Dependent on Independence Day

Well Hello there and Welcome to My Almost Midlife Crisis, the show that dives into that tricky time in our lives when we are no longer young, but we aren’t old yet either. I’m your host, Jennifer Villamil. Happy 4th of July everyone! Although I will say living in Chicago, it’s not my favorite holiday. It’s always crazy busy with tourists and suburbanites that just leave trash everywhere and have no regard for my neighborhood. But I hope you are doing something fun to celebrate like having a great BBQ or eating some apple pie. This year, Independence Day has me thinking about my own independence. As a self-proclaimed independent woman, for the first time since I left my parent’s nest at the age of twenty-one, I am not financially independent and it’s bringing up all sorts of emotions. If you’ve ever experienced having to depend on others for your well-being as an adult, then this one’s for you. Let’s dive in. 

Networking Parties aren’t my jam

I’ll admit it. I’m horrible at small-talk and networking parties. Some people excel in these spaces. I know people that tend to know pretty much everyone that exists because they are constantly networking. When I moved to Chicago I fell into a crowd that had quite a few of these folks. No matter where we went, they would come out of the event with multiple business cards. For example, we would go to a charity event and I’m there dancing, maybe bidding on something in the silent auction and having fun with those I came with and half the group was there working the crowd and surveying for potential business opportunities through the dreaded small talk. 

You know that typical small-talk conversation? The one where “What do you do?” is usually within the first three questions? Yeah, that’s not me. Probably why I don’t really like networking events. They feel so shallow. Like everyone is just there to try to find someone they can benefit from. I prefer mutual connections with people I find interesting. I remember my mom always thinking it was so weird that when she’d ask me what my friends did for a living, about sixty percent of the time, I couldn’t tell her. Or I would have a generic answer like they’re in sales or they’re in marketing. She would always ask me – how do you not know what your friend does for a living? And my response was always the same, because that’s not why I’m friends with them and that isn’t what we connect on. 

Value Has Several Meanings

When I bring people into my life, it’s not because I need them or they’re going to benefit me financially. It’s because I want them there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I don’t seek out individuals that would bring value to my life. I firmly believe everyone you allow in your life should bring some value. If they aren’t, then why are they there? But value can mean a lot of things. This could be something as simple as a workout partner, giving me motivation to get to the gym on a regular basis or try new fitness routines. Maybe it’s a Peloton fanatic like me so I can indulge in all the Peloton related conversations I want without having to worry about the person getting annoyed. Because let me tell you what, when I start talking about Peloton, I can go on for quite a bit. It could be a confidant that is always there when I need to vent or get a different perspective. Because let’s face it, your spouse or significant other cannot and shouldn’t be expected to be everything you need in your life. That is why you have friends or a social circle – they give you different outlets to compliment what’s already in your life. 

But never in my life have I surrounded myself with people due to their status or how much money they had. Part of this is because to be honest, I haven’t really found a correlation between status and money and interesting human beings. In fact, the more money people have, especially those that were born with money, usually are some of the most dull people I’ve ever met. I care so little about people’s status or money that is why I usually forget to ask what they do. Think about it. If you could sit down with someone that grew up with a trust fund and never had to work too hard for anything or you could sit down with someone that had to overcome a crazy obstacle in their lives  – which do you think would be more interesting? I’m not saying having money is bad or that all people born with money are boring. I’m just saying that between the two, people that have lives that aren’t perfect, that have been through a struggle of some sort and come out on the other side tend to be more interesting to me. I also put people that are self-sufficient in high-regard. 

Self-Proclaimed Independent Woman

I’ve always prided myself as being an independent woman. I grew up with support from my parents, but I didn’t just get whatever I wanted. They took care of the necessities like shelter, food, clothing and education. But from a young age, they started to instill the value of hard work and money through chores. I would work for my five dollar a week allowance through hard work. And I’m not exaggerating! Especially in the summer when my brother and I were out of school, my mom would create a yellow note pad that had an entire page filled with the chores we had to do for that day before we were allowed to go play. My brother and I would bargain on how we divvied them up, but we worked together to get them done as fast as possible so we could go have some fun. 

When I was finally old enough to work, which in Illinois was fifteen, I got my first job at Culver’s fast food joint in the drive through. And from the time I was fifteen up until being laid off in April, I have almost consistently been working for twenty-four straight years. The only breaks I have taken were my first semester of college because my parents told me I wasn’t allowed to work so I can focus on school. Of course when they realized that extra time wasn’t going towards my studies but rather sorority and fraternity parties, they stopped giving me a weekly allowance and told me to get back to work. When I quit my job in November, I took a month and a half off between roles. That was the first time I had done that. Every other time I switched jobs, I would have my last day on a Friday, and start the following Monday. So essentially I have been working for two-hundred, eighty three and a half months with minimal breaks up until April of 2022.

