Financial Update – July 2019

Each month I will post an update on my finances to both give you, the reader, some insight into my situation and to give me markers of my progress on my financial journey. My updates consist of two parts:

  • Financial Progress Table – Tracks joint net worth progress.
  • Spending Table – Compares monthly spending to an average (for us) budget, keeping us accountable for additional expenses. I will also include my personal discretionary budget as well; I will not include my spouse’s discretionary spending, which I do not see.

Financial Progress

Each net worth goal in the Financial Progress table is broken down into undisclosed units of money. Our goal has been to hit “Financial Freedom.” This means:

  • A retirement account that can support us when my husband hits 65
  • Two college savings funds funded for four years of in-state public university tuition, room, and board
  • An emergency fund for six or more months of living expenses
  • Sufficient liquidity for my husband and/or I to make a career change with one to two years’ runway
  • A mortgage less than two times our combined gross salaries without bonuses or equity.

Well, guess what? We hit Financial Freedom this month. Woohoo!

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Now, even though I expect our net worth to gradually decline over the next few months, I’m going to switch us over to our next goal: “Financial Equilibrium”. By the time we hit this, we’ll be roughly at a 4% withdrawal rate for financial independence, more or less.

Note that as we track for our new goal, we’re going to switch over to a new unit measurement (confusing, I know). New Units = Old Units x 0.25. Now on with our new progress tracker:

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Spending

We’ve created a joint budget which represents the average amount we can expect to spend each month. This is average amount we need to comfortably live in case of a job loss, emergency, etc. I expect to frequently mostly keep in line with our budget when amortized over the year, even though amounts may vary from month to month.

For privacy reasons, there are two things I do not include in our joint spending updates: our monthly mortgage and charitable donations (pegged at 10% of our net income).

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Here is my own personal discretionary spending for the month. I try to spend $600 or less each month for my “fun money” since that’s the allowance that’s apportioned to me and my husband.

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Monthly Summary

We hit our Financial Freedom (inflection) point! This required a little optimistic accounting; in particular I am including the value of my exercised equity based on the stock’s current FMV (“fair market value”). But I feel comfortable with that.

Looking at the markers for “Financial Equilibrium” (which is more or less around 4% withdrawal rate), we are such a long ways away. All the financial calculators say around 6-7 years assuming healthy stock market returns and my old income level. I wish I could come up with a milestone that’s a little… closer?

In other news, I quit my job this month, so I’m expecting these numbers to degrade a bit over the next while. It was the right decision though. My stress levels are about 20% of what they were. I’m a little antsy about career and money things, I’ll admit, but I don’t feel like I’m about to have a heart attack every other day like I did while I was working. My energy levels have taken a hit– I was clearly running on adrenaline and office candy. It’ll take a while, but I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ll land back on my feet.

How were your finances in July? How do you muster up motivation when there isn’t a financial milestone coming up soon?

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Trust The Process

I am drafting this post less than a week after quitting my job. I have more or less completed all the niggling little errands I’ve needed to get done. Now, all that’s left is the task of figuring out what I want to do with my life and career, etc. No big.

One of the things I was hoping to feel coming out of my job was a sense of elation, like a weight lifted off my shoulders. That… didn’t happen. After I left my last job, in the month of downtime, I was feeling light and airy and serene. (I also had a job nearly lined up, so that low-grade anxiety wasn’t an issue at the time.) This round I don’t have that same positive sentiment, but not a negative one either. Leaving my job has afforded me a gap where the acute stress or anxiety that I’d been feeling the past few months resided. But there is no joy or optimism in its place.

I feel as though I could live this lazing about life indefinitely. Not that I’ve really been lazing about– I’ve been going to various medical appointments while my health insurance is still active, tidying the house, returning old library books, and the like. How did I have time for a job, I wonder, with so much to do around here?

I’ve been trying to think about what I want to do with my life and I keep drawing blanks. I look at my list of post-FI plans and they seem quaint. Those aren’t life plans, those are hobbies. I don’t feel motivated enough to even take on hobbies right now. I could just sit in the quiet buzz of my brain for a good, long time.

