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Last week, my three-year old son woke up in a “mood”. He was clingy, but wanted space. Hungry, but not eating. By 9:00AM he was already on his second tantrum and his 30th request. Request #31 was for me to FaceTime his grandma because he needed to show her his booger. I said no and became the enemy. I wiped his tears while I glanced around the room trying to find something to bribe him with. I needed him to settle down so I could prepare for a 9:30AM call.
I’ve shared little anecdotes like this with everybody and if I’m not talking to another parent, the response is usually, “I can’t imagine quarantining with kids”. Admittedly, I drank more than usual for the first six weeks of quarantine because I felt the same way.
With our son’s daycare closed, full-time entrepreneurship looked like singing songs, running circles around the couch, scooping up crumbs and blowing bubbles. In between singing and running, I would answer emails and jot down ideas I want to explore for our book. In between the crumbs and bubbles, I tackled the stack of “oh, you quit your job?” mail that nobody tells you about. My brain strained as I scanned through wordy insurance and financial documents and became frustrated when I had to read the same sentence multiple times.
I made a new list of terms I needed to know now that my employer wasn’t negotiating benefits on my behalf. I had no idea when I would have the time to learn them, but somehow I managed to stumble through it and scratch things off. I was researching whether I needed to rollover my HSA the first time I saw the video of Ahmaud Arbery being murdered in the street.
Every night after we put our son to bed, I poured myself a victory glass of wine…or two…maybe even a cocktail to top it off. The next morning I would wake up, slam back some coffee and do it all over again. More crumbs, more bubbles, more lists. This happened every day, for 70 straight days until daycare re-opened.
Even though I was within the socially acceptable limits for quarantine-induced drinkin’, my body eventually rejected my new habit. I started searching for healthier ways to fuel productivity. I stopped watching TV so I could read more and I replaced my nightly cocktail with chamomile tea.
Slowly but sure, the brain fog started to clear.
I was researching new workflows when I learned that Breonna Taylor had been murdered in her bed. Suddenly there wasn’t a bedtime routine on the planet that made falling asleep easier. Staying asleep was also a challenge. The transition back to daycare was tough for our son who started waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares.
I’m used to worrying, but my anxiety was heightened by all the sudden changes in my life. I read countless articles trying to learn coping mechanisms from other parents and came across Aimee Rae Hannaford. Her story was posted in almost every Facebook group and twittersphere that I’m a part of. Aimee is a business owner and mother of a son the same age as mine. She entered the quarantine optimistic but three days in, her husband confessed that their original plan for him to watch the kid all day was simply not going to work.
He was overwhelmed and she was constantly working, even outside of working hours. Her husband pleaded with her to unplug. When his lobbying wasn’t successful, he taught their son a trick to get her attention. Whenever she wasn’t responding, her toddler would call her “Aimee” instead of Mom. As I was reading, I kept wishing more ambitious women spoke with Aimee-levels of honesty about what happens when work is the third wheel in a relationship.
As uncomfortable as it is to read…“stories like hers normalize the corner that work-culture has backed us into. It’s easy to think her story is extreme if you haven’t been listening” Click To Tweet
So, anyway, Aimee wasn’t happy, her husband wasn’t happy and her baby boy wasn’t happy. She had been planning to take six weeks off pre-pandemic but never found the right time. If she continued working this way, she would burn-out and her family would be collateral damage. So she decided to dissolve her company and lay off all 13 employees, many of whom were people of color. The responses to her story were overwhelmingly negative and I think that’s because quitting always seems like the radical choice when people don’t like your reasons.
Three days after I read Aimee’s story, George Floyd was murdered and this time was different. I mourned as he called for his Mama. I put away all the lists and hugged my son tighter. I missed deadlines and I grieved with my community. After I quit my job, I was most excited about life where I got to choose which moments happened “in between” the other ones. For the first 3 months, I was still operating in a place where grief happened in between my work and not the other way around.
“When we internalize systems of oppression, we mimic them to our detriment. Maybe that’s why Aimee’s story resonated so deeply with me. I could relate to a paradox of entrepreneurship where women recreate the same toxic work conditions for ourselves that we were attempting to escape.”
Fast-forward to today, as I’m watching protesters across the country and globe carry signs that tell me my life matters. Literally everybody is saying it. I usually log into Hulu to escape from reality but even there, I’m reminded of it. While I continue to be inspired by the number of people who are committed to doing the work to right past wrongs, I’m now confronted with a world whose collective consciousness changed at a pace that I didn’t think was possible.
As exciting as that sounds, it’s a hard thing to reconcile. It means the freedom I’ve been feeling, which has been life-changing, is still just a fraction of what I deserve. I’m realizing how much I’ve been talking in circles about what I can’t imagine instead of what I can. It’s like the world just gave me permission that I didn’t think I needed. And now that I have it, it’s an accelerant.
As a business owner, the most important work I can be doing right now is pushing the limits of my own imagination. I’ve been reading and exploring new ideas that used to make me uncomfortable. I’ve been examining the ways I’ve been complicit in supporting harmful organizations that have used my labor and likeness. I feel bolder about challenging the myopic definitions of activism and I feel even more called to our mission to inspire better conversations about money.
In a world of competing emotions that all seem to cancel each other out, the one that keeps rising to the top of the list is gratitude. I’m grateful for time-freedom, the ability to abandon my lists and take time to process the moment we’re in. I’m grateful to the FIRE movement for being a catalyst. My husband and I have always said we wanted to inspire as many Black people to explore Financial Independence as a way to achieve economic freedom — but now, I’m realizing that’s just the beginning.