Why are we so scared of losing our income? – What COVID-19 taught me

This year has, so far, been a roller coaster ride for many. When the world went on lockdown, we were faced with an extra load of uncertainty in a VUCA – world. Luckily, things have slowly started to go back to ‘normal’, we can leave our houses, albeit with restrictions. The lockdown phase and the time after have shook up my belief-system in many ways. Situations and challenges I thought I’d be save from have hit me hard. It is in these times, when we hit rock-bottom, that we grow most, step into our most authentic self, and gain more confidence to walk steadily on our own path.

I kicked off the year in Germany, hosting talks about my coffee initiative Proyecto Café in several cities, and gave concerts and interviews around Germany. Just before the lockdown, at the end of February, I embarked on a plane and flew to México. Had I staid only one week longer in Germany, I would have spent the entire lockdown there with my family. Instead, I spent it in México, where I don’t even count with a national health insurance. The timing of life is odd and funny. Something wanted me to be in México, I thought. Why though? What is it that life wants to teach me?

From a career-perspective, I had just decided to take a leap and become fully self-employed. I had been teaching full-time at an International School before, juggling between standing in the classroom, hosting a radio show as part of the Global Goals Campaign by the United Nations, being an ambassador for the Girl Up campaign by the United Nations Foundation, hosting a podcast, speaking at events about climate change, founding Proyecto Café, and being a singer-songwriter performing at bars, cafés, events, and festivals, not to mention the interviews I had been invited to give at the local radio and/or television. My days started at 5.30 am, I went on to the gym, then to school, and once leaving the classroom, I got out of my uniform and showed up at the next event. Many times I got home at midnight, or after, and cooked my lunch for the following day.

It was too much. Mentally, I struggled with my full-time job, suffered from panic attacks, and felt like I was giving up my energy and attention which I so badly needed for my own projects. So I took the leap. Nobody could have told me that I might have to face a global pandemic. But I did.

I lost my income. Borders closed and it felt terrible, knowing my family was far away and even if I wanted to, there was little chance to go back. As someone used to working and striving to be financially independent, relying on my husband felt hard. I felt like I had given up part of my value. I started to doubt myself and all the projects I had been doing up to this point.

But that wasn’t everything. Things started to become shaky on a personal level, up to a point where staying together as a couple did not make any sense. So, adding to the global pandemic, I faced a break-up. Where to move to? And how? I don’t know if I could have understood this challenge a few years ago, when I was still part of the safety net of the German social state, counting with health insurance, a job, my own flat, and an income that allowed me to save money each month. I was also surrounded by my family and friends I’ve known since kindergarten. Here, I am young woman in a country that I wasn’t born in. I have to stand on my own feet.

I moved out from my parent’s house at the age of 18 to start my studies in Aberdeen, I have been living by myself in Scotland and Ireland, later in Frankfurt and I moved by myself to México. I have always paid my own rent, having side-jobs, and finding myself in a context that would translate the amount of effort I put into something into the amount of success I’d earn. This time though, it was different. This time, no matter the amount of effort I’d put in, I would still be stuck. Being so utterly lost and cut off from options felt – still feels – tough.

And still – it wasn’t everything yet. After taking a routine blood-test (for which I had to pay because it didn’t fall into the insurance I got) and getting strikingly critical results, I found myself devastated and close to giving up. What else?, I wondered. What else will be taken away from me? Isn’t that already enough?

What did I do? Of course I did not give up. I published a book. First in English, and soon it will be available in Spanish and German. The process of writing a book is often romanticised, yet the blunt truth is that in my case, words were everything I had left. Words were what still made sense to me, when nothing else did. Art is what happens when it stops being an option but instead becomes an utter necessity. When it is everything we can cling onto, when it doesn’t become a choice, but the one thing we have to do. The book was a success. The feeling of seeing your own words travel across continents and finding a place in other readers’ hearts is beautiful.

I also published several singles in collaboration with a local recording studio, I took up work with Proyecto Café, hosted and/or took part in online-conferences, published an article on racism in collaboration with tbd.community* , I founded a podcast with Katrin Schrimpf, creative entrepreneur based in Oaxaca, I launchd my fortnightly newsletter and published my own podcast “The Ariane Vera Podcast“. Oh, and I also started a Patreon Page.

I tried to give my best, every single day. I tried to accept the situation for what it is. I showed up, even when it was hard. I am not out there yet. I am still in survival-mode and I don’t have it all figured out. I stay optimistic. I learned to see, more than ever, that the value of my work, and the value of my self, is not tied to a number on the bank account.

I am okay, and so are you, the way you are. The most important thing is to be aligned with your values. To take choices that are utterly your own and not the choices of anyone else. Life is short and can change within an instant. Live a life that is yours. And do not allow a number on a bank statement, or the pressure to pay rent, take away your belief in your own strengths, and talents. Instead of asking – why is this happening to me? Ask – what can I learn from this?

There will be better times. Easier times. More comfort, and less stress. Less existential questions, more freedom to lie back and not think about how to pay rent, and food. I would never have believed I would say this one day but – you will find a way, no matter what. I never thought I would end up in this situation, but I am managing. Not very well, but I am. I am still happy, I still laugh, I still appreciate each day and every single moment. I am full of gratitude and full of motivation to create and step into the next step of life.

Written at Be Top Co-Working in Aguascalientes, México.
Photo: Emma Matthew on Unsplash

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