Things did not go exactly as planned starting with the day I arrived in Texas–from my flat tire in the last few hours before arrival in Rockport down to the two thumb-sized cockroaches eagerly waiting to greet me. I expected a bumpy road and maybe even a few potholes on my journey to a new career. After all, I’d taken a giant leap of faith in quitting my job and leaving D.C. But I had also worked hard to put a plan in place to prevent too much drama (see “A Giant Leap of Faith – Part I”). Even so, the first nine months were especially rocky, and a successful career transition felt like a long shot.

The first nine months were specially rocky, and a successful career transition felt like a long shot.

In the few months before my last day on the job, I’d set myself up with two consulting gigs that were a continuation of work I had started while at the Department of Defense. I knew that I’d have to scramble to get some more consulting clients–at least until I figured out how to transition into my new career in TV and film. To put a roof over my head, I would have to continue my work as a national security expert. But I had absolutely no idea what was in store for 2019 and 2020. In the end, none of us did.

When I first decided to quit my job for a new career in TV and film, I thought it would make sense to move to LA. That’s what I told everyone I was going to do when I left. Spoiler: That’s probably not going to happen any time soon for a number of reasons–some good, some bad.

As soon as I arrived in Rockport, I immediately fell head over heels for the quaint, peaceful, and stunningly beautiful fishing town of about 8,000 people. Pretty much everything is located off of a single highway that runs through the center of town. And by everything, I mean a Walmart, an HEB grocery store, Ace’s hardware, and a few fast food places. That’s pretty much it. If you want more amenities, you have to drive at least forty miles.

The true charm of Rockport can be found in the historic district where there is an impressive number of art galleries and even a pottery studio.

The true charm of Rockport can be found in the historic district where there is an impressive number of art galleries and even a pottery studio. I learned early on that in addition to being a major fishing area, Rockport is home to a large group of creatives and writers–it even has its own Center for the Arts. In my first month, July 2019, I decided to attend Rockport’s Annual Art Festival where local artists sell their wares. But I got a lot more than I bargained for…

The universe hit me over the head a sign (not literally) when I learned there was a film festival in Rockport. In that moment, it felt like I could make a home here. It’s beautiful. The weather is good (minus summer hurricanes and rare Arctic freezes). It’s quite cheap. It’s easy to travel from. And there is a very active community of artists here–writers, painters, potters, and photographers. “This could be a place where I make a life for myself,” my spirit said to me.

This is a place where I could make a life for myself.

A week after the art festival, my Doberman nearly died of congestive heart failure. I didn’t see it coming even though I maybe should have. At first, he was just restless at night, waking me up multiple times and panting. I thought he was hot so I turned up the AC. It didn’t help. Then I wondered if he was anxious about being in a new place. Eventually, I let him sleep in my bed because he couldn’t seem to get comfortable. He slept pretty well, but I on the other hand, got only a few winks due to his restlessness. After several days of this, I wondered if something else was going on.

He’d been diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and given only six months to live back in March 2019. I had these emergency pills to give him to remove fluid from his lungs if he experienced labored breathing. I wasn’t sure if that’s why he was restless, but I gave them to him anyway and went to the vet as soon as we could get in. The X-rays confirmed that his lungs were full of fluid. I feared the worst–that he had only a few days to live. I had to go to another vet with better equipment to look at his heart. We did an ultrasound and made a surprising discovery–his heart had actually improved slightly since his original diagnosis, but was overwhelmed by the Texas summer. The vet told me he’d have to stay on the new med for the rest of his life. Thankfully, he recovered. I’m not sure what I would have done if he left me already back then. I’m forever grateful that he hung on for more than year after that.

After only two months, in August 2019, I decided to make Rockport my home and started looking for a house to buy. I felt so invigorated about starting my new life in this town and couldn’t wait to choose the perfect home.

I felt so invigorated about starting my new life in this town and couldn’t wait to choose the perfect home.

For those of you wondering, there are not very many reasonable places to rent in Rockport, in part since it’s a tourist town; the best spots are vacation rentals. But also, the lower priced housing remains full from Hurricane Harvey–a Category 4 that made direct landfall in Rockport in 2017, causing many to lose their homes. The few I could find that would accept a Doberman were about $1,700 per month, which felt like a lot of money when median house prices are around $220K. Early on in my search, I decided that I wanted an older house in the heritage district to be near all of the creative hotspots. I had my eye on one in particular, and I started to look into getting a mortgage. And this is the place in the story where you hear the tires screeching.

And this is the place in the story where you hear the tires screeching.

Now I didn’t anticipate having trouble getting a mortgage since I have money from selling my house in D.C. and a good credit score. But no one would give me a loan. Why? Wait for it… simply because of my status as an entrepreneur. Nothing else mattered. They said I’d have to wait about two years to qualify for a standard mortgage. But if I’d had a W2 from an employer, even making a lot less money at Walmart, it would have been easy as pie. I was stunned. No one prepared me for this reality. All my life, I’d thought the U.S. found its economic strength in the number of its innovators and entrepreneurs. I didn’t want to spend all my savings in one shot in case I had to suffer through a financial hit, so I gave up on buying a house. For a brief moment, I wondered if the universe was telling me to move on.

For a brief moment, I wondered if the universe was telling me to move on.

I didn’t want to pay expensive rent to stay here–then I might as well go live in LA. But I also no longer wanted to leave Rockport. I’d fallen in love with this coastal town. I began to search for alternatives, and then a miracle happened. But it’s probably not something you would think about as miraculous.

I found a mobile home for sale located in an RV park, complete with an ocean view. After a quick visit, I plunked down the cash to buy it (now I have no mortgage or rent) and moved in September 2019. I’ve been quite happy there ever since. Now can you argue with that view? But I never would have seen this coming… but this mobile home is the miracle that will make my show R&R happen.

By now, you know how I like signs. Well, the people who sold me the mobile home left a watercolor painting behind. They had done some research and said it might be worth about $1,000. But there is no way that I would ever voluntarily part with a painting titled “Smooth Sailing”. That might invite more disaster into my life. And by the time I moved into the mobile, things were already starting to look bleak for me financially. So much so it was a huge blessing that I had not bought a house. By the end of 2019, my life was far from smooth sailing.

There is no way that I would ever voluntarily part with a painting titled “Smooth Sailing”.

The downturn began when one of two consulting clients fell through suddenly in September 2019–a result of a major contracting glitch. I went from expecting to be paid for a yearlong project to it ending within two weeks. It was unclear when additional funding would become available to finish the project. I took the hit in stride. At least I still had one more client.

Then in October 2019, the second client also ended things abruptly–more funding issues within the Department of Defense. Within a few months, I went from making a decent salary to nothing, zero, nada. And no promises for the future. I was forced to scramble hard. I took on some freelancing work, which I’m not sure paid better any than working at Walmart. By the end of November, I was very lucky to get a remote part-time job as a project manager for a software developer to make some regular earnings and avoid spending down my entire savings–but it didn’t cover all the bills. Six months after leaving my well-paid government job, I was partially unemployed and uncertain about the future.

I hope you stay tuned for the story about how things turned around–ironically in the middle of a global pandemic. If you want to support the show, for only a few dollars a month, you can become a patron and get behind-the-scenes access.

natashabajema

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