You are not your 401K.

by Janelle Hanchett

[why yes, that was a Fight Club allusion. thank you for noticing…]

So…I’ve been thinking of something to write. Usually, blog posts pop into my head like random inappropriate thoughts and form into more elaborate inappropriate thoughts, err, I mean “blog posts,” as I drive or sit in class or pretend like I’m listening to somebody. Sometimes things come to me so suddenly they actually make me laugh out loud.

I admit way too much freaky shit on this blog.

But lately, I don’t have much. I explored the cracks of my mind in search of something interesting – and after finding nothing, over and over again, realized I am officially uninspired.

Does that ever happen to you? Yeah, it happens to me.

I’m just like not enthused. Not amused. Barely even interested.

This happens to me every February. Yes, I know, weird. But I have proof (which I won’t go into because it involves my past life of drinking and rehabs. Oh shit. I just said it.)…just trust me, I hit this insane existential LOW every February. Check out the post I wrote last February:  “Dude. Sylvia Plath put her head in the oven over this shit.

Good times.

A few people have mentioned “seasonal depression.”

I don’t know about all that. I think I have seasonal “Fuck this noise. I’m bored. And by the way, what’s the meaning of life?”

A couple days ago as I was getting dressed in the gym locker room, I heard a couple of 60-year-old women (more or less) discussing retirement. Their conversation went something like this:

“So how’s retirement?”

“Oh, it’s great.”

“Yeah? I have 6 more years with the State before I can retire.”

“Yes, I worked for 27 years then bought myself out of three so I could retire.”

“My husband’s doing that. He’s pulling from his 401K to buy himself out so he can focus on his other job while our son’s in college and put his retirement money toward that.”

“Good thing to do…”

“yeah, but I just cannot stand my job anymore and it’s so hard to think about 6 more years. I’ll be 67.”

“But retirement is so important. You don’t want to lose that money!”

And they went on and on like this discussing 401ks and retirement and “roll-overs” and all kinds of shit I should understand but don’t…and how many more years they or their partners had to put in to be free from the jobs they’ve held for 20+ years.

And because it’s February, I felt my soul shrink into the weird plastic gym mat beneath my feet (you know? The ones with the holes in it?). Alright that was dramatic. The truth is that I felt weirder and weirder as I listened intently to them talking about “staying on” to put a son through college and blah blah blah. All I could think about was 30 years at the same job doing administrative work for the State of California and holding on through all that to “retire” comfortably. To be like old and comfortable or whatever. With well-funded children.

Screw that. I’d rather be comfortable now.

And also, let me just say right now, online, in public: Kids, if I can put you through college, big yay. If not, I am not going to get a second job or sell my organs on your behalf. Rather, you will take out student loans and get grants like every other self-respecting child of the working class. I did it. Your grandparents did it. Your great-grandparents did it.

I realize that last statement officially makes me the most horrible parent on the planet, but I don’t think all good life or intelligence hinges on going to college. And I don’t think it kills a person to take out some loans for their education, thereby making a personal commitment to the deal. There are many, many ways to develop a brain – college is by no means the only way. Some would argue it diminishes the brain.

What the hell am I talking about? I get side-tracked.

In all months. Not just February.

Oh right. Here’s the thing: I’d rather be poor pretty much forever doing something I love – and never having anything other than contentment to show for it – than slaving day in and day out so SOMEDAY I can enjoy my life.

I have a 401K. At my last job, I put into it each year like a good girl for 6+ years, more than the recommended amount, and it’s at a nice healthy number right now. So haven’t completely ignored the whole thing. I just don’t obsess over it or make life decisions centering around its growth. Sometimes I wonder if I should, but I’ve accepted that that sort of thing just ain’t in me. I will never be the person with a fat retirement.

[I will, however, most likely have a kick-ass collection of existential literature.]

The way these women sounded…it was like they were LIVING FOR THE END OF THEIR JOBS. Like life was going to start at retirement – when they’d finally be free. It was horrible.