And all of this was in service of my independence. I didn’t want to have to rely on anyone. I think a big driver of this was simply my place in the world – being a woman. As an elder-millennial, I grew up in the age of divorce. My parents were divorced and it seemed like everyone I knew had parents that were either divorced or miserable. And during divorce, it was much more common for the woman to be in need of financial support than the man. Society has long expected women to bear the brunt of the household duties while the man was the financial provider. 

This societal expectation impacts women in so many ways. Like being looked at as selfish if women don’t want kids. To quote Pope Francis, “The choice to not want children is selfish.” But when women choose to have kids, they are more likely than not lacking support from that same society, including the father of the child. Maternity leave isn’t a guarantee for full-time moms, especially if you aren’t salary based. And just because you have mat leave, doesn’t mean you get paid your full salary during that time period, which many women or households cannot afford. Healthcare is extremely expensive with the average out of pocket costs for just having the baby $3,000 in the US as of 2019. And that’s just the birth! Supporting that child with food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education also adds up. 

Where I live in Chicago, the two daycares we are considering for our newborn are between $2,000 and $3,100 per month! That’s all the financial elements of having a kid – but there’s also the unpaid care. Women are also more likely to be responsible for household duties and childcare whether they are working or not. It’s this dynamic that makes women more likely to pull back on their careers or paid work which then in turn creates a dynamic of dependence of women on men for their family’s financial stability. Unfortunately there are so many women that are in relationships or marriages that want to get out, but simply can’t afford to. This is my main driving force for financial independence. I simply don’t want to ever be in a bad situation because I can’t afford to change it. Ever. 

Sudden Financial Dependance

After saying all of that, now I’m married. My relationship is very much a partnership. Christian and I have always mostly split everything 50/50. We have separate bank accounts, and contribute equally to our shared accounts to pay our household expenses. As we get ready to bring this little girl into the world, we have started having conversations on how we’ll divvy up the household and childcare duties so they’re equal. One of the many things I love about Christian is his belief that a woman should focus on her education and career and the relationship should be an equal partnership in every way. He wants a partner that has her own goals and success and is supportive every step of the way. 

Including my current step. When I lost my job at thirteen weeks pregnant, he immediately made it very clear that he didn’t want me stressing about money. He wanted to make sure that I took the time to enjoy the pregnancy but also to figure out what was next in my career. His priority is my happiness and he’s more than willing to support me as I figure out what that looks like for the next chapter in my life, and in our family’s life. And while I completely appreciate it, it comes with a feeling of lost independence for me. For the first time since I graduated college at twenty-one, I am financially dependent and that is scary. It makes me very uncomfortable. 

Because I’m further along in my career, I do have investments and savings. But with a baby coming up, the last thing I want is to start draining those accounts. So for now, I have my severance pay and unemployment which isn’t enough to match my portion of the typical expenditures. Hence, my financial dependence. 

Putting my taxes to work for me

Speaking of, let’s talk about unemployment for a second. This is my first time filing for unemployment and you know what? I feel totally fine collecting unemployment. I pay 35% of my income in taxes and I have never asked for any support from my state or the federal government – I didn’t even try to collect a COVID pay out. So you know what? It’s time to get some of that hard-earned tax money back from the government. But through this process, I have gained a whole new perspective on the unemployment benefit of my fellow Americans. And lemme tell you, I never want to hear someone act like someone is just living the high-life when they’re unemployed. 

First of all, I qualify for about 24% of my take home pay. You try to tell me that if someone loses their job suddenly, and they can only collect 24% of what they were making, that income would suffice. Especially if they have dependents. I don’t think so. 

Secondly, the process to get started is complicated and takes a while. I filed for unemployment on April 24th, and it took over a month to even start collecting payments. So if you are living paycheck to paycheck, that delay can already put you behind. To get started, the online application wasn’t working so I had to do it by phone. From that conversation she said everything was all set – but that wasn’t the case at all. 

While a lot of what you do is online, the important communication is old school fax or through the postal service. Please tell me why in 2022, we are still using fax machines at all? And the USPS? If there is a whole site, two in Illinois, to be dedicated to this process, how is there not a contact or email feature for communication? I was sent a letter for an interview because they had some questions. They mailed me a date and time and if I wanted to reschedule, I had to mail an official request letter back to them. But if that was the case, by the time I would have done that, I would have missed the interview anyway. And they ended up being no-shows for the interview after all, further delaying my first payment. 

