Now, those of you following along at home will be very familiar with the fact that I have been looking for work for an extended period of time, and, while I have put in MANY hours on several projects, I have not had a paycheck paycheck since probably April of 2008 - and that was for a considerably lower amount, being I was in a start-up that had very limited funds even before they ran out of those funds (and I ended working for an additional year "for equity" before that fell apart).
So, it's been over five and a half years since I've held a check remunerating me for my work that's had a comma in the amount field (there have, of course, been a few hundred here and few hundred there for various freelance projects) ... and I was almost freaked out about it. It wasn't quite like Steve Martin's scene in "The Jerk" when he gets all excited about the new phone book coming out with his name in it ... but I was this weird combination of excited, proud, and relieved to see it.
I've done a lot of work over the past six years for companies, groups, and projects, that were supposedly going to pay me "eventually", some where something I had a percentage of "got traction", some where a boot-strapping start-up "got investors", some where we were essentially awaiting pigs to fly, and I got to the point of being emotionally stand-offish from these, realizing that "it wasn't REAL until the check cleared", and in nearly all of those situations, there never was a check to clear. In this case, I'm working with a company that's been around for nearly 20 years, so I have every expectation that this is not going to pose a problem (but wouldn't that be a nasty slap-down from the Universe?) ... and the feeling that "it's real!" is both welcome and very very strange.
A few months back I ran into a fascinating piece, Five Important Things Women Don’t Know About Men (you really must read #3 - but that's not what I'm getting into here), one of which addresses the linkages between a man's self-worth and his ability to make money:
The article goes on to highlight some particularly pernicious emotional damage from this ... things that I have been all too familiar with. Since getting the offer letter for this job I have gone with my family out to their usual Friday night dinner at Chili's twice (last week they had other stuff happening) ... something that I had been unable to get myself to do for ages, largely because I didn't feel it was a good use of our ever-dwindling funds to spend $15 or so on feeding me - no, I'd stay home and eat leftovers or ramen or toast or something from the dollar store - because that was all I was worth. Why waste money on something nice for me ... I was failing my family on a daily basis so even the McDonald's dollar menu was too good for me.This is one of those things most men don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about. It’s a nameless pain, an unspoken discontent that eats away at far too many men. Just as women too often feel defined solely by their looks and their dress size, so too are men taught that our worth as human beings comes from our career, our bank balance, our success.
Needless to say, having this check in my hands carries with it a LOT more significance than just not having to wonder how we're going to pay the phone bill this month ... on a lot of levels it feels like I'm holding a "letter from the Governor" commuting a death sentence just as they were wheeling me in for the injection!