Life has a funny way of taking all your best laid plans and throwing them out the window. While the process of watching your plans crumble in front of you is stressful, standing on the other side looking at the amazing journey you’ve taken makes you wonder why you ever worried.
The last three years have been a roller coaster for me. In May of 2008 when I graduated from my masters program, I had 2 weeks to find housing in a city over 500 miles away before I started my first job. I put in my rental application for a cute condo, but it fell through. I was really upset, as this left me only one week to find a place to live. I ended up renting a different condo – in a better location, with better amenities, and with the ultimate perk: eventually it would come up for sale and it would become our first home. Little did I know that losing out on my ‘first choice’ living arrangement would mean awesome opportunity two years later.
At the same time I finished school, I said goodbye to my then-boyfriend, David, as he left for graduate school in Illinois. We had both said we hated long distance relationships and would never get into one again, yet there we were: me headed to Houston and him to Urbana-Champaign. Never say never.
About six months after I started working, my company began downsizing, which continued consistently throughout the next two years I was fortunate enough to work there. I watched as benefits disappeared, salaries were slashed and wave upon wave of co-workers were laid off. Nothing like the looming threat of layoffs to dampen your financial goals and plans. I had expected to live the life my friends had: get a degree, get a job, marry my sweetheart, buy a house and a car, and generally follow the ‘routine’. The economy sure did put a twist on those plans. While the company I worked for was definitely hit hard, had I accepted an alternative job offer upon graduating, I would have been out of a job only a few months after starting; the firm I had been seriously considering had gone bankrupt. Funny how life works out.
Over the Christmas break, David proposed and I spent the majority of 2009 planning our wedding. In May of 2009, David graduated with masters of science in finance on the heels of the biggest financial crises in modern times. Needless to say, no one was hiring. David spent the next 13 months searching for work. The big investment banking and hedge fund management goals were all but a distant dream. So much for putting that extremely specific knowledge to good use.
We married in September of 2009 and spent the next nine months living on a single income. We learned to be extremely frugal. We learned how to say ‘no’ to desires and only indulge in necessities. We learned to have fun for free. We had a lot of arguments over something as small as $5. We learned our deepest values and how to respect one another. We learned how much of ourselves was ‘surface level’ and needed to be stripped away. Our appreciation for the simplistic way of life grew and we arrived at a point where we were content with what we had: a roof over our heads, healthy food at every meal, and just enough income to pay our bills and have an occasional treat like a movie date or dinner out. Sure we wanted things, but we came to the realization that they were just that: things. Looking back, our marriage was tested, but came out stronger than anything. We wouldn’t trade the experience for any amount of money.
In February of 2010, David volunteered his skills at our church to help them with their financial upkeep: he was offered a position to keep the books. He was able to make a good impression on the people there, and that lead to an important relationship: a man there worked at a bank and began helping David find opportunities in his company.
In June of 2010, I was laid off. David had not found work yet. We evaluated our finances, and knew we had enough savings to last us until the end of our rental term in December. After that, we would need to look at the option of living with family or friends. For the next two months, we searched for jobs with a greater fervor than ever before. I looked at 245 firms in three days. Five had job postings, three of which I was qualified for. I applied to all of them. We broadened our search to nationwide offerings and began considering overseas positions. Unemployment began coming in, which helped keep us afloat before we would have to dip into savings. Our previously ‘frugal’ habits became bare bones. We buckled down and we knew what to do – we were prepared for this.
After two months, David got a job offer. The same week, I was offered a contract position to help design pools and landscapes with a local company. We had never been so elated! From August until December, I worked on contract jobs, but the business slowed down and I continued looking for more permanent work. In December, our landlord approached us and offered to sell us the condo we’d rented for the last two years. During our long stretch of unemployment, we had saved every penny – it was exactly enough for a down payment. We bought the condo. I never imagined that I’d ever want to buy such a small place (798 square feet!), but we had become accustomed to only having the things we truly needed, and the space didn’t feel so small. We were happy to get into such a great neighborhood. I had always imagined saving my money and buying a huge townhouse with 3-4 stories and a all the bells and whistles. We ended up with a humble second level condo in need of some TLC. When perspectives change, desires change.
In my unemployed ‘down time’, I worked on creating several competition entries to keep my skills sharp and get my name out there. I was fortunate enough to be selected as an honorable mention and finalist in two of the contests. Several contract jobs came in because of that exposure, and I was inspired to start writing this blog. A recruiter called me in December 2010 which lead to an interview that I was really excited about. March rolled around, and they had to shelf the hiring. In April, on a whim, I applied to a position in China that was posted on my local AIA board. I never expected them to get back to me, I just needed to keep applying to whatever was out there. Who knew the ‘once in a million’ opportunity would unfold the very next day? I interviewed on a Friday and had an offer Monday morning. “When can you come” was the next question they had for me. We were reeling – now what? While we looked into the opportunity, I was offered another job; this time in Qatar. I turned it down since I was seriously considering a stint in China. I interviewed with another company in Houston a few weeks later, but couldn’t commit to an immediate start date since I was going to visit China before accepting that offer; an offer that fell through. So in passing up on a sure thing in Houston, I lost out big…or so I thought.
In July I applied to two more firms: both made me offers. Here I am today, working at a great company with a few friends I’ve known since college. It is within walking distance of where David works, so we get to carpool and eat lunch together. The company is stable and growing, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve had numerous contract jobs and leads, and my blog has started to grow in ways I never expected. I’m able to use this platform to engage people I’d have otherwise never met and pursue my passion at the same time.
As it stands now, our frugal ways have continued – we have truly experienced a lifestyle change because of the things we’ve been through. Because of the lessons we’ve learned, we are now able to capitalize on numerous opportunities that we may have bypassed previously. Investments have come our way that were perfectly timed, and our current endeavors include a personal lifelong dream: to purchase a lot and build our own house.
If you would have told the 23 year old me that in three years time, I would go through a cumulative 26 months of unemployment with my husband who was my best friend in college, consider a job in China, participate in design competitions, write a successful blog, purchase my first home and be on the cusp of designing my own house in a neighborhood only the ‘elite’ can afford, I would have laughed and said ‘you have the wrong girl’. But that’s the funny thing about life: you never know what crazy story you’ll end up with.
Where will I be in 20 years? Speculation won’t do it justice, I’m sure. Whatever journey I end up on, it will be amazing, with stories so outlandish that I may not even believe them myself. The only thing I can say for certain is that I am blessed; yesterday, today and in the years to come.
Written by: Brinn Miracle