Somebody should tell them they’re free now. And always were free.

(As long as they’re willing to be poor.)

It all makes me wonder what this is all about…life can’t possibly be 30 years at a job with one 2-week vacation a year, holiday bonuses, the occasional raise, and cubicles – then retirement. It can’t!

Dude I’ve written way too much. Sorry.

Guess I did have a few things to say.

The good news is that for me, this crap passes. It always does. And to be honest, I don’t think it’s all bad to feel gray and dull and bored sometimes. This world tells me I should be entertained and stimulated and motivated all the time – and if I’m not, there’s something wrong. I better go buy that new gadget to entertain me, or run out and get that pill to fix me, or drink to amuse me. Or eat to pleasure me. Or do whatever…something!  to make it right.

How about just sitting with the wrong until it’s right again? How about pulling from the deepest recesses of my person to find meaning and strength, until it rises again to the surface?

I know that doesn’t work for everybody.  I know anti-antidepressants saved my life at one point. But this? Ah, this is just the universe opening me up for the good that’s on its way.

Cause it’s coming. It always does.

22 Comments | Posted in nothing to do with parenting. | February 22, 2012
  • megan

    Being poor sucks ass. I hate having to tell my daughter she cant have fruit snacks at the grocery store because its not in the budget. We save for retirement, more than the recommended amount because one day I really dont want have to worry about money.

    I guess if I saved $5 of the money we put away for retirement I could get her fruit snacks.

    • renegademama

      Not worrying about money…that would be nice.

  • Momtothree

    Yeah, the good is on its way. Great post. If we didn’t have the odd grey sky, we wouldn’t appreciate the brilliant sunshine so much. Yin and Yang. Stuff has to balance out. This post has set me thinking about things I’d relegated to “deal with later”. But it’s so true. Carpe diem … Live life for today.
    Thank you for telling it like it is, girl.

    • renegademama

      Thank you. Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking – ya gotta have a little dark occasionally, right? As you say, to see the brilliant sunshine. I guess I just started thinking about life being too short…know what I mean?

  • Kateri Von Steal

    10 days a year for vacation.
    1 day a month sick time.
    3 personal days a year.

    a 401k.
    a Health Insurance plan with Dental, Vision and Hearing
    a tiny little pension…

    All to make just enough to get by.
    I wish I wasn’t my 401k Tyler Durden, but right now… it kind of owns me.

    • renegademama

      Yeah, I get that. Circumstances get us sometimes. But having read your blog and comments on here, I’m pretty sure you don’t think that stuff “defines” you. 🙂

      • Kateri Von Steal

        Doesn’t define me…
        AT ALL…

        Like a MASTA’.

        I loved the etiquette rules… in the next post.

  • Regina @ The Tampa Bay Saver

    Once again an awesome post! I am knee deep in student loans and take pride in the fact that I worked my way through college. It was good for me. Although it would have been easy to call daddy up and have him pay for it for me, and he would have, I can now tell my kids that their dad and I both did it. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you a realistic one.

    Chin up. February is almost over.

    • renegademama

      Me too. I have SO many loans. And while I’d like to save my kids the trouble, it feels pretty insane to think about having an extra $20,000 a year for my kids to party and take classes. I took out loans, got grants for good grades and worked all through college. I think if a kid is willing to make that kind of sacrifice, it shows that they’re pretty devoted. But don’t get me wrong, my parents helped me a lot. Just not full-on payments each month covering my rent, car and spending money (which is what many of my friend’s had!).

  • Jennifer

    My mom just retired and did it early at a penalty because she just couldn’t stand her mind-numbing-soul-sucking job anymore. She said she would rather be poor than work there anymore.

    And you are right, February blows.

    • renegademama

      Glad I’m not the only one who thinks February can suck it.

  • Renee

    If we don’t know the “dark” days, how will we appreciate the good ones? Life sucks at times but it is definitely worth living. You are right, February just plain sucks!