The tiny rational-anxiety part of my brain (which has felt desperately miniscule and muffled, which is nice) worries: What if this means my ambition is gone? Does this mean that any job is going to feel awful? Will I ever be able to return back to the working world? And to all that I think: Calm down, will ya? You’re harshing my chill.

That is not to say anxiety-brain is entirely wrong, but it is probably misguided. My husband has told me a thousand times that I need to take time to relax. He’s seen me day after day, week after week, stressed and anxious and unhappy. And he’s right. I’m burnt out. It’s going to take time to feel like I can be optimistic or excited again. I quit my job to give myself that time. Until then, I know the empty lack is going to feel uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary step to get from where I was to where I will (eventually) want to be.

It is not fun, but I need to trust the process.

Other People’s Opinions About Leaving My Job

When I told people I was leaving my job, I framed it as “figuring out what I want to do with my life” and less “oh my gawd get me outta here asap.” And because of that I got a ton of questions, mostly some variation on what will I do next?

But more than just questions, I got life advice. A lot of it. Mostly unsolicited. It was kind of overwhelming.

You see, everyone loves being the hero of their own story. And, apparently, leaving a job without having something lined up strikes a lot of folks– or at least the ones that I work with– as a turning point in a narrative that reminds them so much of their own life.

So, so much.

One colleague of mine was reminded of the two-month road trip with her husband after she’d finished chemo decades ago. Another colleague recalled how he got to spend time with his dying father after quitting a toxic job. And then another woman who, bless her heart, told me, lamenting a longer-than-she’d’ve liked period of unemployment in her past: A good mind is a terrible thing to waste. 

It was interesting to see these people, many of whom I barely spoke to day-to-day, just randomly open up to me to say, basically, See me for what I have gone through!

I don’t think there’s a point to this post. Or if there is, it’s this: As much as I feel lost, alone, scared, and humbled, I am grateful that so many people in so many ways are trying their damnedest to tell me that I, like they, will get through this.

Have you ever had colleagues randomly open up to you?

What We Spent In Copenhagen

Day 1

After a day off loafing about the house, my husband and I call a Lyft to take us to the airport. ($21.44) I’m famished and am not sure whether SAS will be providing us with food (they are budget enough to charge for the first checked bag) so we stop by the Burger King near our terminal. I get a fish sandwich and my husband gets a burger. ($7.42)

We snuggle into our seats, ready for our seven hour economy non-stop flights. ($976.61 + 64,059 Citi points) We are in a two-seat section in an aisle, so thankfully no neighbors to contend with. Nary an hour into the flight, the attendants come by with food. Oh well, that’s fine, I’m still a little hungry. It’s actually pretty good: beef fajitas. But I notice something weird about our dish. Instead of making the meal itself sweet in any way, our fajita plate– with its rice and beef and peppers– has a single slice of sweet plantain in the middle. Weird, but a trend, as we will find out later.

A young child, roughly two years old, is periodically waking up and crying throughout our flight. This is going to be rough.

Day 2

We arrive in Copenhagen from our red eye in the early morning. As we touch down, my husband’s phone gets a text notification from his cellular provider. He gets internet and text for $10/day while roaming. I wish we had gotten a SIM card from the airport at a much lower price, but it’s fine. We’re on vacation, not a big deal.

We’re both exhausted, so we take a taxi on the way to the hotel. ($46.15) We drop off our bags and go for a little walk around Kastellet, the star-shaped park and fort by the canal. It’s early, so the grass is still speckled with dew. Peaceful. Joggers pass us by as we take photos of the corvids walking along the path. My husband is convinced that European birds hop less than American birds. I am skeptical.

We make our way to the canal and visit the Little Mermaid statue (a la Hans Christian Anderson). It is the most-cited attraction in Copenhagen. It’s also, like, six feet tall and takes about two seconds to take in emotionally. Moving on…

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After killing about an hour in the hotel lounge, the staff takes pity and lets us check in early into one of the newly turned-over rooms. ($668.12) The concierge also lets us borrow a travel power adaptor because we totally spaced on bringing one while packing, which was a really nice touch.

