One year ago today I walked in to the food bank scared and embarrassed. I didn’t feel like I belonged there, hoped no one I knew would see me, and couldn’t believe that as a well-educated, intelligent woman I found myself there. But more than any of those things, I was hungry. And when I walked into the room with rows and rows of fresh (if slightly dilapidated) produce and day-old pastries and a freezer full of meat, I had to choke back a little sob of happiness. This was a room full of food, and these people were going to let me have as much of it as I could eat in a week. I was humbled and terrified and overjoyed.

The story of how I got to the food bank is probably not very unique. I got laid off my job, I worked as a freelancer for a while, but the market crashed and work dried up. I took on a client despite numerous red flags, and that client screwed me out of several thousand dollars. I had worked and re-worked the budget and finally my husband and I truly did not have enough to eat. We played a game we like to call “Siege” for a while. This is where you pretend that you are royalty in Arthurian days, and your castle is under attack. You’ve raised the drawbridge to keep out the invaders, and now you must survive on only the resources that are already within the castle. In our castle, that meant eating a lot of weird canned beans from the back of the pantry, broken up packages of noodles that had fallen behind the shelf, crock-pot meals comprised of whatever we found in the cupboard. Like a lot of folks, we lived a surprisingly long time on things we had impulse-bought in times of plenty and then never got around to cooking.

So then there was the food bank, and reworking the budget again (and again), and scrambling to land small contract jobs that paid way way less than my skills are worth. And all woven in throughout that, was this learning taking root and growing. It took a while for the sprouts to become visible, but I was learning about money. What it is. How it works. How one gets it and uses it and leverages it to get more and why would I want it anyway? During that time, someone passed on to me something that someone wise had passed on to them. They said, more or less, “It’s not a lack of money that is holding you down. It’s your beliefs about money. Until you change your beliefs, you won’t reach your goals.”

I’m pretty liberal, and well-educated, and I came from a childhood of poverty. I know a lot about class privilege and financial privilege, so at first I reacted negatively to that statement. The world isn’t some sort of hokey place where visualizing an envelope full of money in my mailbox will make it appear. It isn’t my beliefs that are the problem, I thought, but an actual LACK OF MONEY. But in those days I had a lot of time to think about things, since I didn’t have much work or any money to have adventures with, so I thought about my beliefs and I read a lot of things about money. And I had to admit that I was completely financially illiterate. I could hardly claim to know why I didn’t have money, or whether or not my beliefs were to blame, if I didn’t even know what money was.

(Stop and think about that for a minute. Do you know what money is? Leave me a comment with your definition.)

So, a lot has happened in the last year. I’m writing this blog post from the comfort of my home office, where I work 40-50 hours a week doing work that I am inspired about and which gives me the opportunity to learn (and earn!) more every day. I earn a living wage, employ my husband part-time, and send regular work to two other friends. As soon as I’m done writing this, I’m off to the grocery store where I will be able to buy nearly anything I’m inspired to eat and still have money left over to buy sushi sometime this week. Today, when I walk into the grocery store and see the rows and rows of fresh produce and all the meat lined up in the cases and the outlandish collection of cheese varieties and a whole isle dedicated just to my favorite food (cereal), I will feel a lot like I did a year ago when I walked into the food bank. Only now I’m not hungry, and all this food is available to me because I can pay for it. I will probably not get choked up about it (unless the avocados look especially good — I take my avocados pretty seriously), but I will feel very very happy.

And that happiness has been the piece that makes the whole story of my last year make sense. The name of this blog is Happy For A Living, and I mean it in both ways that it can be read. Being happy has led me to where I am now; I make a living being happy. And having a living–a sustainable income–is something I am very happy for. I am Happy For A Living.