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I’m not in the habit of giving advice, because most advice is bullshit. Half the time, the advice giver is just trying to justify her life choices by advising you to follow in her footsteps. The rest of the time, she’s trying to justify her bitterness by recommending you do something different than she’s done. Either way, most advice isn’t about you — it’s about the person giving it.
I can’t, however, ignore a plea for help like the one currently issuing from Thought Catalog, where young Kate Menendez just wants to live her life in peace. But she can’t, because all the poor people she knows resent her for being born into wealth and privilege. Ms. Menendez is “tired of feeling self-conscious” about her privilege and its trappings (which include a high-rise apartment and nice clothes). She writes, “What do you suggest I do about it?”
Oh, Ms. Menendez — I’m so glad you asked! I have a few suggestions for you.
By your own account, Kate, you have had the great fortune of being born into comfortable circumstances. Your parents have ensured that you will complete college and graduate school debt free. They have seen fit to house you in a safe building, and made sure that when you go out in the world, you will set your best foot forward. This is generous of them. They clearly want to see you succeed, and are happy to spend much of their hard-earned money doing so.
One option would be to ride that gravy train as long as you can. I wouldn’t judge you for it. Just kidding, I totally would! But who cares what I think — a free ride is a free ride, and few of us get the chance at one. If you like this sweet deal your parents have offered, take it.
But your essay indicates that you want more. You’re not satisfied to simply have a comfortable lifestyle provided by your parents. You need people to respect you. You need your doorman and your classmates and the people who interview you to believe that you, Kate Menendez, are more than just a lucky girl with wealthy parents. The fact that you desire respect speaks well of your character.
The problem is that you think people should do this just out of the goodness of their hearts. Please, you say, just lay off. Well, Kate, my dear, there is fat chance of that. The world can be a harsh place. Just ask your classmates who are forehead deep in student loans and panicked about how they will ever afford to pay them off, much less have a family or achieve some semblance of financial security. Better yet, ask the millions of people in this country (billions in the entire world) who spend some portion of their lives without adequate food or shelter. Life’s a bitch, Kate, and nothing is free.
If you want respect, step up. You say your parents “demanded” to pay for your college education. That’s great! College is ridiculously expensive. But now it’s time to cut the cord. Give Mom and Dad back that credit card we both know they’re paying on your behalf. Get off the family cell phone plan. Move out of that nice highrise apartment, get some roommates and a part-time job, and start paying your own rent. Stop buying all your suits from J.Crew and get comfortable with outlet stores.
Does this sound just awful? Why struggle when your parents are offering to make your life easier and more comfortable? Wouldn’t it be even more ridiculous to turn down your privilege, when so many others would love to be in your position?
Maybe. But you have to choose. You can’t live this comfortable life on your parents’ dime and also expect me to think highly of you. As long as you, an adult, are allowing others to pay your way, I’m always going to respect you a little less. And regardless of what you achieve, I will always assume that it happened, in part, because you got lucky. If you can’t live with that, get rid of a little of your comfy privilege and see if you can work it out on your own.
And if you can’t bring yourself to give up those sweet J.Crew suits…
… Stop Caring What I Think
Why does it even matter to you that your doorman (supposedly) gives you the side-eye when your clothes are delivered? Why is it so important that when your friends commiserate about their crippling student debt, you be able to participate? Your life sounds pretty sweet to me — nice home, nice clothes, limited financial burden and lots of opportunities courtesy of a pretty elite education, from what I can tell.
First off, I’m a total stranger with very little power in the world. If I’m bitter or resentful towards you, it doesn’t impact your experience in life one iota. Your doorman? He probably doesn’t give two shits about your packages. Even if he does, you get that his job is to serve you, right? He’s not your buddy. Move on. As for your peers, real friends won’t need to you to lie about your circumstances, even if they’re jealous. It’s actually more disrespectful to pretend you’re as hard up as they are — just own your situation. You’re the one in an enviable situation, not them, so why are you acting as though their financial burdens make them better than you?
Actually, I think I know why. You,my friend, are feeling a little guilty. See, you have actually figured out that the world is a bit unfair, and that you are benefiting from that unfairness. You just got lucky! And all these other people, including your doorman and some of your friends, aren’t so lucky. This is causing you some discomfort, in which case I recommend that you…
Suck It Up
I know very little about life, and am unqualified to tell anyone almost anything. But I do know this — mental and emotional distress are just things that happen, to everyone. Adulthood only increases this distress, both in frequency and intensity. You feel weird about your privilege. Guess what? A lot of the people you perceive as resenting you feel weird about their lack of privilege. That woman at the interview who eyed your brand new suit with envy? She worries that she doesn’t dress well enough at her job, and that in inhibits her ability to move ahead. Your doorman worries about getting fired because he looked at one of the building’s tenants wrong, and he worries about finding another job in this crap economy.
Your essay on Thought Catalog is going to get a lot of mocking. All of the people mocking it are freaking out silently about something — relationships, money, family. Everyone has to deal with occasional (or sometimes frequent) anxiety, guilt, or insecurity.
You can take two things from this. The first is — you’re not as alone as you thought. Here you were, feeling like an alien because of your good fortune. It turns out, you’re just a struggling human like the rest of us. Your essay was probably the result of an impulse to share that distress with others, to obtain some validation for those squirmy feelings of class guilt and isolation. You won’t get it, of course, because you failed to consider your audience or put your problems in perspective. But your impulse to share your burden is universal.
The second take-away is related to the first. Just as you’re not alone, you’re also not special. You think that just because you sometimes feel ostracized for your privilege, you have the right to demand that everyone you come into contact with pack up their own worries and insecurities so that you can feel more comfortable? Good luck with that. Unless you’re willing to give up the trappings of your comfortable life, you will just have to learn to live with the resentment many of us feel towards you. Develop a thicker skin.