Getting a Puppy Exposed My Problematic Relationship with an Outdated Workforce

Self Portrait 2020 — Stephanie Brown Photography LLC

In Fall of 2020, my husband Phillip and I decided to get a puppy to join us in our new home the following year. The wait list for a Shiba Inu puppy was long so we knew she wouldn’t arrive until September of 2021 (Surprise she came in August). At the time we were both working from home and going through the home buying process with NACA. I was working my day job and multiple freelance/contract gigs to help rack up more money to assist with all the expenses we knew were coming as new homeowners. At the time I was also preparing myself mentally for a child of our own questioning when might be the right time for me. I loved the idea of having the dog first and knowing that our kid would grow up with a pup around. And you’ll catch my husband saying that its my body my choice.

Self Portrait 2020 during Lockdown — Stephanie Brown Photography LLC

If you notice I keep saying at the time… A whole lot has changed since then! We did it, we made it into the new home but we were not working from home anymore. Phillip’s job started increasing their hours shortly after winter came to a close. Soon after my job made the announcement that we’d return to the office on June 1st. I tried to prepare for the return to the office, but nothing could prepare me for the amount of pressure I’d be given to be “happy” about returning to work in person. I felt surveilled and was lectured for my opinions. And returning to a predominately white office after yet another year of countless murders of innocent Black people publicized on the news and a global pandemic that is also disproportionately killing people of color felt oppressively exhausting. It was somehow more tolerable at a distance but in person it’s a blow to the stomach. So when I returned I realized I had been performing prior to this pandemic, and now that I was back, I had no more performance energy in me. One could say my level of introvert increased but honestly it was my desire to be honest to myself and my needs that grew stronger than wanting to people please or make white counterparts feel comfortable. I needed to protect myself, preserve my energy and just do the work I was hired to do. I love the work and can find comfort in that but anything more was now crossing a boundary. No friends, no small talk, no fake smiling eyes because the truth is no one wants to know how I’m actually doing because if they knew they’d have to address their own discomfort, bias, and their own performing act they are doing for themselves.

So fast forward to today. National Dog Day actually, and I have a 9-week-old puppy at home that is too young to be by herself and doesn’t have all her shots so can’t go to doggy daycare either. So my husband and I took turns using vacation time and some negotiating with our bosses to be home for at least these first two weeks with her. As the days led up to her arrival, I realized I started getting angry the more I thought about all my jobs and the quantity of them. I was again angry about an age-old situation in which young people have to work two or more jobs just to afford a comfortable lifestyle. I’ve said this before in my writing and I’ll say it again, you should not have to be married or partnered to make a livable wage, buy a home, or afford the life you dream of.

Taro the Shiba Inu

Being home with this puppy is not a vacation. It’s a full time job. Now I am grateful for the time I was given to even spend a week with her. But that’s the problem right there, I have to seek permission and that comes with limits. Limits in which are not spelled out so I have to weigh them and choose wisely or else I may be accused of taking advantage of someone’s kindness. So instead I have to explore doggy daycare options that run $500+ a month to take care of her. Which is not something we budgeted for at first. Now lets me be clear, I’m not mad that I have to take care of her. I honestly WANT to. But in this short time that we have had her I realized that taking care of her and making room for her in my busy life revealed all the problems in my work life. P.S. Shout out to the friends and new friends who have offered to help with Taro.

Scraping up hours to take care of her showed me how little time I even had to take care of myself. Everyday I go from one job to the next. Carpooling with my husband when he must have the car to go to his 2nd job while I take meetings in the car waiting for him to get off work cause its cheaper to wait for him than it is to drive a double trip across town and in traffic. I have cried so many times this week overwhelmed at my own plate. I feel stuck in my own workload. I need everything on it to sustain my current lifestyle and save for the one I aspire to. At least I think I do but that’s shifting. These feelings of overwhelm have also burdened my heart in realizing I am way too stressed to even have a kid right now. I don’t have enough control of my workload to even fit a child into our life. If this is how I feel with a puppy how dare I try adding a kid into the mix. I can’t negotiate my time off for maternity leave. I get what I get and then I’m required to return. Well, what if I want to return when I’m ready and not when a job benefit says I need to be. The solution is that I need to consolidate all my work efforts and get paid enough to work ONE JOB. I know that I’m worth it, I know what I bring to the table and it’s a matter of time until someone or something pays me my worth. I am actively setting the intention to realize this for myself. I’m also very grateful for the numerous people in my life who have made similar career shifts and are killing it working for more progressive employers or for themselves.

Working freelance during the pandemic gave me a sense of freedom I never tasted before. Even when you work for yourself you are always working for “somebody”. But I realized I loved having control over my when I worked and where I worked. Not to mention as a freelance or contract worker I named my price and people paid it cause I’m damn good at what I do. When people invest in me and my skillset I deliver above and beyond because that’s how I function. And my contract gigs are so appreciative and thankful for my contributions. That kind of gratitude and love from an employer, mind you a temporary employer is a huge energy boost and makes you want to go even harder for them, but of course within the scope of work lol. Working from home in 2020 had me reading books again! I exercised frequently, I cooked more, and household chores did not pile up like they used to. I discovered all of this about myself by working remotely for 14 months!

The blessing in the pandemic is that like so many others I realized the power of working remote. I got my life back, I had mental time and energy to dream again. But the moment I went back in the office, those dreams started looking to be further and further away. At what point do you let your job shape your everyday life? Companies across the nation are building human-centered workspaces where the company or organization operates in a manner that supports each employee as an individual not a herd.

The amount of anxiety I am feeling is not new, but the arrival of our new pup Taro brought to the surface feelings I have had bottled up for far too long. I’m bound and patiently waiting to set myself free. If its God’s will, I would love to have a baby within the next year or two. But there is no way I can do that safely if I don’t actively reduce the things in my life causing me stress and anxiety. In 2020 I worked 8 jobs. In 2021, I narrowed that down to 5 jobs. In 2022 I hope to narrow that down to 2 jobs. My husband and I are actively preparing and setting intentions for ourselves to start shifting our careers and living like we have always wanted to but by building our own futures and not waiting on anyone or anything to give it to us.

Have you recently returned to the office? What has changed for you after a year of working remote? Anyone reading this and making the jump to working for themselves as a freelancer, contract worker or entrepreneur? What are you doing to make that happen? Anyone recently coming to realize their self-worth?

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Stephanie Fleming

Stephanie Fleming

I’m an exhibiting artist and learning experience designer. Questioning everything and sharing of myself. AKA Stephanie Brown in those art streets.