“The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” ~Unknown
My parents passed down their values which I imagine is the same for a lot of parents who are fighting the good fight for their kids.
They taught me that material possessions weren’t going to make me happy, that I didn’t need to try to “fit in” to be happy, and last but not least, I was beautiful just the way I was.
That was great and it made sense to me until I started interacting with other kids. Particularly with kids who came from wealthy families. Then it seemed that my parents had lied to me all along.
The messages I was receiving all around me were that I wasn’t pretty enough, that I had to change a lot about myself to be cool, and that I needed to start spending a significant amount of money on clothes.
I can only imagine it pained my parents to see me start to transfer closer and closer to my peer group. In college, I dyed my hair blond, started spending all of my spending money on clothes, and obsessed about what I weighed and who I was seen with.
I wanted to make sure everyone “saw” that I was fitting in.
After college, fitting in became secondary to the goal of proving that no longer was I just like everyone else. I was actually better. I would come home during holidays and cast judgment on my parents who continued to live a modest life, preaching the same values.
How dare they, I thought, try to tell me that the world is anything but a rat race to prove who is the prettiest, smartest, or wealthiest? They had lied to me, I was sure of it.
After college, I landed a status symbol job with a Fortune 100 company on the East coast, a nice apartment, and social circle that told everyone around me I’d made it. It was a life choice far from what my parents could understand.
The slippery slope of my choice is that people kept validating it. My coworkers constantly complimented my job, my apartment, and my clothes. The people in my neighborhood bragged about their high salaried jobs, their investment banker fiancés, and luxury vacations.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something seemed wrong. I wasn’t enjoying my time in the upper crust social strata.
My breaking point occurred in my late 20s while I was working late nights and weekends. I had made a promise to myself that I would literally do anything for my job.
This meant that I was willing to forgo looking for a life partner and starting a family, refrain from hobbies that weren’t related to work, and spend less and less time with my parents.
I was willing to become a humorless work robot.
I pushed to get recognition for all the work I’d put into my company, but I did not get the promotion to management that I thought I deserved.
I left the company for a better job and then got fired from that one. It was a wrong fit from the beginning, but I ignored the warning signs. My pride and ego wanted me to succeed and to show everyone at my old company how fantastic my life was after I left.
But fate smacked me upside the head on the day I was let go.
The day I was told I no longer had a job my instant reaction was relief. I wasn’t going to have to get up the next day and go to work at a job that I hated that paid me a lot of money.
Then I panicked.
How would I pay my bills? Who would find out? Was I failure? Would I have to move back with my parents?
I spent one month thinking about where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be. And I was surprised to learn that I really liked myself despite not having a job.
It was a stunning realization to learn that I had wrapped up my identity with work but that I was someone really great when all of that distraction was gone.
Since then my life has gone on a journey of self discovery. With my newly found free time, I started writing. It was a hobby that I had ignored for many years.
Writing started a chain reaction of self reflection. When you write about yourself you tend to focus on issues you may otherwise ignore. I started becoming more honest with myself and in turn others.
Despite my fears that I would end up broke and jobless, I met an industry leader who was bright and sharp. He liked my background and took a chance on me. He asked me to take a leap of faith for his company and in return he would take a leap of faith on me.
Now I’m working for a boss I admire, with coworkers who support me. I leave work at a decent hour. I’m taking writing classes and regularly contribute to my blog. I’m mentoring young female writers.
I’ve picked up yoga, stopped drinking as much as I used to, and have been seeking out spiritual guidance.
And as I sat down for dinner tonight I thought about the things that I believe at this stage of my life.
The people I love are beautiful no matter their outward appearance. Trying to fit in doesn’t really do the soul any good. And material possessions are much less important than we try to make them.
Now I look at my parents lifestyle and am in awe of how truly wealthy they are and how lucky I am for their wisdom.
Photo by Alice Popkorn