~A Year Confounded by Stress~

Part II: Funding

Going back to college in my thirties is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It is a great source of fulfillment and a great challenge, both to my cognitive abilities and my time management skills, although the latter turned out to be a bit more challenging than I anticipated.

Doing a fulltime study while also running a business takes up a lot of time, and when you’re running your own business, time equals money. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Because of school, I worked a bit less than usual, but enough to pay my bills. My work involves working on long-term projects for a select number of clients. In 2019 most running projects were about to be completed, but not a lot of new projects were coming in. In order to persuade a new client, I made a deal I should never have made. In short, because of this deal, I ended up working more than 9 months for next to nothing. No longer was my work enough to pay my bills.

In that period, I didn’t pay my rent on time once. I borrowed money to pay my bills, and eventually I made payment arrangements for my rent and college tuition. I was plugging holes in a sinking ship. I lay awake at night, worrying about being evicted and being kicked out of college. I tried to make sure to always keep some cash at hand, so that at the very least, I could buy something to eat. It became a sport to buy food that gave me the most calories and nutrition for as little money as possible. Canned sardines and eggs became a staple. I remember one Friday in the grocery store I really wanted to buy a can of Cola Light for 65 cents, a guilty pleasure I sometimes ‘indulged’ in. I couldn’t buy it, because I only had €3,50 in my wallet for the rest of the weekend.

I’m not a big spender and don’t have particularly hedonistic habits. I’m also quite comfortable having little money, as I can tolerate uncertainty and a bit of chaos fairly well. However, the chronic concerns about losing my home and my study, maybe even my work, were weighing heavy on me. Together with the pressure from school, this caused me to feel overwhelmed all the time. For many months I felt like constantly being hit by a new wave while trying to swim up and grasp for air. A cliché, I know, but that’s the best way I can describe it.

When Covid-19 hit in 2020 the prospects turned even more bleak as potential clients put their plans on hold, but the fact that now the whole world was a mess somehow soothed my worries. The world kind of slowed down and the pressure I felt diminished. It was out of all of our hands now, so better to surrender.

Surrender doesn’t put food on the table though, so all was not well just yet. I finished the cursed project and stumbled my way through the remainder of the last semesters. Online classes were a blessing in disguise; they saved me a lot of time driving to school that I could now spend on work. In August, a new client came in that changed everything, almost overnight. Suddenly, well-paid work was almost guaranteed for the next two years. I can’t describe the relief I felt. I don’t care much about money, but knowing that I was able to pay my bills and buy food for a while gave me space and time to breathe. Looking back, I think that August was the first time I experienced real joy in 2020. The first time I could finally relax a little, enjoy the last weeks of summer and look forward to better times.

by Zowie Bindels

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