The room is lovely. Ceilings almost 20 feet tall. Long luxurious curtains covering the slightly ajar windows letting in a light breeze. We take a nice long nap on the king-sized canopy bed, freshly made with two down duvets, allowing us to temperature control separately. Heaven.

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We eventually “wake up” from our jetlag-induced slumber and freshen up for our friend’s wedding (which is why we’re in Copenhagen in the first place). We take a taxi to the chapel. ($19.66)

After the ceremony we look around at the other guests. Sadly, none of my other college friends were able to come to the wedding. At least my husband is here with me, which helps cut the awkwardness of random stranger small talk quite a bit.

The reception is held in small, minimalist warehouse-esque space by the canal. The food is a Scandinavian take on Asian cuisine. Char siu is served completely unsweetened, but with a few ripe blackberries sprinkled amongst the fatty pork slices, reminding me of the beef fajitas with the stray plantain slice on our flight here.

We meet some of the newlywed’s friends and engage in some awkward conversation. We have a fun conversation a friend of the groom about his business, which centers around interior and industrial design. We also get to know another couple, about our age, who are both also newly unemployed, figuring out their lives. This makes me feel somewhat better, like maybe this quarter life crisis thing isn’t so weird after all.

After some beautiful speeches from the families of the newlyweds, mounds of pickled vegetables, brined fish, and one too many glasses of wine, we make our way back to the hotel by foot, where, barely changing out of our wedding garments, we pass out for a full twelve hours.

Day 3

Our husband and I head out to the nearby train station, hoping to make it to the post-wedding brunch the newlyweds are hosting. We head to Osterport station and find that all the ticketing machines are some version of either broken or not taking our credit cards. After spending twenty minutes hopping from one ticketing machine to another, we give up and just take a taxi to the brunch. ($14.57)

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The brunch is a nice casual occasion. I manage to stuff myself full of prosciutto and lox, so I’m pretty happy. I am also able to have a quick conversation with my friend, the bride. We catch up, which is really nice (I know how busy wedding day can be). She and her husband plan to move back to the States soon, and we talk about all the anxiety of this post-marriage, pre-children time in our lives.

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After brunch, my husband and I skip the train angst and walk back to our hotel. We grab a bottle of sunscreen at a grocery store on the way because, oh my god, the sun is out here like twenty hours a day during the summer. ($5.29)

We stop by the Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art on our way back and see this gem of a photograph by Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore as part of the exhibit. ($21.17)

Before heading back to the hotel, we stock up on some snacks for the week. My husband gets some peanut butter, jelly, and wheat bread– which is his typical breakfast fare, and I grab some kalamata olives which I down in, like, 15 minutes. ($14.95)

After a brief nap, we wander around the neighborhood near our hotel. Hungry, we settle into a Thai restaurant– cashew chicken for me and massaman curry for him. My cashew chicken, unsweetened, has a couple floating bits of pineapple in it. Alright, this is now a thing. The meal is a nice departure from all the Scandi-style food we’ve had so far, but a little bland, as in no heat and very little in the way of spices outside the core ingredients and salt. ($45.52)

Day 4

My husband heads out to a Magic the Gathering pre-release while I lounge about reading Dear Life in our hotel room. After I while, I’m feeling hungry, so I head out and get a kebab plate in the touristy part of town. ($10.59) Meanwhile my husband gets a waffle ice cream. ($12.46)

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We meet after his tournament and head over to Tivoli Gardens, an old Danish amusement park that, as you can probably tell from the picture, loves itself some cultural appropriation. We get two passes for unlimited rides which I didn’t realize was a huge fee on top of the entry fee. Whelp. ($114.93)

After a pretty intense and whiplash-y ride in the bumper cars, I’m feeling pretty nauseous, so we decide to take a breather and get some refreshments at Joe and the Juice. For those uninitiated, Joe and the Juice to Copenhagen is like Dunkin’ Donuts is to Boston (or Starbucks basically anywhere else). The ubiquity is almost maddening. I get an avocado shake with cashew and coconut milk while my husband gets a strawberry juice. ($16.33)

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We spend a little more time in the park, but quickly become tired. We start our trek back to the hotel by foot, passing Nyhavn, the famous colorfully-painted block of row houses along the canal, on our way. We’re both hungry and our feet are tired so we decide to take dinner in one of the obviously overpriced tourist traps by the water.

