Four years ago, I was living the good life in Arizona. I’d scored the job of my dreams working as the manager of communications for Phoenix International Raceway — part of the International Speedway Corporation, which owns NASCAR. The NASCAR lifestyle was something I loved. Working races and rubbing elbows with celebrities all came with the territory. I felt I had finally made it. Was the pay amazing? Not exactly. I actually took a salary cut to take the new position. I needed to pay my bills, but for me, it was more important to love my job and employer, and be challenged. Not to mention, working in such a fast-paced, sports related public relations position definitely scratched my itch for excitement. When I joined the team, we were in the middle of preparations to have the raceway repaved, which happens every 20 years or so. It’s a hefty project that requires hiring additional staff to see it through. Little did I know that Jack*, the guy they’d brought on to run the project, would turn out to be the love of my life — and that the trajectory of my career was about to change forever.
Saying Goodbye to My Dream JobSeveral months later, the repaving of the track attracted a lot of media attention, which meant I had to coordinate reporter visits directly with Jack. As the project ramped up, we started working together more closely. Things were strictly professional, but I couldn’t help but feel attracted to the smart, assertive superintendent-project manager, who was 10 years my senior. The feeling was mutual. When the project came to a close, Jack finally asked me out. I knew early on that he was something special. Honestly, one of the things that really got to me was overhearing him on the phone with his mom. The care he showed toward her just melted my heart. This guy wasn’t like all the others. After about two months of dating, he dropped a bomb on me — he’d bought into a construction management company in the San Francisco area (something he did before we got together), and would be relocating before the year’s end. I was devastated. We were only a few short but incredible weeks in and I had to wonder: Was this was the end of the best relationship I’d ever had?
Neither of us was ready to give it all up. Eventually he headed to California, while I stayed behind in Phoenix. We flew back and forth every weekend for about a month, but saying goodbye at the end of each visit was getting harder and harder to do. This man was kind and thoughtful and treated me like gold. What’s more, my family absolutely loved him. The idea of giving him up was unthinkable. However, being with him for good also meant leaving the job in Phoenix I loved so much. If I moved to the West Coast, it would be without another gig lined up, and I was wary about losing my financial independence. After all, I was 38, and had always worked and supported myself. This was naturally met with some cautionary words from friends and family, who advised me to really think it through. After weighing all the options, being with Jack just felt right. Besides, surely I’d be able to continue with some NASCAR work remotely, and pick up a few freelance gigs on the side. As for paying the bills, I didn’t have too many obligations. My car was already paid off, I didn’t have any debt to speak of, and I don’t have kids. I also had about $8,000 in savings, and roughly $1,200 in my checking account at the time. After talking it through, Jack was happy to support me. So I made the decision to relocate to California, and move in with him.
From Phoenix to Silicon Valley to LondonI viewed the move as the exciting adventure that it was. Our early days in California were filled with walks to the grocery store, regular movie dates, and exploring downtown San Francisco together. A couple months passed, and I was keeping myself busy with some freelance writing for NASCAR. This worked out to about four stories a month at $250 a pop, which was hardly enough to live off of. I covered my financial responsibilities partly with my savings, but in all honesty, Jack was supporting me. His new job with the company he’d bought into came with a $150,000 paycheck. Our routine was flipped on its head when Jack’s company wanted to relocate him to London for a two-year project building a new data center. It was a good gig that would give Jack the opportunity to make some international contacts. It also came with a higher salary — roughly $200,000. As for my career, however, the overseas move represented a hurdle. I didn’t have a work visa, which meant full-time employment would be out of the question. Before we even left the States, I understood that for at least the next two years, I’d be financially dependent on my boyfriend. When we weighed all the options, it was clear that he was doing work he loved that also paid well, and allowed us to travel the world. He’d be crazy to give that up. We made the jump across the pond, and our time in London was nothing short of amazing. Plus, Jack was loving his job, which is why we were shocked when, after just five months, he was let go due to budget cuts. Back to the States we went.
