Being poor is kind of my MO.
Don't get me wrong, I'm in no way complaining about this. The sense of entitlement that led me to quit my job with no savings or network or real business plan is something that I'm working on, and when I'm standing at the mini market seriously debating whether I should stick with the €1.80 bottle of wine or spring for the one that's €2.50, I am 100% aware that I brought this on myself.
Another quick disclaimer; I'm going to keep using the word poor here, and I know that, in a way, it's a little insensitive. I recognize that I am able to pay my Remote Year fee every month (thanks to an awesome retainer client), that I'm traveling the world, and that, when it comes down to it, my mother is very seriously unlikely to let me starve out here. So yes, while I am going to continue calling myself poor as I recant tales of staring generic ramen in the soupy face, I do understand that my poor and actually poor are totally different concepts.
So anyway, back to my poor. I've been poor for a couple of months now. I think it happened towards the end of Belgrade, when I suddenly just stopped seeing projects come in. I enjoyed the empty pipeline for a little while, throwing myself into work with my retainer client, assuming something would pop up when I needed it to as it has somehow always miraculously happened for me (I KNOW, IM SPOILED, MOVE ON).
Unfortunately, as the London days crept by-- and I do mean crept, shoutout to the Craplective for actually making time pass slower-- nothing fell in my lap. I started putting out my feelers here and there on my LinkedIn network, applying to random jobs on UpWork, assuming I would land a project pretty quickly. I didn't.
You know in movies when someone wakes up as a ghost and they're running around shouting at everyone for like half an hour before they realize no one can hear them because they're literally just people fumes and ectoplasm? Yeah. That's how I felt searching for jobs on the internet.
Honestly, I didn't panic. This was stupid of me, as, like I mentioned before, I have literally no savings to speak of. There's no bailout fund in my bank account for a rainy day. As far as the checking account was concerned, by the time we left for Lisbon I was looming within a couple hundred dollars of not being able to buy groceries.
Speaking of things that are stupid of me, I didn't tell a soul I was struggling. I don't like people thinking I can't hack it, that I'm not talented or smart enough to make it on my own. So for a month and a half or so, I suffered in silence, carefully saving my pennies, internally screaming every time we went out to a restaurant and the group decided to split the bill evenly instead of by item when I had fastidiously ordered the cheapest thing on the menu and not touched a drop of alcohol.
It took until September was about halfway over and I had enough money for one carton of eggs and three packets of Pingo Doce brand "oriental noodles" that I started mentioning my financial situation to my closest friends. Because, unlike me, they are not idiots, their immediate and obvious response was "Have you talked to Jenna? Have you talked to the Nation? Have you leveraged the Professional Development Network? Have you mentioned it to any of the people on the trip who hire other remotes?"
I'm pretty good at the old "Yeah, you're right, I'm totally gonna do that" routine. I use it to brush off ideas that I am not comfortable with. Telling literally my entire Remote Year network that I was a failure with a bank account that was shriveling like Spongebob out of water fell squarely in that category; things I was 'totally gonna do' OVER MY DEAD BODY.
In fact, it took another week and a half, a hundred failed proposals, an embarrassing bailout from my mom to tide me over while my friends visited, and some serious thought into leaving the program after Lisbon before I realized that by suffering silently, I was playing myself.
You see, I'm not ready to leave Remote Year. I don't think I'll be ready to leave Remote Year ever-- not a month from now, not four months from now, not the last day in May when my whole group is leaving Buenos Aires for their respective homes. Even when it's driving me absolutely insane, I love this program. I love the opportunities it's afforded me, the experiences I've had on it, and the group of people it allowed me to meet who I literally can't picture my life without. So when it came down to it and I needed to pick between packing my bags or writing a quick blurb asking for work on Slack, I knew what I had to do.
As I sat over packet number two of soggy, flavorless, generic ramen, I typed out a message on the RY Nation Slack's "work" channel. I tried to keep it humorous. I tried to make it sound desperate, but not like sad desperate- more like look who goofed, we better help a sista out desperate. I copied and pasted it into the Darien "Work Opportunities" channel, and added just a touch more seriousness to my tone before pressing send. When all was said and done, it didn't hurt that badly. It turns out pride is a lot easier to swallow than lukewarm MSG laden noodles.
As hours crept by with no movement on the Slack front, I was hit with two strong emotions. First, it was embarrassment. I immediately assumed everyone had seen my plea and ignored it, that my sadsack lack of dollars was so NOT their problem, and they were appropriately treating it as such. Second, it was depleting, earth shattering, sit in bed and sob depression. This was my Hail Mary, and it looked like no one was going to turn up on the receiving end of my pass. I was going to have to leave. This was the end.
As is typically the case when someone overreacts to a situation way too soon to tell if their feelings are merited, I found out pretty quickly that my melodrama had been for naught.
First there was Nerissa, trolling the work board and tagging me in anything and everything relevant. I applied to three jobs I probably would have missed thanks to her. She re-instilled my faith that my fellow remotes actually did care about me.
Then there was Sean, reaching out with some work for his company's blog, work that would represent the first thing in my pipeline in two months. He gave me back the ability to breathe, knowing that I could stretch the return on a single article for him into enough off-brand Asian style packaged meals to get me through a few more weeks.
After that was Dan, sending me links to job listings. Then remotes I didn't know and had never met from other groups, messaging me on slack to let me know their companies were hiring. Next Paul from Magellan reached out to me with work. Actual, immediate work. I started that day. These people returned my ability to sleep through the night. I was going to be ok.
Suddenly I'm pretty busy; I shouldn't even be wasting brain power writing this blog post. I'm going to stay afloat for another month, and that time is so, so precious. I'll use it to find more work on my own. I'll use it to keep nurturing my professional connections. I'll use it to work my ass off for the people who gave me projects, because they don't even know it but they're granting me the ability to stay here, stay with my friends, go to Africa, live in Morocco.
Remote Year, on it's surface, is a shiny, beautiful program. "Travel for a year with 75 likeminded people!" See the world. Have an experience. But, when you dig into it, Remote Year is so much more than those Facebook ads could ever communicate. Remote Year is a network, a support system, a community, and a family. Remote Year is a group of people who truly want to lift their peers up, and keep them going. And I'm really, really fucking elated that I don't have to leave.