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Thursday, May 21, 2015

expat gratitude: working to live, not living to work

Welcome to my second installment of expat gratitude, my new series about how becoming a long term expat has changed my life. The purpose of this series is to look behind-the-scenes. This blog showcases temples + dumplings + scooters and our globetrots. But it doesn't always highlight the day to day things. It doesn't always clearly and completely give testament to how this experience has benefited far more than my quest to use up every page in my passport.

So, this series is all about getting personal.
And my second installment is all about money and work.
That's all kinds of personal.

So, let's get started:

I come from a solid middle class family.
Both of my parents worked full time.
I went to, and thrived in, public school.
I took on nearly 50K in student loans for my 6 years of college.
My parents worked hard, every day and every year, so we always had what we needed and had experiences that enriched our lives.
And they taught me to do the same for myself and my little family of two.

For me, working was never optional.
Growing up, my parents instilled in me the idea that I owed it to myself to be an independent woman who could and would financially take care of herself.
I know not every person agrees with this sentiment, or how it comes about, but for me, growing up, I found the idea empowering.
And I still do. 
Throughout my 20s, though, I have struggled to figure out what exactly this looks like or means. 
Especially because for the past 11 years, I have been sharing my life with a wonderful man who comes from a more traditional family in which the man brings home the bacon.

To find the meaning, I went through many phases.
First, I went through a workaholic phase.
Then, I went through an unemployed phase.
After that, I went through the is this it phase.
And now, since moving to Taiwan, I have settled into a this-is-my-life-and-it's-pretty-cool phase. 

I feel lucky because my job is more than just a job.
I think what I do is important.
I love my kids.
And I get three months off every year to pursue my non-career related goals.

This is a heck of a lot more than most people I know get.

That said, work is still work.
It is time consuming, demanding and sometimes boring. 
I would not do it every Monday - Friday if we did not need money for life.
That's real.
That's the truth.
And I think the overwhelming majority of working adults find themselves in the same situation.

And that's why the money matters.
If I am going to sacrifice so much of myself and my time, it had better be worth it.

Teaching is teaching.
I get paid a lower middle class salary.
In the states, it was absolutely not worth it.
My work demands left me little time to be me-- the person I am outside of work.
The person who loves to read, travel, write, socialize, photograph, camp, hike, learn.
It also left too little in my bank account at the end of the month.
I was burning both ends of the candle for nothing; my life was no better for all of the work I did, it was actually far worse.
And that was just not okay with me.
Because while my parents taught me the value of financial independence, they also taught me to work to live and not live to work.

And today my expat gratitude comes from the peace I have found with my career.
Here, in Taiwan, my work demands are significantly reduced.
And the culture surrounding education means I can enjoy my work day to day.
I have the time and energy to be me all the time: at school and at home.
Here I am a whole person, not a shadow reduced to my profession.

The money doesn't suck either.
Sure, I am still being paid a lower middle class salary, but it goes so much further here.
Would I like more money?
Sure-- I am a woman who likes to buy cute dresses.
But frankly, day to day, it would not make much difference.
I'm not even sure I would know what to do with it.
You see, even on just one lower middle class income, we've had the ability to: travel to all corners of the world, pay for Sean's bachelor degree out of pocket and enjoy life and our hobbies.
These are things we could never do if we stayed in America.

To me, that is working to live.
To me, that is a woman who can take care of herself and her life and her family. 
That is something that I not only feel okay with, but proud of.
Here, I work hard for what I earn and I enjoy the life I can live due to the work that I do.

That is a gift Taiwan has given me.
And I am so thankful.

Add your comment

  1. I'm very nervous about when/if we do go back to the US for the very reasons you stated above. The cost of living is just so much less pocket friendly and jobs are so difficult to find.

    1. I know. We feel the same way. We were warned by other teachers who went international that this would happen. They call it the "golden handcuffs". Living abroad spoils you in so many ways, it is hard to wrap your mind around moving back home where everything will just be harder.

  2. It took me a long time to understand that idea of working to live, rather than living to work. I was stuck in the mentality of I need to go to university, I need to get a good job and in the background was my family saying the same and worse saying you need to job to support us later in life... That took me to uni, that even took me to Belgium, but in the end, the choices I have made have lead to a huge sense of not accomplishing anything except a wage.
    That's where working to live came in and although I resented Belgium for it at the start, it's giving me everything now and I couldn't be happier (at least in my outside of work life).

    1. I compare my dad to Yoda. I can still hear his voice telling me these things. A lot of my friends are workaholics, and I think sometimes they have a hard time understanding my intentional choice to never be one. But you only live once, and as my dad's passing proved, the end is not about what you have or your job, it's about the experiences and memories and people. I will gladly miss out on bigger and better job opportunities to invest in the things that really matter.