From California to Texas to North CarolinaUnfortunately, we were met with more bad news when we returned home to California — turns out that while we were away, the company Jack had bought into went under. It was tough on him given the time and money he had invested in the venture, but he quickly dusted himself off, and began reaching out to his industry contacts. The good news? He soon scored an amazing nine-month gig building a smaller data center. The job came with a $170,000 salary and an allowance to cover rent. The bad news? It was in a small border town in Texas. I didn’t really have any freelance clients at the time, and Jack needed the work, so we accepted the offer in October 2012. Adjusting from big city London to small town Texas was the culture shock of my life. The only upside was that Jack’s company gave me a job doing administrative work. With that, and some freelance work I’d picked up, I was earning around $35,000 a year. It was the longest nine months of my life. Jack was under a lot of pressure with the project. I was lonely, hated where we lived, and didn’t feel challenged career-wise. And since we were working in the same office, we were spending a ton of time together and bickered constantly.
I couldn’t help but wonder: Had I made a huge mistake giving up my career? In moving around so much for Jack, I felt I had lost my identity, along with my financial independence. When I voiced these fears to him, he continued to be incredibly supportive. If I’d wanted to move back to Phoenix, he would have helped me get there. Of course, his making these offers only made me love him more. I realized that breaking up was the last thing I wanted to do. Our time in Texas tested our relationship, but we came out on the other side stronger. It took that experience to show me just how hard he works. And it showed him just how much I’d sacrificed to be with him. When the project came to a close, we were ready to move on. After a former colleague of his reached out with an amazing senior superintendent offer, it was goodbye Texas, hello North Carolina! I was beyond thrilled to transition to Charlotte, NC. Not only was it a beautiful city, it was also home to NASCAR headquarters. I spent my first few months picking up freelance gigs — I was working from home doing everything from writing web content to doing PR and creating marketing materials. One particularly cool client (a skincare company), quickly gave me a good amount of work, and I was really enjoying my freelance projects. I suddenly didn’t feel in such a hurry to get back into the 9-to-5 life. I earned about $12,000 to $15,000 over the first six months, but Jack’s salary was roughly $200,000, so I wasn’t feeling financially stressed. After six months in Charlotte, we settled in and bought a house. But just two weeks after signing on the dotted line, Jack’s boss announced plans to relocate him to San Antonio for a huge project building a data center for a software giant. Since it would only be a few months, Jack took off for Texas (again), while I stayed in Charlotte.
Keeping Up a Long-Distance Relationship With a Freelance LifestyleIt wasn’t long before I began splitting my time between the two cities. But what was supposed to be four to six months has turned into over a year. The good news is that Jack’s company provides us with two free flights a month, and also covers his rent there. Is it an ideal situation? No, but it looks like the end of this project will come soon, at which point he’ll return to live and work in Charlotte. In the meantime, that one freelance client of mine has really dialed up my workload, snagging me about $2,500 a month. I’ve thought about looking for a 40-hour gig, but it would be difficult to find an employer willing to let me work from home or take as many days off as I do. Plus, I love the freelance work I’ve patched together for myself. My flexible work-from-home lifestyle also allows me to frequently visit my elderly parents in Michigan. In the end, I think it’s all about choices. Over the last four years, I’ve chosen to stick with Jack through worldwide moves and all. Why? Because I love him and he’s my partner — and that’s what partners do. And despite it all, our financial picture is pretty strong. Over the course of my career, I’ve continued rolling money over into an IRA. Right now, I’ve got about $60,000 in my retirement fund and am actively working toward growing it. Jack currently has about $500,000 in his 401(k). We also have over $50,000 in emergency savings, and zero debt aside from the remainder of our mortgage, which sits at a little under $300,000. It’s been a journey to say the least, but I’m at peace with my decision. Some may say I’m a fool for giving up my dream job back in Phoenix, but if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have Jack in my life. That’s a trade-off I’d make again if I had to.