I get a smorrebrod sampler while my husband has a burger. I imagined that I’d get three types of fish or some amount of variety. Instead, there are three slices of rye bread, and three small glass bowls of pickled herring: one plain, one with slightly more vinegar, and one with some curry spice haphazardly mixed in.

There’s a jazz festival going on in the city, so we can hear music playing while we eat. The Scandinavian conception of jazz is interesting. It’s as if someone’s only knowledge of an entire of music was based on a Billboard top 50’s soundtrack. Very little experimental, like a Stepford-ish uncanny valley of sound. We take in the sunset by the water. Since it’s so far north, and Denmark gets nearly twenty hours of sunshine a day in the summer, it’s nearly midnight by the time we head back to the hotel.

Day 5

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Alright, today is my long-awaited day of food. We head out to Torvehallerne, a two-building food hall full of dozens of independent prepared food vendors, fish mongers, a small farmers market, and various edible whatnots.

We start our food sampling journey with a couple of empanadas: ham and cheese for him and chicken and chorizo for me. They are piping hot and tasty, served with a side of pesto. ($13.55)

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Next stop are blinis from Mulgeo. My husband and I sit on what seems to be reinforced cardboard stools (they’re classy, I promise) while we’re waiting to be served his caramelized cream and microgreen blini and my cornflower, buckwheat, and toasted sunflower laden blini, spread with celeriac puree on a thin slice of eggplant. This is by far the best meal I’ve had in my time in Copenhagen. I immediately search for the restaurant to see if they have a cookbook in case I want to recreate these at home. ($12.64)

After blinis, we have one last stop for savory foods. We go to a Pan Asian place where I get tom yum soup with chicken dumplings and my husband gets bao. ($18.66)

Alright, now it’s dessert time. Banana ice cream for me ($6.77) and a raspberry vanilla cream tart for him. ($5.27) A tasty end to our stall-hopping lunch.

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Before we leave, we grab some chocolates ($6.77) and mixed nuts ($15.05) as gifts for our friends back home. We also stop by a local coffee shop for water. ($7.83) Yes, we spent nearly $8 on two pint-sized bottles of water. Welcome to Europe!

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After lunch, we take a stroll through the botanical gardens. My husband takes a bunch of bird pictures, asking our bird expert friend what species they are. We see a few birds fighting pretty aggressively, but in a way where we can’t tell if they’re fighting for dominance or if it’s a mating ritual (or both?). I feel like that could be the theme for a Tumblr account. Anyway.

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We head back to Nyhavn for our last tourist-y activity of our trip: the oft-recommended boat tour. ($28.63) We spend an hour on the water, photographing the various sights of the city. We pass by a row of upscale condos and then some cheap-looking docked boats. One of them had a sign mounted on it that read: “Not all of us can afford villas.”

After the tour, my husband and I took dinner at Union Kitchen, a small plates restaurant near Nyhavn. We had a lovely meal: beet feta mandarin salad, avocado harissa, fried goat cheese, garlic rosemary potatoes, and mushroom macaroni and cheese. My husband gets a slice of cheesecake for dessert, which is too much dairy for me. ($85.05)

I want something sweet to finish off the night, but without too much milk in it, so I head to our hotel’s restaurant and order a banana fudge tartine from the menu. Little did I know “tartine” really means open-faced sandwich and the restaurant took that really seriously. I scrunch up my face when I realize what I really ordered was an open-faced sandwich of sliced banana on sour rye bread. Sigh, Denmark. (charged to room)

Day 6

Time to head home! We taxi to the airport. ($45.12) Once there, we find out our flight is delayed by two hours. Fun. My husband grabs a water ($2.71) and I buy some meatball penne for lunch. ($20.37)

On the way to our gate, we pass by a little tourist-y gift shop. I buy a few jars of local honey and chocolates to bring back home as presents for friends. ($31.50)

Seven hours, two books, and seventeen naps later, we finally land back in Boston. We get stuck in rush hour traffic on the way home via cab. ($41.44) But we’re back, relaxed, and feeling fine. So good to be home.

