized that I did have some money available to me: my pension. Cashing out your pension is actually pretty easy. You fill out a form, get it notarized, select your payment method and send it in. In fact, they got mine in a couple of days and even did me a solid by calling and letting me know it looked good. All they needed was my former district to give them the ok. If only it would have been that easy…
I submitted my paperwork to acquire my pension in mid-July. District offices are closed for most of July. Today (late July), I figured it would be a good time to call them back. During the conversation, I found out I wouldn’t be getting the “ok” until August 15th. Why? That’s when my contract technically ends. Due to the fact that I was still getting benefits (but not getting paid), I was, technically, under contract still. You can’t draw your pension until your contract expires. At least August 15th is only a couple of weeks away, right? True…but, it takes 1 to 2 months to process the money. What am I going to do?
While I’m open to ideas (and clients!), I’ve already got two. The first is very likely to happen. Once my contract ends and its clear that I’m not taking a teaching job (I’m not), I can reapply for unemployment. Also, I can substitute teach. While that takes away from my business venture, I realize that bills need maintaining. By the end of September, I’ll be ok. Between now and then? I have no idea. I have been able to scrape up enough to pay my car, insurance and phone for the last couple months…but, that’s ending. The second? This one is highly unlikely but, if I had a case, I might sue. I’m just letting you hear that thought because of how angry I am, really. If I could win, I’d take what I deserved and then give the rest back to education. That’s just me being pissed, though. I don’t have a case anyhow. Or money to defend it, if I did.
I have to tell you: Even though I’ve made my fair share of mistakes in this whole scenario, I can’t help but feel that I’m being screwed. Not by anyone or any organization, in particular. I’m being screwed by the policies and politics of this country. More importantly, I can’t stop thinking about how often this happens to people less fortunate than myself. I’ve seen it too often to know that I can’t ignore it. Honestly, I’ve never been affected by it at this level until now. I mean, I’ll be fine. I have education, experience, drive, nothing to lose, people who at least won’t let me sleep on the street, etc. What about those who don’t? If any educated, honest, middle-class person just trying to do the right thing can get screwed (and SO many of us do), what about those who come from less? I just keep feeling that perspective through all of this. Damn, there’s so much work to do. Always so much.