Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. In part, that’s because I was dealing with a highly toxic environment and it’s taken a while to get my head above the noxious cloud that seems to have been my permanent weather state for the past very long time. Once I did get (mostly) clear of the nasty weather, I can see how choosing to stay in a toxic environment also poisoned my finances.
It’s easy to spot a literal toxic environment. We all know what bad water looks and smells like. But sometimes it’s not so easy to recognize metaphorical toxic environments. Doesn’t make them any less poisonous, though! Consider the places in life where your environment is less than uplifting. Do you feel a heaviness fall on your shoulders when you get close to your job site every day? What about when you are headed home? There are some people and situations that can just suck the life energy out of you and I’ve found it’s important to recognize them as soon as possible.
Example number one from several years ago: I used to help run a couple of nonprofits in the area that had to do with literacy issues. This is work I loved to do, even though it was drastically underpaid. I loved most every aspect of the job and I had my hands in pretty much everything. It was a great learning experience. The environment, however, was highly toxic. We had a mostly unsupportive board of directors — and anyone who has worked nonprofit can tell you that basically makes you dead in the water. They were full of suggestions for how we do our work and not forthcoming with money or help to get those things done. They actively worked against us on some occasions. Our partner organizations were sometimes just as bad. One particularly bad Americorps hire led to all kinds of human resources issues that went unsupported. Needless to say, there was stress. Lots and lots of stress. And I don’t mean the productive, deadline making kind. Underneath it all, the director and I were angry. And that’s how we came to work no matter what was actually going on. We’d start out OK, but inside, we were prepped for battle. That’s no way to live. The majority of people and experiences in that work were toxic — and they slowly poisoned us into bitter people.
I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that when I got a job outside of nonprofit, I made at least 50% more money and certainly far better benefits than I had there. Not because nonprofit is spectacularly underpaid — there are plenty of positions in this area in nonprofit that make a lot more than I do now. I think it was because as the toxicity of that place washed out of me, I got better at seeing opportunities for better money and circumstances. The director of that nonprofit left it several years later — and the same thing happened. After she left, it took a few months, but then suddenly she started seeing more money where there was none before. I think this is because cloudy judgment from toxic atmospheres keeps you from being able to see opportunities that might be right in front of your nose. When your vision isn’t obscured by a poisonous fog, money happens.
Example number two from these past months: toxic relationships. I got tangled up in what turned out to be a highly manipulative and dishonest relationship with someone I thought I knew well. Blech, whatever. In that process, though, I found myself doing a bunch of toxic things I never really would’ve done much of otherwise. Things like spending money to make myself feel better. Or buying dinner out because I was too upset to cook. During the relationship, I was watching money go through my fingers like water because we weren’t on the same page about finances and I couldn’t seem to communicate without him starting a fight (yes, he started the vast majority of the fights. I hate fights.). So instead of arguing the point or putting my foot down, I’d take all those unnecessary items in the grocery cart and just pay for them. It got to the point where I dreaded coming home, so toxic was the home environment. He did me a favor by running away. But even afterward, it still took me some time to come to grips with what happened, how I’d gotten myself into that mess in the first place, and to get over it. In the meantime, a few trips to the salon, a few nights on the town with a bad case of the aw-fuck-its, and you’ve got yourself a small credit card mess.
This also applied to me when I was sick and going through treatment for the beginnings of cervical cancer. Or going through divorce. Or a house refinance. Or whatever it is that causes you to have a giant case of the aw-fuck-its. My budget is the first casualty to that disease. Being filled with negative emotions from that toxic situation also helps you miss important connections from other people. Maybe if you’re in a haze you’ll get lucky and someone will reach out to you with an opportunity. Too often, though, what happens is other people either think you’re in over your head anyway and don’t want to bother you, or they have no idea you actually want or need new opportunities and you have been too busy in a fog to notice the things right in front of your face.
After I came to terms with my last disaster relationship, got through the sickness scare, got everything lined out budgetwise and knew where I stood, some of the fog started to clear. As it dissipated, I noticed that I had a spare bedroom and that the international exchange student program was looking for host families on a per semester basis. This pays basically my mortgage. So I signed up. Then I noticed that I could do enough copywriting quickly enough to make the per hour cost somewhat OK for a second job. It’s not huge money, but it’s paid a few bills in a pinch. And it let me go to the salon once completely guilt free and paid for in cash. I also filed for child support for the first time in 15 years. Why? I was too busy with my head down being toxic to notice that we were suffering when we shouldn’t be. Also not coincidentally, I landed a three year contract at my job to develop a new course for my college. I think it had everything to do with attitude and of course previous work history.
When I cleaned up my environment, things really started to bloom. I won’t and can’t say I’m flush with cash, because I still have to work hard for my money and I enjoy working. But I went from drowning in worry on my tiny budget to popping back up to the surface and floating along, with three additional income streams coming down the pike, giving me anywhere from $700 to $1000 extra a month, depending on what is going on. Three. Not one, not two, but three! And that, my friends, is making all the difference.