I had an uncomfortable conversation with a friend last night. She is in the middle of a very bitter divorce and she is feeling fearful of the outcome which will be decided by a judge.
Let’s call her Sara. Sara is getting divorced from her husband. They have two young children and she has been the main breadwinner in their family although her husband has been working in a less lucrative career.
I had always assumed that Sara loved her job. She is outwardly successful, very outgoing and has a good group of friends that she both works with and socialises with. Last night I found out that I had made a wrong assumption. Sara does not love her job and has really only stayed in it to support her family. Her dream is to start up her own company but she now feels like she can’t because the court will perceive that she is simply attempting to get out of her obligation to pay spousal support and child support.
Then she went further and talked about how her ex has been purposely underemployed for years (he stepped away from a well paying job to start his own business just before the kids were born) and it is his obligation to go back to a job that he is perfectly capable of doing and that pays more than his current situation.
Essentially, what she was saying is that it is naive to think we can all follow our dreams. Our discussion got a little bit heated and she stated at one point “everyone has to work, it’s just a rule of society.” The other thought behind her comment was that everyone has to take the best paying job they can get even if they are not happy. Sara’s ex is currently choosing to be underemployed and she has to bear the brunt of his choice. She has to stay in a job she doesn’t like because the rules of society say so.
After my discussion with Sara I thought about everything she had said. I was rather upset about a number of things which I will refer to as Sara’s rules:
The first rule: everyone has to suck it up and take the highest paying job they are capable of if they have kids and responsibilities. To do otherwise is flaky and selfish.
The second rule: work generally sucks. Everyone would rather retire if they could. Within this rule is a sub-rule. If you like what you’re doing, it’s not work.
The third rule: life is inherently unfair. Simply because Sara held the higher paying job at the time of her separation from her husband, she would forever have to pay child support and spousal support based on that situation.
I must say our conversation kept me up last night. I immediately got defensive and I lay there in bed coming up with arguments against the rules. Thank goodness that when I finally fell asleep my brain let those arguments go and gave me some better thoughts for when I woke up.
The first thing that my brain reminded me was that defensiveness keeps us locked into buying into made up rules and opinions. Because I was putting up opposing arguments to Sara’s rules, I was turning them into facts instead of just one person’s opinions. I was holding Sara’s arguments out as truth and was trying to pick holes in them. Instead, I now recognize that her rules are just one person’s opinion (and yes, I would say her rules are the prevalent opinions in society). They are opinions based in fear and the worst case scenario. They are not the default outcome for Sara’s life. They are outcomes that likely have a higher probability of occurring. Especially if Sara resigns herself to the fact that these rules are true and that life is unfair.
This led me to the second thought which was that Sara’s ideas are keeping her trapped.
It appears to me that Sara has given up on her dreams. She is hiding behind these rules she has created for herself; she has turned her rules into hard and fast facts of the world that she has no control over.
So I’m going to call Sara back. I want to hold out her rules for her to see and I’m going to ask her if they are the ones she wants to live by.
Instead, I hope Sara agrees to letting me help her find out what drives her and what gives her hope. I will help her get clarity about where she is in life from a financial perspective and from a personal values perspective. Then I’m hoping Sara will see that she does have choice in her life and it is not these rules that she has created for herself and bought into that are controlling the outcome of her life.