Summary

  • Flights – $976.51 + 64,059 Citi points
  • Accommodations – $668.12
  • Transportation – $196.67
  • Food – $340.93
  • Activities & Sights – $164.73
  • Shopping – $58.61
  • Other – $50.00

Total Spending: $2455.20

I’m gonna be honest. There are a lot of really interesting places to visit on this blue marble we live on. Copenhagen isn’t on the top of that list, at least for me. It’s a nice city and I’m sure it’s great to live in. But the reality is, if your big tourist attractions are a frequently decapitated mermaid statue and orientalist Disneyland, then for me there’s not enough going on to recommend a visit.

It probably doesn’t help that I don’t really like Northern European food. We had a couple of amazing standout meals (huge shoutout to Mulgeo and Union Kitchen, which were both great), but if I had to describe the palette as a whole, I’d say: brined, smoked, and fermented. Still much, much better than our experience in Ireland. But, if you don’t like your food cured, then you’re going to have a tough time in Copenhagen.

Over the next year, we’ll probably have mayyyybe one more international trip before baby time. Right now, the biggest downside is that I have maxed out my credit card sign up bonuses (to the degree that it is near impossible for me to get new cards because I have such a churner history), and my husband is not convinced about the churning game. So if we go to Japan, which is somewhere we both really want to visit, it’ll be full freight. With the window of family planning closing in on us, we probably want to get on it sooner than later, but the cost makes me unsure if that’s something we’re willing to do anytime soon.

Do you have any travel plans for this year? Any recommendations visiting Japan?

Cutting Back Expenses

Because of my upcoming unemployment, I’ve been taking a minute to review our finances with a finetoothed comb. Suffice it to say, like many folks out there, I have been a bit more profligate in my spending than I would like and now seems like a good time for a minor correction.

Having not yet reviewed this with my husband, I have put together a few proposals to get our spending down to a more acceptable range. This includes:

  1. Reduce our personal fun spending from $600/month each to $300/month each.
  2. Lean more heavily into cooking at home using CSA produce (this will help us with point #1 and is fairly doable given my new free time).
  3. Cut one or maybe even two of the online streaming services we use now for entertainment.
  4. Uninstall Uber and Lyft.
  5. Switch from a monthly subway pass to paying for individual rides. This is only a cost saver because I no longer need to get into the city for work.

Our biggest spending right now is around housing, transportation, and healthcare. Given we are not moving, not selling my husband’s car that he need for work, and not giving up insurance coverage, there’s not much wiggle room in the budget to make a big dent on savings. Which is kind of a bummer.

In addition to cutting back, I want to see if I can bring in a little side money while unemployed. I want a good return on time invested, so at minimum things like $50/hour focus groups or gigs that can help me build skills and figure out what I want to do next with my life. No $15/hour online tutoring though, just not worth the time sink.

What could you do to reign in expenses? What is a “reasonable” budget for two people in a HCOL area?

Financial Update – June 2019

Each month I will post an update on my finances to both give you, the reader, some insight into my situation and to give me markers of my progress on my financial journey. My updates consist of two parts:

  • Financial Progress Table – Tracks joint net worth progress.
  • Spending Table – Compares monthly spending to an average (for us) budget, keeping us accountable for additional expenses. I will also include my personal discretionary budget as well; I will not include my spouse’s discretionary spending, which I do not see.

Financial Progress

Each net worth goal in the Financial Progress table is broken down into undisclosed units of money. Our current goal is to reach “Financial Freedom.” By the time we reach this goal we will have:

  • A retirement account that can support us when my husband hits 65
  • Two college savings funds funded for four years of in-state public university tuition, room, and board
  • An emergency fund for six or more months of living expenses
  • Sufficient liquidity for my husband and/or I to make a career change with one to two years’ runway
  • A mortgage less than two times our combined gross salaries without bonuses or equity.

Once “Financial Freedom” is achieved, the focus will then working be towards “Financial Equilibrium”, where the income from investments covers all our ongoing expenses.

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Spending

We’ve created a joint budget which represents the average amount we can expect to spend each month. This is average amount we need to comfortably live in case of a job loss, emergency, etc. I expect to frequently mostly keep in line with our budget when amortized over the year, even though amounts may vary from month to month.

