Money & Me Podcast šŸŽ™ļø

Episode #3: Changwe’s story

Money, privilege, sacrifice and loss

In this episode, Caroline talks to Changwe about living between two worlds. On the one hand, privilege. On the other sacrifice and loss.


Transcript

Caroline
Welcome to Episode Three of Money & Me. This is Changwe’s story: of living between two worlds. On the one hand: privilege, and on the other: sacrifice and loss.

Caroline
Hi, everyone. Welcome back. So I’m joined today by my friend Changwe. And we’re going to be talking about a few things: like childhood, growing up in a bit of a mix of worlds, and what it means to be a salesperson and how that impacts your thoughts around money. So welcome, Changwe.

Changwe
Thank you very much for having me, Caroline.

Caroline
Oh, it’s an absolute pleasure. So shall we start sort of earlyish years? What was your family like growing up? And what were your thoughts and understanding about money when you were younger?

Changwe
Okay. So growing up in London was a very pleasurable experience. Actually, it was very much a mix of both worlds. Originally I’m Zambian. My parents came here when I was very, very young – around four or five. So first of all, there was that whole different other worlds kind of scenario that was happening.

Caroline
Was it like a big culture shock?

Changwe
I wouldn’t say massive, because on Zambian TV, there’s predominently a lot of English. I mean, being part of the Commonwealth and obviously being part of the whole British colonial structure. There was a lot of English. I mean, English is our nationally spoken language. So there wasn’t necessarily a culture shock in terms of language, but there was definitely a culture shock in terms of weather. In terms of people as well. I guess, going from Africa and then being all of a sudden plonked in London. The different shades of people all of a sudden change. But it was early enough in my childhood that obviously, you know you adapt, you kind of grow up and you adapt.

Changwe
I guess the other startling sort of thing about childhood was, at a very young age, my mother actually developed a very serious heart condition. And prior to that, as well, obviously, there was my younger brother who’d also been born at the time. He also had very similar heart condition to what my mother had as well and he unfortunately passed away. My mother was one of the first people within the United Kingdom to receive a heart transplant. So it was actually something that was miraculous. Scary, as well as a family.

Caroline
How old were you then?

Changwe
I was about four or five years old, around that time.

Caroline
Were you aware of what was happening with her, or did you just know that mum was unwell and wasn’t there.

Changwe
Knew very much that mum was unwell at the time. I guess even as a young kid, you’re kind of – in that kind of day and age, when the relatives started flooding over by plane, you kind of understand that something’s really amiss here. And also, I wasn’t necessarily staying with my direct relatives. I’d be staying with like cousins and aunts and uncles. So I sort of knew that, you know, Mum and Dad, something’s going on something big is happening. So that was, that was a bit of a trip. But Mum obviously came through that fine. And then I was sort of raised with mum in a single parent household. Dad at that point, I think decided was a bit too much and just kind of went: “Oh, wow, panic!”.

Caroline
Yeah dads do that sometimes!

Changwe
Just press the exit button, smash the button here in case of emergency.

Caroline
Yeah, ejector seat. Dad ejector seat!!

Changwe
So that happened, but obviously what was really interesting about that whole thing as well was that mum sort of stepped away from her role at the Zambian High Commission. To be a full time mum. And then obviously this really tragic, you know, medical emergency that happened, which meant that for quite some time, she couldn’t go back to work. Obviously now dad was out of the picture. He was the main breadwinner at the time. He had been working alongside a governmental organisation in Zambia in charge of trade and commodities.

Changwe
So, he left the scene. We went to go stay with my mum’s other sister in St Albans at the time, she was a paediatrician my aunt. We sort of had to find our feet for a little while. I went to kindergarten in St Albans: that was also a very interesting experience – before coming back into London. And then growing up, quite literally with mom, who, bless her heart after even all of that, in terms of like, all of the medication and the checkups and the follow ups that she had to do. went straight back into work. And went about raising myself and herself in a single parent family.

Caroline
Do you think she felt the economic pressure to go back to work?

Changwe
Oh yeah. Yeah, I mean, I would say that on the terms that my dad left, it was very estranged. It wasn’t like a gradual, you know, sort of thing where he stepped back. I think it was very, it was very much just cut. So, you know, coming out of the state that she was in feeling very perplexed that that was the situation that was going on in the first place in terms of medically, but then also, you know, the romantic side of it with my dad not being there. And it kinda was just like, well, we’re on our own. So now we must fend for ourselves.

