Lessons Learned in 2012

2012 has been an extraordinary year of major changes. I’ve learned some hard lessons (some of which I probably should have learned a long time ago), but I also learned some great things about myself. Some of the new changes were great successes, while others will need to be reversed or significantly altered in the new year. This year was certainly not a waste though and you will never hear me say that my decision to change careers was a mistake or a failure.

2012 was a year I needed to have to get myself back on track. A social experiment to see if the grass was truly greener on the other side. It’s not. In fact, for me, many aspects turned out to be even browner than the side I was on. But at least I know that for certain now, and I can stop daydreaming about it.

So without further ado, here is my list of 10 things I learned in the process of quitting my job, going back to school, and becoming a stay-at-home mom and part-time massage therapist.

In 2012, I’ve learned…

1. The value of earning $1.

Money was just money to me before, and I never really took the time to think about how each of the dollars in my checking account were earned. Now when I go to the local farmer’s market and hand over a $20 bill, I know that it took a 90 minute massage session to earn that in a tip.

2. The importance of a budget and cutting back on bills.

A little over a year ago we got rid of HD cable with DVR, our landline phone, brand name groceries or treats that we loved, dinners out, nice wine, planned home projects, nice gifts, buying new clothes (or really anything) for ourselves…and lived to tell the tale! By far the most difficult part has been not being able to buy anything for myself or getting my hair done in the salon once the gift cards from last Christmas ran out. I know my husband misses watching sports in HD and buying tech gadgets. We have learned what we need, what’s a struggle to do without, and what we really don’t need. It makes me sick thinking about the money we wasted in the past. We should have done this long ago.

3. The endless support and unconditional love my husband has for me.

What a gift to be able to say “I have this insane idea to quit my job…” and have your partner put full trust in your judgement. Of all the sacrifices made this year, my husband made the most. He didn’t sign up for this.  But every time I had a panic attack that we were going to end up on the streets (so I’m a little dramatic…) he would tell me we got this, and everything is going to work out. He never complained or got mad that I turned our world upside-down. Instead, he just supported me (financially and emotionally) and made me fall more in love with him.

4. That I can be a really good student without Adderall.

This was a huge, wonderful lesson and proof of how going gluten-free changed my life for the better. It’s been a pain point to me that my grades in college were just so-so until I was prescribed Adderall. If anyone looked at my college transcripts they’d probably think I let a smarter twin sister masque herself as me Senior Year since I literally got all As after downing that first pill. It felt good and validating at the time, but in the last few years (especially when I was pregnant and unable to take medication) I started feeling that I was stupid and scatterbrained without pharmaceutical assistance. Not so much.

5. Being a stay-at-home mom is rewarding, but mostly it’s exhausting.

I grew up thinking I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. When anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say a mother. After Braiden was born, like every mom, I struggled with the guilt of sending him to daycare and working full time. I soon came to realize however, that being a full time stay-at-home mom was not for me. I like working–it helps build my self esteem and growth as a person. I already had high respect for the women who are stay-at-home moms but now it’s ten fold.

6. I like being a financially independent woman.

I already knew this about myself but I tried to squelch it all year. Before we were even married, we set up a joint account for bills and house expenses, and then we each maintained accounts to pay for our own gas, car payments, cell phone bills (once upon a time, I thought it was ridiculous he had a smart phone and a data plan. HA!), clothes, gifts, and whatever else we wanted so that the other couldn’t get mad. Now that I make pennies a day, my husband is the only one who contributes to the joint account which makes his personal account significantly lower than before. He’s basically a saint because he has never even alluded to this being a problem, but it bothers the hell out of me that I’m not contributing anything to our house expenses while struggling to keep up with my own bills.

7. Massage is a selfless art form that heals.

I could write pages and pages of blog posts on how beneficial and medically necessary massage is for every single person, so I’ll keep it very short. It amazes me to come into work and consistently be told by clients that my massage allows them to stop using pain medication, or that they can handle a stressful situation with greater ease now, or that I’ve helped them achieve their fitness goals. It’s selfless because we don’t get paid much at all. It’s art because each therapist has their own flow, style, and passion.

8. The lower your bank account is, the more things break.

I feel like our house and cars all waited until the year 2012 to start falling apart. I went into this life change thinking that our house was in great shape, and that anything I thought I “needed” were just wants–granite counter tops, new dishwasher, new siding, new couch, re-finished wood floors, etc. But now there are cracks in the wall, water stains, mold, issues with the roof, chipped paint, buckled siding, trees that need to be taken down so they don’t fall on our house in a storm, etc. etc. et-freaking-cetera.  Ah, homeownership, not for the weary of heart. But apparently car ownership isn’t either, because that’s been a whole other list of bills at the mechanic this year.

9. How wonderful employee benefits (paid vacation & sick time off) are, and how much I took them for granted.

By now you may have noticed the common theme, where going into 2012 I *thought* I had thought of everything, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until recently I even realized that employee benefits is much more than health insurance. We have our health insurance through my husband’s employer—so I wasn’t giving up anything. WRONG. It seems so obvious to me now—and I feel pretty dumb for this major omission—but I now work in a profession where we’re only paid by client session. Which means, if I’m at home throwing up, I’m not getting paid. And last week I was so sick I couldn’t go to work and that means a lower income for the month. I so greatly took for granted having a consistent paycheck no matter if I was sick or on vacation.

10. That no matter what the situation, I find something to feel guilty or stressed about, but that’s how everyone else feels too.

This has been the hardest lesson of all. I thought by leaving marketing that I would suddenly become this joyous, carefree, calm person. Turns out, that’s just not in my DNA. If it’s not work stress, it’s financial stress. If it’s not X, it’s Y. This lesson kind of goes along with one of my blog posts from a few weeks ago, where I said Facebook has been making “the Joneses” more and more in our face. We can’t help but compare ourselves and think everyone else has it all figured out while we struggle. After spending more time with stay-at-home moms in the past year though, I’ve come to learn that they’re all struggling too. There’s no ideal situation for anyone. Which leads me to the overarching lesson of the year:

It’s just about finding which form of stress is the most liveable for you, while upholding your own values. 

Other lessons that did not make the final cut to 10 (er, 11?), but are still very applicable:

I have no stomach for financial problems and uncertainty; Nannies cannot be trusted; I’m an awful blue collar worker; Student loans SUCK and I don’t want my children to ever have to write a check to Sallie Mae; Finding the right daycare that truly specializes in early childhood learning makes it 100x easier to send your child to each day; Having different parenting styles affects friendships; Human Anatomy is the most fascinating subject I’ve ever learned; How great professional HR departments are.

It’s become quite clear to me throughout the past year, that while I love having more time to spend with my son, my stomach cannot handle the financial insecurity. This isn’t about me having fancy things, a huge house, or even highlights from the salon. It’s about paying my bills in full on time, appreciating what I have, giving back to society, and keeping my husband and child happy. 2012 is a year I’ll never forget. I haven’t grown at such a speed in many years, and I think I needed to be knocked down a few pegs before I could truly feel gratitude for my ability to provide for my family.

I hope 2013 is a wonderful year of great learning for us all. I’m excited to see what it has in store! Happy New Year! xo



Meridith Oram
Meridith Oram is an ACE-Certified Health Coach at Below the Fork where she encourages women to love themselves towards healthy. She is married with two boys, and lives outside of Philadelphia. She earned a B.A. in Communications from Villanova University. Meridith writes about FASTer Way to Fat Loss, fitness, nutrition, Celiac Disease, and easy (but delicious!) gluten-free recipes at belowthefork.com. Follow her @belowthefork on all social channels.

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