For privacy reasons, there are two things I do not include in our joint spending updates: our monthly mortgage and charitable donations (pegged at 10% of our net income).

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Here is my own personal discretionary spending for the month. I try to spend $600 or less each month for my “fun money” since that’s the allowance that’s apportioned to me and my husband.

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Monthly Summary

Fun fact: I spend a lot of money on food when I’m stressed. I spent through the little buffer I had rolled over from being under budget in previous months.

Biggest expense this month was estate planning. We paid a $500 deposit a few months ago but our attorney finally invoiced us for the near-final draft, which rang in at slightly more than $2000. Once I finish my name change, which I should be able to get to with my abundant free time post-job, then all we need to do is sign the papers and switch over beneficiaries.

Given all that, our net worth at least nominally jumped up a lot. This is largely because we hadn’t been including my husband’s retirement accounts in our numbers (no online account access). With the bonus which I think may be included in my last paycheck (my boss told me there is one, but who knows the company may renege), I should be able to come pretty close to “financial freedom”, maybe 0.5 units short. Actually, if you include the money in my husband and I have in our personal accounts, we might actually just barely hit the target. Still, with just joint that’s enough to check off most of my itemized goals except the college funds, so I think we’re doing okay.

Starting next month, my finances are going to start to get wonky. In addition to drawing down from savings (not too quickly though since husband still has his job), I plan to exercise my stock options. Should I even include those in net worth? At the strike price l’ll be putting in a sizable amount of money (low five digits). Apparently there is a secondary market for shares, but I have no idea what the value is or whether I can assess that without putting shares up for sale? How do most people handle equity in their financial assumptions?

Anyway, I’m resigning myself that this may be one of the last upward-trajectory monthly summaries for a while. Looking forward to seeing what’s next.

How were your finances in June? Do you count (private) stock options in your net worth?

So What’s Next?

I’ve given my notice. About a year after I started down this career switch journey, I’ll be leaving my job. Again. Well, at least I lasted a yearSmall victories.

The past few weeks, I have been applying to different places and the outcomes have been spotty at best. Quite a few interviews but– and I didn’t realize this last time, mostly because I kind of jumped on the first (well, second) place that gave me an offer– but so many companies have cultures are downright toxic. Like, do not pass go, do not collect $200, actually maybe just drop your purse and run for your life-level of toxicity. How does anyone stay sane working? And then for the few interviews that I thought went well, I’ve ultimately either been rejected or ghosted. It has been super funnn.

Why, you may ask, am I leaving my job before having another one secured? For one, I am burnt out as fuck and I have started having anxiety that feels like a heart attack and this job isn’t worth the level of strain it’s put on my emotions, my body, and my relationships. For two, there are particular goings on that are probably going to open up the chasm of hellish nightmare bad things in like two months– based on poor decisions made like half a year ago– and I really really really don’t want to be around for that.

So where does that leave me?

I need another job. We have enough savings for me to take my time but still I’d ideally want to find something soon since I’ll be unemployed in the meantime and we’re not FI yet. Also, I’m kind of preventing us from starting a family until I have something stable (i.e. something I can stick with for a few years without being eaten alive by anxiety) and this delay is putting a strain on my marriage. Oh, and this new job has to cover all of our joint expenses since my husband’s salary barely covers childcare expenses and he wants to do the stay at home dad thing.

I AM NOT STRESSED YOU’RE STRESSED

Anyway, it’s fine. I’m fine. We’ll be fine. I have options right? Worst case scenario, I could go back to my former employer. I have a lot of friends still there and they tell me all the time they’d take me back. Or I could start consulting. Though I’m a year out until my non-solicitation expires and I can take my old clients back, my non-compete has just elapsed. I could probably scrounge one or two contracts together if I really needed to. Plus my best friend’s company is hiring. I mean, I wouldn’t love working there (they suffer from some of the same startup scaling woes as my current place), but it is a job and the novelty may stave away the sheer sense of panic for a bit. Or I could become a developer. Really, the possibilities are endless!

Stares blankly at a wall. I can’t feel my toes anymore. Or my soul.

What’s next for your career?