It’s been said that desperate times calls for desperate measures, and that can definitely been seen when we face financial problems. I’ve had between 15 and 20 jobs in my life – usually working 2 jobs at any given time. Since I dropped out of college (shhh…don’t tell anyone) at the age of 18, and didn’t have any trades under my belt, I was forced to take whatever jobs came along in order to pay the bills.
I’ve done door-to-door sales (twice), delivered auto parts in my own car (without being reimbursed up to the standard mileage rate), and I’ve even scrubbed toilets (and other things) in a hotel overnight!
For much of my adult life I’ve been broke, stuck trying to pay off debt (even to the point of trying debt consolidation), and unable to do anything about it because of a lack of education and opportunity. However, I have never been forced into a job or position that has made me feel a lack of dignity.
A few days ago I came across a story on MSNBC about a lawyer who was forced to become a topless dancer in order to make ends meet. I was fascinated to find out how she ended up in this position, and what, if anything, she could have done to change things. Here is a part of her story:
When Carla graduated 10 years ago, she thought her law degree would be a permanent ticket to a high-paying job. But instead of selling her mind, Carla is selling her body. After student loans, debt, a layoff and unemployment battered her bank account, she now finds herself in an almost unbelievable position – dancing in a topless bar.
“Did I ever think I’d be taking my top off for rent money? No. I was in my mid-30s and had never danced before,” said Carla, who asked that we use her stage name and withhold her identity and some personal details. “As a little girl, I never thought to myself, ‘I just want to grow up and be a stripper,’ or, ‘All I ever wanted to do in life is climb in the lap of sweaty stranger and take my top off.’
“But, with our economy the way it is, especially in smaller cities … you strip or you starve,” she said.
The first thing that I was reminded of by reading this story is that it is very unwise to judge people based on their external circumstances. I’m sure that when many people see her “working”, or hear of what she does for a living, they immediately get a number of [probably wrong] ideas about her. I know that I would be shocked to meet a exotic dancer with a law degree!
I am sure that many of us have been in desperate financial positions – or we may still be in them now. How far would you be willing to go if you lost your job and had no income? Before you answer that, consider how Carla went from respectable work to doing something that causes shame:
After graduation, she worked for nine years putting her degree to use, but she had entered the crowded legal profession at the wrong time. When she was laid off in 2009, she couldn’t find work.
“At first, I worked as a waitress, and a cashier in gas station,” she said.
As her prospects grew dim, she went back to school to earn a master’s degree, hoping to bolster her credentials. But her financial aid came in lower than expected, her credit was battered and she struggled to find part-time work in her new town to keep her afloat.
I’m sure that many of you can imagine going through this type of downward progression. She first got a couple of low-paying jobs, and then tried to go back to school. When that didn’t work out as she planned, she tried to find another low-paying job – but wasn’t able to find anything:
“I went around to see if could get a job as cocktail waitress, but there was not a single retail or waitress job. No one was hiring, except for the topless places,” she said. “It was an act of desperation.”
She started out serving drinks as a waitress, but moved quickly to dancing “because that’s where the money is, and that’s what I needed.”
This wasn’t someone who just took the “easy” way out; this is someone who tried many options before ending up where she is now. The article didn’t say if she tried other options than what is listed, such as becoming a part of the contingent workforce, applying for social welfare programs, or even living with friends. In order to choose a “profession” as demeaning and as looked down upon as stripping, I would hope that she looked into these other measures first.
I am not sure what her situation looked like before she was laid off, but here are a couple of things that you can do to help soften the blow if/when this happens to you.
How To Prepare For Financial Hardships
- Have a Large Emergency Fund – Try to have between 9 months and a year of living expenses in a high-yield savings account.
- Pay off Debt – It is much easier to adjust your living expenses than debt payments.
- Have a Financial Contingency Plan – Whether it’s an old profession or side job, have a way to earn money that’s not connected to your current full time job. Also know what expenses you can easily cut and what services you can do without (it may be wise to just cut them now and build up your emergency fund, pay off debt, or save for retirement)!
- Have a Support System – Know who you can count on in an emergency. You may need to consider taking loans from family or staying with loved ones; it’s good to know ahead of time, who you can rely upon.
- Consider What You Can Sell – This doesn’t mean that you should start holding garage sales tomorrow, but it is important to have a discussion with your family members and decide what items can go if you fall upon hard times. It will be much easier to make this plan now, rather than when you are all under the stress of a financial hardship!
How Far Would You Go?
Looking at her situation made me wonder how far many of us would go in order to make ends meet. What would be the first steps you would take if you lost your job and ran through your savings?
Would you go back to school and live off of student loans until you graduate? Would you sell most of your possessions and live with a friend or family member?
Of course, I am not considering anything illegal or immoral, because that wouldn’t be appropriate for this discussion. However, I would like to hear from you on this issue.
What things would you do before you would be willing to swallow your pride and take a “demeaning” job, move back in with your parents/kids, or give up certain luxuries that you foolishly consider to be needs?
photo by Pat Shannahan for msnbc.com
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