A Journey of Affirmation, Confirmation, and Acceptance - Part II, Financing Self-Identity

In my last post, I talked about how I measure my identity, my self-worth, and my success in my accomplishments, my jobs, and my salary. This is something that has taken me a very long time to realize, and to acknowledge as being unhealthy and makes me unhappy. In order to truly accept and acknowledge who I am and where I’m going I need to explain how I got where I am.

I lost my job a little over two months ago. I’ve never been truly fired before, and fired is what I was. Prior to this, I’d been job hopping, trying to find the right fit. Always restless, always seeking a way to make more money, to beat the system, to figure out that idyllic version of “happiness” that I can’t quite verbalize but can vaguely imagine. I don’t know if it’s the “grass is greener” on the other side, or if I struggle with this constant fear of the ‘what if’ moment. I’ve always said I don’t want to live a life of regret, so I have to work hard, achieve my dreams, and constantly chase after what makes me happy. Except, I don’t think I know what makes me happy. In fact, the longer I sat thinking about this, the more I realized I don’t even know what makes me, well, me.

So who am I? Where does Rachael, the adult start?

Is it when I left private school for public school and was bumped up nearly two grade levels - before they realized their mistakes on my actual credits and graduation requirements which put me in night school and online classes to catch up. When we realized they screwed up and I had to work ridiculously hard to fix this screw up I decided it wasn’t worth it. Why work this hard, when I can go the easier route and get what I want? So I did. I dropped out of high school at 15 years old, tested for my GED, and less than a month later, enrolled in community college. I had so many dreams and passions. I absolutely loved it. I loved all of what college is and represents. I love the potential. The boundless knowledge. The idea of learning, and being carried away on a new journey, sparking passions, and finding adventure from where we have come and where we will go. 

Or was it when I transferred to UNM? Or after, when I left to try a semester at a super expensive art school? When I got married, and had to put my education on hold to support my husband? When my education (among other things) got in the way of my marriage and it fell apart? When I moved away to a different college? When I experienced my first abusive boyfriend which caused me to flee back home to my family while I learned to heal and hide a part of myself? Was it when I fled the country in an attempt to learn who I was and reclaim the Rachael I wanted to be? When I came back full of passion, love for life, and the excitement that sent me bravely back to the city of my abuse to finish college?

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On identity: 

"The longer I sat thinking about this, the more I realized I don’t even know what makes me, well, me." 

-Rachael Gallegos

If I stop here, and talk about that passion, that period of time from when I went to Mexico to when I came back to Las Cruces, mixed with equal parts fear and determination, chasing my classes, my jobs, and learning to make my own friends I can feel the stirrings of Rachael.

Except, that Rachael finished school. Met a guy, fell in love, and waited for him to get what he needed so we could  have our grand adventures. But then the adventures got postponed, and then they changed. I missed my family. I got what I needed from Las Cruces. Reclaimed the city and my degree, buried the past, and moved beyond the abuse. I found love and was happy, but bored. I was stifled. I was tired of making pennies and needed more money. I needed more success. My family would joke, “Ten years for a Bachelor’s degree? What’s next, twenty for a real job?”. They meant well, it was always in jest, but it’s those little things that start to add up. I tried to consider my future. I left for a job at a law firm  in Albuquerque. We foreclosed on houses. It was depressing. I hated it. I quit. I enrolled back at NMSU, and started with the goal of getting my MA in Education. Then, I realized how little teacher’s get paid, and began to doubt if it was worth it. I mean, ten years for a degree equalled nearly $80,000 in student loans after interest, that’s a lot of debt. Plus my credit is terrible from the divorce and well, the fact that I didn’t actually make any money, would mean that I would struggle. A lot. Instead I decided to get my MBA. Business is a good way to make money, and it runs in my family. I thought: “I’m bound to be good at it.”  And I was, until I got bored. So here came the part where I realized I could take out more loans, and not be able to pay my bills and my debt would continue to balloon, or I could find a job.

So find a job I did. A ‘professional’ job. This is where the Rachael I wanted to be, the Rachael I thought I would be, where maybe "just" Rachael got lost. I got a job that paid well for only having a BA degree in Creative Writing, and I was good at it. I’m not going to be humble, and I’m not going to lie. This is all about accepting and acknowledging what got me to where I am.

So I had that job, and while the work was okay, the whole environment was terrible. Imagine the worst boss you can have. I had one of those. We were a team of seven, and in the five years she’d been charge I was employee number 32 to quit. Granted, I timed my leaving when the company was having big changes and going small business, so everyone was bound to leave regardless.

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Instrospection: 

"This is all about accepting and acknowledging what got me to where I am." 

- Rachael Gallegos

I got a job with a pretty good company. They were friendly and had good benefits, and paid me very well. Except it was pretty stagnant, and no one ever talked. It was a room of nine and I’d go a whole day with no more than a “Good Morning” or a “Good Night.” I don’t know about you, but I like the ability to socialize, to an extent, or to feel as if I’m part of a team. It was a little strange. It was at this time that my health started acting up. I could barely focus at work. I was gaining a ton of weight. I mean I went from 135 lbs to 175 lbs in months. I couldn’t stay awake and was depressed. I got shingles. I wasn’t even thirty years old and I got shingles!! I was diagnosed with PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. I transitioned from in the office to working from home, but as a contract employee. Which meant I didn’t get a lot of work.

I realized I couldn’t afford this contract employee work so I started looking for other jobs. It was at this time I met my best friend, who inspired me to look at teaching. I found a position and taught for a year. I loved it. Except I realized I couldn’t afford it. I mean, do you know what teachers make a year? I started at $32,000/year, which is higher than the typical school pays a teacher. A position that requires both a degree and a specialized, and oftentimes expensive, license. I made more money than this working in Las Cruces while I was going to school full-time. After taxes, benefits, and everything my paychecks were about $792 bi-monthly. I don’t care if you argue that it’s $32,000 for nine-months and therefore it’s good pay. It’s only $32,000 for nine-months spread out over twelve months. It’s not a lot. I had roommates. I was nearly thirty, and still had roommates. It was depressing. I couldn’t afford to travel or do anything in the time I had off. I spent half my money on my students, and I worked from 7AM-7PM grading, lesson planning, and coming up with relevant materials to inspire my underprivileged, high risk students to graduate.  Add all of this into the student loans I had and the realization I’d have to go back and finish a Master’s degree if I ever wanted to move up the higher levels of pay. I wasn't convinced it was worth it. 

So I left. I went into a marketing position and I enjoyed that more or less. I liked the marketing, I liked the graphic design but it still didn’t quite fit. I made very good money but I still stressed. Was this who I was? Was this what I was supposed to spend my life doing? What about my loans? I guess I should buy a house, so my rent won’t keep growing right? I started that process and in the meantime got an offer that sounded too good to be true (spoiler: it was). I got an offer to be a federal employee. It wasn’t great pay BUT it came with full federal benefits, assistance for my MBA, and an extra $20,000/year to my student loans for three years. This sounded like a godsend. I left my high paying job with some fun perks for this position… and found out they made mistakes on the entire process. Not only was there no tuition assistance, no benefits, and most definitely not $20,000/year for three years to my loans, I wasn’t even guaranteed employment beyond one year. A temporary position. I was, obviously, devastated. I just bought a house. I just made a three to four year plan to commit to this city and no travel to put me in a better place. I was trying to be STABLE. I was trying to be consistent. I was trying to not be flighty and stay grounded. I had to reconsider my plans. Since I was now in even more stressful financial straights, I figured I would keep on the same track, find another high paying job where I can tolerate the work and make the best of it… and that’s where I went for three months until I was fired.