Part of wrestling with this issue has been talking about my tendencies in this regard with my husband. He told me that I have taken any job I have been offered each time regardless of whether I actually wanted it. Now, the truth is that most people don't apply for jobs that they don't want, so this doesn't necessarily mean that I've been living on whatever crumbs have come my way. However, it is true that I have felt that I have a habit of taking whatever I can get when it comes to work and some of those decisions have had a very bad impact on me.
As I look back over my employment history, I have taken three jobs that I really wanted and experienced personal growth from, and several others that I took because I felt I "should" that didn't turn out very well for me. One of those jobs was one that initially was good for me, but grew into a bad situation in which I overstayed and ended up clinically depressed and gaining about 100 lbs. or more over the years I worked at it. I did that because I was afraid to leave and thought I'd never get another job if I quit.
People change jobs all of the time in America. They step up or step down based on the prevailing economic winds. Sometimes, they stay in a state of unemployment for a long time. Many of them will not take work which does not suit them and will choose to remain jobless for a longer period of time rather than take something which is simply a way of making money if they have that luxury. Some people have little choice but to do what it takes to put food on the table and cannot afford themselves the luxury of being picky. I know this well as that was what slowly ground my mother down through the years. She worked because she had to, not because the work was good for her in any way.
At any rate, I've been considering why I don't take the path that my husband has said is available to me. That route is one in which I do what I want (mostly write) for the next 2-3 years while we live off of our savings and my husband pursues his new career path. At the end of his study and internship, there is an excellent chance that he will get the sort of job that will allow him to support us both on his income if we live in the same modest fashion that we have for most of our lives. Instead of waking up every day and feeling so stressed out that I get headaches and feel exhausted by early afternoon, instead of pushing myself to apply for jobs regardless of whether they suit my skills or desires, instead of eating myself up inside with worry, why don't I just decide to walk down that road?
The answer, as is so often the case, is not simple. Part of growing up poor means growing up with an immense amount of insecurity. The potential outcome of the path he's taking is hard for me to comfortably live with. I want a promise of something more concrete and that means that I want to be relying on income I generate now rather than something which may or may not happen later. In my world, "may not" is always stronger than "may", but this is an issue I need to deal with, not necessarily a reflection of reality.
The second aspect of this is that we worked hard for those savings, and part of the reason we did so was that the money was ear-marked for retirement, not for me to "squander" by sitting around doing nothing. Though I had begun the process of wrapping my head around the idea that the money was not promised to the little grey-haired old lady that will be me in another 20 years and could be used by the somewhat grey-haired lady that is me now, that psychological transformation was incomplete.
Third, I want to work. The truth is that it's about feeling productive and engaged. I want to be a part of mainstream society here in my home culture again. Though I can get that through other means (other social groups, volunteering), I'd prefer for it to be something I'm paid for if that is at all possible.
Finally, and this is probably the biggest part, there is an identity issue at play which is interwoven with my self-perception based on, you guessed it, my weight. To put it more accurately, it is based on my former much weightier self. Though I'm still fat (I'm currently 185 lbs. and seem to have stuck there for the time being - and that's okay), I'm not the sort of fat which is considered freakish or unusual in current society. However, I still see myself in a particular way based on having lived most of my life between 300-400 lbs. My sense of self is still at a much higher weight.
Primarily, I see myself as the sort of person who isn't looked after or cared for by someone else. Pretty girls, that is to say, thin girls, get to marry and be supported by their husbands. Cinderella had her prince come and save her while her evil, ugly stepsisters were left in the dust. When I was growing up, my fat mother had to work at a series of minimum wage jobs while the thin, middle class moms of my friends were housewives. I'm not from a stock or a class that gets to be taken care of.
Deep down, I feel like I'm not attractive enough to live a life in which someone else earns the money while I pursue my own interests. I'm not worthy of that. I have to be a beast of burden. I have to work, even if it harms me because I'm doing something which is emotionally hard for me. Those soccer moms buying expensive food at the high class grocery store I sometimes peruse? Their husbands work and they are cared for because they are prettier than me and they are "prettier" because they're not fat.
I've talked many times before about identity, and how I've tried to rebuild mine as I've lost weight. I've dealt with a lot of it, but this was a facet that hadn't been discovered until now. I still see myself as fundamentally unworthy of certain things because I grew up being told so often that I was sub-standard. And it wasn't even what I was "told", but also what I experienced. No one wanted to date the fat girl. No one wanted to hire the fat girl. No one wanted to be friends with the fat girl. If you're the fat girl, you have to grab the first thing that comes along because you won't have another chance. Your stock is so worthless that you're lucky to get any buyers.
Though I've had years of a husband who loves me unconditionally (truly) and who told me how valuable I am, deep down, I'm not convinced because the person who has to convince me of my value is me. One bit of irony is that an option that may come easily for many, that is, deciding to kick back, not work, and be taken care of by someone else, is coming so hard for me. I have to at least entertain the notion of "letting myself" be taken care of with equal weight to the idea of working. At the very least, I have to want to work for reasons that are healthy, not because I believe I'm fundamentally of lesser value than women who are also supported by their husbands. The bottom line is that the best thing I may do for my self-esteem at this moment is to perhaps act in a manner which many may view as incredibly indulgent. I'm absolutely not there yet, but it is something I need to at least entertain as a possibility.