Changwe
But the real irony of the whole situation was, to some degree, there was still communication and contact because we obviously moved back to London from St Albans, in the house that we all originally were staying in; the flat we were staying in. So it was middle class. I mean, I’m not gonna lie. I grew up in Hyde Park square. So Marble Arch and Hyde Park were literally on my doorstep. So it was a very lovely location. It was one of those Grade II listed buildings as well, I had one of those lovely little blue plaques outside, I forgot who lived in it now. It’s not TS Elliot, he lived somewhere else. And it was this sort of like lovely, middle class setting, like a nice little quaint village area just in between Lancaster Gate and Marble Arch.

Changwe
But it was the also the realisation that, although the surroundings look like that, the actual living situation is completely different. Because here’s my mum who’s had to kind of just thrust herself back into work. And obviously, she can’t even work at the same level as she used to anymore. Where she was working with a high commission, she was travelling everywhere, she was able to be a lot more, I guess, just natural with her movements. But now with the heart transplant and being mindful of, you know, all of her levels and medication and things like that, it became a different kind of working scenario as well.

Caroline
Yeah. There’s a lot isn’t there? Because you’ve got what, from the outside looks like an incredibly comfortable and well-off existence. And then you open the door and you and your mum know that, on the inside, you’re just doing the best that you can. I always think that’s really strange – I’ve talked in my episode of the podcast about how, with the way that I speak and present, people automatically make assumptions. They would always assume that I grew up in a very comfortable background. That I’ve got, you know, family wealth probably, and things like that. And I have none of it. You know, I am my own safety net and everything I make, I have to make it myself. And I guess you’ve had something similar, in that you’ve had sort of the trappings and you have had the benefit of a lovely house in an incredible location.

Changwe
Private education as well. Yeah.

Caroline
But at the same time, your mum has had to kind of hold all of that together. With a very serious medical condition. With the loss of your brother. And the loss of the relationship. And she’s just trying to keep everything afloat.

Changwe
Yeah, it was very, it was very weird. I mean, even going to school. Naturally being the class clown, the class joker, I tried to bond with as many people as I possibly could. I think why humour is such a big part of my personality is probably because of maybe everything that did happen during my childhood. I mean, I always naturally gravitated to humour. My mum was a very, very funny person as well. And apparently, so was my dad back in the day. Hard to believe now! But it was very much a part of the household and our upbringing.

Changwe
Even at school, I’d naturally gravitate to friends, like my closest friend is a guy named Matthew. His mum and dad weren’t actually together. So he also grew up in a single parent household. So there were quite a few similarities between us. And you know, his mum as well doing everything that she could as well, to send him to school and keep him keep him there as well. There’d be things that obviously, you’d see other kids, especially at school be going off to do. And then you kind of be like, well, you know, we all go to school together. There’s that sort of understanding as well as a kid, you know, everyone is sort of your peers and everyone’s equal, but then you realise as well, that there’s another level and another dynamic to this whole thing once you bring in the parents and everything else. So that was, I guess, that was that was apparent to me from quite a young age.

Changwe
Another dynamic I could also throw in was, although they were relatively estranged, we still went back to Zambia every year. And when we would go back to Zambia, we’d be staying at the family home. My dad wasn’t there. There we would have people who worked at the home. So it’d be people there – there would be people at the gate, there would be security. So it was this very strange world of having the exactly like you said, sort of the middle class surrounding facade living in a single parent working class kind of financial condition in London, but then being transported back to Zambia, where now all of a sudden there’s this whole upper class. But only also being able to see that and have that when you’re going back, in Zambia, rather than it also been translated in where I was in, in London. So that was mixed messages on a whole different level for me.

Caroline
Did it affect your relationship with your dad?

Changwe
Yeah, I would say so. I would say as I grew up, well, I mean, growing up with mum, obviously. Growing up as “team Mum”. I mean, Mum, bless her heart was always an absolute saint, and basically never spoke a bad word about it, which was incredible. But at the same, you know, at the same token, the same credit, there was a lot of questions that even as I started getting older would like to have known the answers to.