  • Michael Ann

    I totally agree with you Janelle, except now I am back working for a beurocracy so that I will have benefits and retirement because really, I don’t know how else to survive. Luckily it’s a teaching job and something I wanted. I am liking it and feel I will be happy ehre.

    I used to work at UC Davis and I was that lady…doing admin work, putting money aside for retirement. Then I had kids and stayed home with them. Then I lost my career and trying to get a job after 12 years being home and working part-time was almost impossible.

    I remember when I worked at UCD, I’d see the people who had been there 20 and 30 years and I told myself I would NOT be them. I didn’t want to spend my life in a cubicle. I knew I couldn’t. And I didn’t and never will. There is just something inherently wrong with the whole American way.

    • renegademama

      I have a ton of respect for you, Michael Ann, and believe me, I totally get it. I’m sure I will end up working for a bureaucracy again. Heck, I already work for CSUS (doing totally menial labor for $11/hour!!!!)…but as you say, that whole spending the life in a cubicle thing, I know it works for some people but as you say, “I Knew I couldn’t.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with joining “the system” and working in it. My goodness I’m no anarchist! But as you’ve obviously done, I think the key part is being aware of what we’re doing, realizing that we are more than our bank accounts or jobs. Ya know? And I think some people can maintain that for 30 years…doing the work happily with an awareness and a contentment with what they’re doing. But those women in the gym were clearly miserable but did it anyway — for 30 years! And that is a seriously sad concept.

      Cheers, friend.

  • Shan

    I work with a student who doesn’t sleep much in February and March. Every year. And we’re in the bright shiny end of the state, where there are very few cloudy days, let alone rain or anything else that is usually attributed to S.A.D. What gives?!?

    Anyway, my coworker and I had a similar conversation yesterday. Bleh.

  • Cheryl

    This post was especially meaningful to me because I just lost my 25 year old baby brother to cancer. His last day of work was the 31st of December at a job he hated going to half the time, and here, less than 2 months later he’s dead. He never got to take that trip to Hawaii he wanted to, or buy a house or have his own business like he wanted to, and he never got a chance to even think about retiring.This experience just illustrated to me again the importance of loving what you do and doing what you love while you still have a chance to do it. Our days are numbered and every one of them should count for something, not just waiting for life to begin someday.

  • Emily

    Amazing, amazing, amazing post. I wholeheartedly agree. Like with everything you said just then.

    Enjoy life now — there’s no guarantee you’ll make it to retirement, or even to tomorrow!

    Also, not every day is rainbows and skittles but that’s OK. That’s life. Embrace the downs so you can appreciate the ups. I often write better and with more feeling when I’m low.

    I love your blog and cannot stop reading!

  • Tamara

    Some people are just that way: waiting to live and take risks later. It’s how they cope. I try not to disturb the worker drone bees, who are mostly content with their lot.

    I look at all the people who want to write a book and wonder if it’s wrong of me to encourage them, because then they’ll become the person who couldn’t finish a book or couldn’t get publish. Being a person who will write a book *one day* might be nicer for them.

    Never wake a sleepwalker. They’ll be angry.

  • Spenser

    COMPLETELY agree with you on the whole waste your life doing something you hate in hopes that you will be repaid somehow by “Retirement.” I made a conscience decision to be a part-time librarian instead of a full-time one because I wanted to have a life as well as a job. I have been extremely lucky in that I have had over 20 years of fun being a part time children’s librarian that has enabled me to live quite a comfortable, if simple, life. I’ve traveled and have had wonderful experiences and love being a librarian. I’m not looking forward to retirement. I’m living in the moment and have managed to put away quite a lot for the future. I am EXTREMELY lucky that I have been able to do this. As for February? I call it the blah time.

  • Rin

    This is me and my hubby. Well said. We’ll never have retirement funds or money for baby girl’s college, but she going to grow up traveling to foreign countries instead and seeing that you can live life outside the lines. *shrug* hopefully she’ll think it’s worth it and won’t turn into Alex P Keaton!

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