I received another interview letter, and this time they did call. The questions they were had were because the info the woman on the phone had entered on my behalf was wrong. She said I was fired, not laid off. She said I was out of the country, even though I was walking down the streets of Chicago while I was on the call, and she failed to mention next steps. 

Once you are approved for payment, to continue to get the benefit you have tasks you have to do regularly or payments stop. You have to fill out work search details every week showing you are actively trying to get a job. You also have to certify every other week on a specified day which is only mentioned in the first letter you get and is not noted anywhere online so if you miss it, there are no reminders or notifications it’s been missed. It just triggers another interview which then delays payment. Certification just means you fill out this survey every other week that says basically you are searching, you haven’t turned down work and you’re available for work. 

I will say the interview proved very informative because there was no communication of any of this that I had seen throughout the process. It really got me thinking – I consider myself an intermediate at technology. Not only have I used computers since I was fourteen (and they were available for home use – god I’m old) but I launched this podcast where I record, edit and publish. I also launched a website, a youtube channel and social media channels where I produce and edit all of the content myself. I may not be building my own code, but I can comfortably navigate the internet. But with all of that, I struggled to understand the process. 

So when it comes to those that are not computer savvy, or maybe English isn’t their first language – what support do they have? How are they navigating this? And all of this for less than a quarter of my pay? 

Emotional Toll of Dependance

I did an interview for a podcast recently where I was asked what made me the most uncomfortable since I had been laid off and my answer was not having an income. Not getting a paycheck isn’t just a matter of physical discomfort, but emotionally? It hits differently. At first, I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that I was so excited about this new job, and that I had lost it so quickly. I know the layoffs had nothing to do with me or my abilities, but still, just having no job felt embarrassing. What would I say when I got that question, what do you do? What do I put on my LinkedIn? These little superficial, external moments that I was dreading. I didn’t want people to think differently of me. I didn’t want them to think I was defective in some way. 

I felt ashamed. Shame that I wasn’t holding up my end of the bargain in our relationship at a time when we were facing a massive increase in expenses with this child. I felt like I was letting him down. He agreed to marry this independent woman who had her own career and could take care of herself. And now here he was having to support me. 

I felt scared. Scared that I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I am a planner. Always have been. And to not know what I’ll be doing in three, six or nine months is scary. The only known thing is that I’ll be giving birth. But in terms of my career? I honestly have no idea. And that’s slightly terrifying. 

But then I started to have multiple conversations with Christian, friends, family and old colleagues and my mindset started to shift. They weren’t looking at me differently. They still saw me as the independent woman Beyonce would be willing to sing about. I received some very supportive and much needed commentary like: 

“You’ve worked hard your whole life, take this time for yourself – you’ve earned it.”

“Use this time as a gift! You get to enjoy being pregnant and focus on this beautiful time in your life.”

“You are one of the most resilient and strong females I’ve met.” 

I started to realize that the only person that was putting this pressure on myself and making me feel less than in this moment was me. I wasn’t treating myself with the same empathy I would give to anyone I know in this same circumstance. And that needed to change. 

Being laid off doesn’t have to be the scarlet letter I was making it out to be. Not knowing what is next is scary, but what makes it manageable is realizing I have an amazing support system, emotionally, mentally and yes, in this case, financially. I had to accept that sometimes we all need a little extra help. Even those of us that are fiercely independent. There will be times in our lives that we don’t have the answers. Sometimes we don’t know what’s next. But I am lucky to be able to take the time to figure it out. I’m blessed to be in a position when I can focus on self-reflection so that I can make the right choice for myself and my growing family. 

Turning the corner

Just like the midlife crisis, being dependent doesn’t have to be negative. Even for those of us that pride ourselves in not needing anyone, the reality is there will be times in our life when we are all dependent on someone. Maybe that’s for some financial support while you get back on your feet. Maybe that’s a shoulder to cry on when you’re dealing with loss. Whatever the situation may be, just remember, that dependence is only a weakness if you let it be one. For now, I’m financially dependent. But like everything, this situation is only temporary. I will get back on my feet. I will figure out what the next step is and taking this time now will give me the foundation to be happier on the other side. 

Thank you so much for joining me today. Please rate and review this podcast on Apple Podcasts. Join me on my social channels to get more content and inspiration. You can follow My Almost Midlife Crisis on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out my new YouTube channel with videos of the episodes and shorts to keep you entertained all week. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to make sure you are always up to date on the latest episodes and sign up to get the written transcripts delivered right to your inbox at 

Until next time! 

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