Caroline
Got a lot of “Why?s” I’ve got a lot of: “What the hell were you thinking, dad, leaving your wife and four children?

Changwe
A lot of ‘Why’s’. So that naturally there was that and I think, because my day to day relationship obviously was with my mom. So I would only see my dad when he was in town or when he was around when he was visiting. So naturally, the relationship as well, over time definitely got much, much better as I got older as well. I sort of wasn’t afraid to ask the questions. I wanted to know more. Wanted to understand, you know, not just the whole thing of: why did that happen, but also about him as a person. And everything that’s important to him and why maybe necessarily he might have done the things that he did. So yeah, I would say maybe in the beginning, there was a bit more of aaargh. But as, as time went on, I think just natural curiosity. I mean, you know, you get 50% of the DNA from the other side as well. So you just kind of curious to know: what the hell?!

Caroline
So let’s talk a bit about the job that you’ve chosen to do, because I’m quite fascinated by anyone who goes into sales. I think, as a person who finds it very challenging to sell anything. sales for me is such a transactional way to earn a living, right? You’re judged monthly, quarterly, on every single sale that you make. Was it always something you wanted to do? Do you think? Why? Why?

Changwe
I guess the thing for me was what media and advertising was something that I wanted to be a part of. I wanted to create adverts unfortunately, I didn’t study anything that was creatively led, in order for me to warrant going into a creative studios and doing adverts. So I ended up doing media planning and buying, which naturally led me into the world of, you know, strategy, media, and sort of understanding everything that goes in place behind deployable adverts. When I first sort of joined the industry. I think quite a few the recruiters were keen to put me into sales roles. But my understanding of sales at the time was very, very limited. So I sort of thought that it was going to be commission only. And I thought that that would lead me to too much exposure, given the fact that I was now going to become a joint income household. And I would like to actually contribute something. So I thought maybe just going in with a commission-only basis would just not be the thing to do. So I sort of opted for a safer option – worked on the media agency side because it was a consistent flow of income up until about, I would say about two and a half years ago, when I changed job roles.

Changwe
And then I guess after a while, I mean, it’s hasn’t been all roses at all, it hasn’t been all roses at all! So I mean, that consistent pressure. I mean, I came from one job role where, on the first day, when you start, literally your email inbox is flooded with client requests, meetings, bookings, because you’re working on behalf of the client, it’s done on billable hours. To the other side of the industry now where your inbox is completely empty on day one, apart from maybe a couple of training courses, and you are now In charge of having to go out and find said clients and bring them in. So it was it was definitely a change of pace, a considerable change of pace.

Caroline
That’s really interesting to me. There’s a couple of things in there, which you say that you when you kind of looked at what you were going to do, clearly, one of the things that determined what types of roles you went for was: am I going to get a steady income? Am I am going to get a consistent salary every month? That is enough that I can help my mom pay for our combined costs. And mine was exactly the same. I’m so curious as to the number of people – I think it’s so many people – were that is pretty much the primary consideration that you have when you’re thinking about your career. You know, I mean, careers when I was at school was so bad, man like, it’s like they only knew that about four jobs in the world existed and nothing else.

Caroline
But similar to you. So when I looked at Law and I chose law because I knew I could make money in law. When I looked at the two branches of law I could do – and one is solicitor and one is barrister – I would have much preferred to be a barrister, I would have found that really interesting. I thought I would find being a solicitor quite boring. But the solicitor was the one that gave you a salary. And barrister was the one where you had to kind of get your own clients and make sure you were good enough to keep winning that business. And that terrified me. That was just that was just a ‘no’ for me, because I needed the security of knowing that I had that steady income that wasn’t solely reliant on me getting it.

Changwe
Yeah. It sounds like obviously, ours were very, very similar in the sense of the fact that we were just like: what can give me income right now, so that I can contribute to my household, considering my household was where I was living, where I was staying. And I knew for a very long time that, you know, my situation also had a timeline. Because my mum wasn’t going to be able to continue working beyond a certain point. And also to get her from stopping to work. She shouldn’t have gone back in the first place. Yeah, so that was quite a scary time, I guess. Still very fortunate, of course at the time to be coming out of university and then also being able to go to a grad scheme or grad day, and just being able to get an opportunity to get in. But I think after about five and a bit, five and a half years in the industry, it was definitely time for a new approach. And I think I’d sort of been at a level, especially with five and a half years experience behind me where now I knew a little bit more about the ins and outs of the industry. I also can negotiate my rate better if I was going somewhere else. So the risk element was sort of taken away.

