by Naomi House, MLIS
updated to include details about my housing situation
Life After Quitting My Library Job
One year ago yesterday, on November 20th, 2013 I came into work at the federal library I was working at for one last half-day to train my awesome new replacement. It had been a roller-coaster 2 months and I was ready and able to leave. As I mentioned in a previous article, Why I Quit My Library Job and Why I No Longer Want One, I worked in a federal library and was furloughed then fired in October of 2013, then rehired. By the time I was rehired later in October I was ready to leave. I had taken a road trip and looked at houses for our renovation business in Houston and in New Orleans and begun the purchase process on one in New Orleans. I was lucky enough that even though I was not prepared for the firing that I had some savings and I could quickly adjust my life plan. I want to mention right from the start that I am not wealthy by any definition. Renovating houses is a high-risk and not often high-reward business as well. I have savings to live on. I mention this because recently a few people mentioned that based on the fact that I quit my job after being rehired, and the several jobs including INALJ that I do on the side, that they assumed I was abnormally wealthy for a librarian. INALJ is not a money maker. It is a tremendous labor of love that has taken a huge time commitment and barely covered expenses. I am not wealthy. I work hard but am lucky to be doing something I love. So I wanted to share some snapshots and some lessons learned from this year.
This is what I am most grateful for and the number one reason I quit. When I was working a salaried job (with little vacation time and much commuting time) I was sacrificing many hours of my life that I will never get back to doing something to pay bills and student loans. No matter how joyful the job the fact that it was not really a choice to have that job is something I struggled with. By firing me my employer allowed my husband and I to really look at the cost in time and choose whether I should continue to look for similar situations or take a risk and quit (once I was rehired).
At my last job I got the equivalent of three weeks vacation. I am a road tripper and bargain traveler and have been since I was young. I thought this year I would have traveled more. I did go (for a dirt cheap price) to South Africa in February but that was planned in advance of being fired/quitting. The new freedom of time actually was hindered by money. I have the time but have traveled less than I did while employed due to money.
Challenges: Though I had savings at the start some unexpected renovation expenses and health costs (from the three miscarriages) I ended up for 90 days being flat broke until we sold our house. I used loans and savings just to pay bills. I counted canned food. But I was still lucky in that I had some great LIS folks who loaned me money and that once my house sold I would have money.
Lessons Learned: We will never, ever, ever again get ourselves into a position where we could have every penny stuck in an investment house. It made us realize that we needed to buy smaller and for less money and truly keep savings as savings.
I am grateful for the ACA and having health insurance but in Louisiana it is very expensive and you get so little. Renovating houses is not a set income so we have to guess how much we will make and cannot, even though unemployed for much of the year, adjust and get discounts. Couple that with all three of my miscarriages and several ER visits happening since being fired and I will be paying off those bills for at least six more months. It has been an immense drain. I wish New Orleans was in a more ACA friendly state but it isn’t and the lesson I learned was that any expenses I think I will have for health insurance to triple them in my budgeting each month.
This has been my focus. Last December we bought our first New Orleans renovation and now we have just purchased our fourth. New Orleans has incredible old, historic homes and a great public library where you can research the history of many homes and neighborhoods. I don’t do the manual labor on the houses we renovate, I research the history. It is a very risky business and these houses often need almost everything updated but we love bringing them back and creating a new home for someone.
I have lived almost non-stop in renovation projects. I have gone weeks in winter with only a space heater. I have been without running water. I have lived in so many houses with holes in the walls. And I did this to save money. I can survive a little discomfort and a lot of dirt and that helped me save.
One project I have worked on straight for the past four years is INALJ. It was started shortly after I was hired at my last job and it continues no matter what life circumstances I am experiencing. This is because hundreds of LIS students, staff and more have given their time to help other LIS folk find job openings. As we move into 2015 two of my volunteers will be taking on leadership roles and I will be focusing more on other projects. I am grateful to the LIS community and do this because I know we have helped. It takes so much time but when I hear someone has found a job it is all worth it.
This past summer I began working with an amazing team on a new social purpose corporation focused on community building through crowdfunding cultural projects. Many librarians and archivists donated to or heard about the Timbuktu manuscript preservation project a few years back. T160K.org is an expansion of and continuation of that effort. In addition to launching a major campaign to catalog the Timbuktu manuscripts we are partnering with other organizations in Africa such as the Circus Debre Berhan and the Fendika Cultural Club, both in Ethiopia and Instruments4Africa in West Africa. I met the founder Stephanie Diakite in South Africa and we bonded over the concept that librarians and information professionals and our grassroots marketing efforts can and did make a difference. Please check T160K.org out. Even $5 can make a big difference in supporting the requirements of some pretty amazing organizations! You can read more in my article, What is T160K? And what can you do to help?
This article is more a reflection on my past year. It is not a guide. It is not a predictor for others. It is my own experience and I am grateful for it all, including the stress. 2014 was not a banner year for me health, money or travel-wise, but it has all helped me appreciate the fact that I have the opportunities that I do through T160K and INALJ. Tomorrow is my birthday and I do not want anything for myself. I am just hopeful that the LIS community will embrace T160K and donate. That is my birthday wish! Grateful and working hard will be my 2015 mottos. Here is to travel, health and helping others achieve their dreams in 2015!!