Caroline
Has the fact of doing sales, has the fact of doing transactions and having that pressure to bring money into an organisation. Has that changed how you feel about money?

Changwe
That’s a very good question.

Caroline
Or do you separate it? Do you have like your professional approach, which is very transactional, and you have a personal approach to money which is quite different?

Changwe
My main aim was obviously to be the head of the household, which I’d actually sort of already achieved even back in 2014, before I’d actually even changed role. So that was a very, very proud moment for me. To be able to say to my mum, you know what, it’s okay. You don’t have to go out to work anymore. I can sustain us and we can look after each other. So that was great.

Changwe
My framework towards money has always been governed by, I would say, things slightly out of my control that I’ve obviously had to deal with, since my parents aren’t here anymore. So becoming your own safety net, as well. I mean, I think you get to a certain point, maybe you have some sort of money epiphany, where you actually start realising that kind of continuously working for a salary is obviously good as long as you love what you’re doing. But there is a certain point where that money should definitely work for you. I mean, that’s why people encouraged people to have pensions; people to put their money into savings or to stocks and shares and things like that.

Changwe
And I think I’d really made that discovery, or at least it was more front and centre about two and a bit years ago when I did, eventually, unfortunately lose my mom, because that sort of forced things into perspective for me. Because although I’d been head of the household dealing with all the financial responsibilities, like I said, all of the sort of the remaining legal stuff around that after really kind of had me evaluate exactly what my money needs to be doing and where it needed to be spent. In terms of my relationship with money. It’s definitely evolved over the last, I would say accelerated over the last two and a half to three years in terms of how I think about things, what the money should be doing and where the money should be going.

Caroline
Do you think you’ve just got a lot more serious about it? Like I know. The reason I say that is, I don’t have a light hearted attitude to money whatsoever. I’m either in: “I’m okay, I’ve got enough” or I’m in: “I need to earn more” and I’m very sort of focused on “this how much I need to have to feel secure”. Or I’m in looking at it going, “Oh, god, oh god, and I’m slightly in panic mode” But I’ve never been casual about money. One thing I like about you is I think that you’re very generous. You’re a very generous person with your time and I get a sense you’re quite generous with money. I am as well, but at the same time I have like really weird attitudes towards money. So I’ll be really generous and I’ll happily pay for dinner or buy drinks. And then I really resent having to pay more than like a pound for shower gel. I’ve got this really strange mix. I like to use money for nice things and I like to use money to share experiences with other people. And yeah, I’m really tight on pointless things.

Changwe
Because that’s how you manage yourself. Generally, this is how you manage yourself. And that’s the most important bit because who are you going to spend 99.99% of the time with? That’s obviously going to be you. Of course you see your friends, you see your family, but what I’m trying to say is basically where the proportion of money that you will be spending, you’re more frugal, shall we say, with yourself?

Caroline
Yes, I spend far less money on me than I do on other people. Are you the same?

Changwe
Yes, I would say that. Actually, no, I would actually say exactly the same, particularly when it comes to things like Christmas with my immediate family who are still here. And also, for example, last night, I was at a friend’s art show, and it was his first art show. He put it on, bless his heart. And it was full of uni students. And they were sort of just exhibiting in his office space. So it was just quite a nice variety of sketches. Anyway, they were selling alcohol, but they ran out of alcohol. So I didn’t nipped down to the local co-op and bought several bottles of prosecco, several bottles of wine and a couple of beers and just said, well, here you go. Because obviously, I mean, it’s no skin off my teeth and also he’s my mate and I don’t want the party to stop going. I want people to continue enjoying themselves and alcohol is the best lubrincant in that situation. So, yes, in situations like that, I’m so happy to share with my friends.

Changwe
In fact, that’s what I kind of think is a very, very good use of money. Because time, and moments, and experiences, especially with friends is is very, very fleeting. And it’s also as you get older, those things become rarer and rarer.

Caroline
Thank you. That was great. I really enjoyed it.

Changwe
My pleasure.

Caroline
Thank you so much. That’s been amazing. Thanks, everyone, for listening. Catch you next time.

Caroline
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