It’s so easy to feel sorry for yourself.
I do it all the time.
Because I lost my wife. Because my son’s gone a lot and I really miss him. Because I don’t have as much money as I used to. Because I have expensive bills and repairs. Because my home needs more than I can give. Because I never meet single women, and when I do, there’s always a glitch.
We can all do it if we want.
We can point fingers at circumstances. Bad luck!
Other people. Unfair!
And we can never, ever, look in the mirror and ask the really difficult questions. The ones that make us squirm. The ones that make us want to run and hide and never see our reflections again.
What choices have I made that led me here?
What choices can I make today to improve my life?
Your reflection should have his/her eyes narrowed. Studying you. Judging you.
You should always love and respect yourself. But you should also hold yourself to higher standards than everyone else does. And when you fail to meet those standards, it seems worth evaluating what you can do differently to change that.
“I’m a Member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves’”
That was the headline of a Huffington Post piece one of my friends sent me this morning.
And when I first started reading, I just kept nodding. Yes. Yes, that’s me! Yes, that’s me too!!!
But then, the writer started pointing fingers in every direction but the right one.
And that’s where she lost me.
Because she used to have money. And dine out. And take vacations.
And now she doesn’t anymore.
It’s Corporate America’s fault.
It’s the politicians in Washington DC’s fault.
It made me sad to see someone who appears to believe deep within her heart and soul that she’s doomed to a life of poverty despite her education and previous success in the professional world. That there’s no future but a bleak one of living off government aid until she dies one day, sad and alone.
I’m not trying to pick on Kathleen Ann, the author of the HuffPo piece.
She is a human being with a story. A story with a bunch of details and context to which I’m not privy.
But she’s well-educated. And indicated she used to earn $100 per hour, which is a metric shit ton more than I make. So, I’m defaulting to the position of believing she is INFINITELY more capable of choosing herself than she displays in her woe-is-me piece.
Let’s dive in.
“I used to have a house. I used to go on vacations. I used to shop at department stores, get my hair done and even enjoy pedicures. Now, I don’t. I’m a member of the American “Used-to-Haves.”
Now, I’m renting an apartment and I’m desperately awaiting a check so I can pay the rent. Yet, I’m lucky to have an apartment that includes utilities. Despite my college degree from a prestigious college, and solid employment track record, I can’t get a job. It’s been so long since my corporate days, I now feel unemployable.
My age doesn’t help. But I’m as healthy as a thoroughbred, I appear quite young and would gladly accept a basic salary. I’m a bargain! But no. I’m freelancing for $15 an hour these days, but I used to earn $100 an hour. In fact, all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour. To make ends meet, I also work as an aide ($13.75 an hour) and run a small local company. And my annual earnings are under $20,000.”
On “I’m a member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves.’”
I understand what she means. The middle class has gotten squeezed HARD. And it’s painful. My life is not subsidized in any way. I pay for everything myself. And I sometimes feel like people who work less have a better life than I do. I am responsible for my choices. But I do believe that, fundamentally, hard work should be rewarded. In my experience so far, that hasn’t really been the case, financially.
On “I can’t get a job.”
I want the author to define “job.” Because she said she will “gladly accept a basic salary.” And we don’t have any context here for what that means. What is a basic salary? $40,000 annually? $70,000 annually? Is she willing to relocate? Or no? Regardless of the answers to those questions, who is responsible for the outcome of those choices? You? Me? The government? Businesses? I submit only one person is.
On “all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour.”
Nonsense. Charge whatever you want. Choose yourself. I charge $60 an hour for my freelance work. And people pay it, or they don’t. They either think my work is worth it, or they don’t.
The market has never, and will never, dictate what my time is worth. If someone is unwilling to pay me an amount in which I can afford to do the job, I decline the work. The author can make that same choice.
On “my annual earnings are under $20,000.”
She works three jobs, she said.
1. She writes freelance.
2. She works as an aide for $13.75 per hour.
3. She runs a small local company.
I don’t know what any of that means. But I know that if you work full time at a fast-food restaurant for $9 per hour, you earn $18,720 per year, which is pretty much what the author said she earns working THREE jobs.
“I’m lucky to be in Massachusetts, where my health care is paid for, and fortunate to be of sound health and mind. But on days when I feel hopeless, I can envision myself 20 years from now, living in hardscrabble poverty.”
On “where my health care is paid for.”
The author doesn’t pay health care expenses. I pay $400 per month to cover my son and I, and that’s with the VERY generous more-than-half contributions of my employer. Maybe that doesn’t sound like very much to you. $400 per month for something I almost never use but MUST have is a lot to me.
And it decreases my sympathy for the plight of the author who recalls making more than $100 per hour at her last full-time job.
“Watching John Boehner and the Republican Congress during the past few years has been a stunning confirmation of their seeming disregard for the “Used-to-Haves.” As they pull down salaries of $174,000 a year, unparalleled benefits and the option of voting themselves a raise, their selfishness is unrivaled as they barricade health care reform, knowingly shut down the government, cut SNAP benefits and eliminate extended unemployment payments.
Congress doesn’t have the stones to call up their lobbyist buddies and corporate honchos and insist they hire more unemployed Americans for the American companies they celebrate and boast about.
The press calls it “The Great Recession.” It actually was the “Great Theft.” In the wake of this very public, often-glossed-over theft from the middle class, the perpetrators have been revealed. We know the American corporations without the courage, scruples or heart to help us, the ones responsible for the recession and the politicians who put the toxic policies in place. We “Used-to-Haves” aren’t stupid.”
On “John Boehner and the Republican Congress.”
And that’s when she lost me. Grinding a political axe.
Let’s get one thing straight: If you’re a politician in Washington DC, regardless of political party, you’re a greedy, egotistical, power-hungry maniac who ALWAYS puts your own needs ahead of your constituents. And I’d even be okay with that if you weren’t so smarmy and dishonest about it. It’s beyond corrupt, what happens at the highest levels of our government.
But choosing sides? As if one is good and the other is evil? That’s laughable.
They’re all assholes. Each and every one of them. And if they cared about you and me, they would—at minimum—put partisan politics aside to AT LEAST fix all the apolitical things that ail our nation and world. But they won’t even do that. It’s all about reelection and campaign contributions. If they worked together, they would be forced to not say ugly things about one another all the time. Without all the lies, no one could ever get elected!
Blaming politicians is too easy. All the Sean Hannity fans can hang on his every word and hate all the people who love Bill Maher and hang on his every word. Knock yourselves out.
Respect one another. Be pragmatic. Work together. Serve something greater than yourselves.
Do that? And I’ll vote for you no matter which side of the aisle you stand on.
“As a “Used-to-Have,” I’m beyond angry. I’m not a “Never Had.” I know what it’s like to pay bills on time and have a little left over. I remember vacations and pedicures and going out to dinner. As a “Used-to-Have,” I know exactly what Corporate America, lobbyists and politicians have taken away from me. The “Used-to-Haves” and the children of the “Used-to-Haves” won’t forget. The “Used-to-Haves” are educated. Many of us and our children have amazing talent and academic honors. We know how to get things done. And though all of the odds appear to be against us, we must refuse to give up hope.”
This was the end.
And I got a little upset about it. So I wrote my friend back expressing my disappointment in the author’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for any of her current life circumstances.
This girl is A LOT like me, my friend. I joke that she’s the Girl Me. Because we think similarly about many things.
While our big-picture philosophies align closely, we sometimes diverge on the details.
“This is just an example of what ails the human race. Finger pointing,” I said. “It’s less about politics and more about self-empowerment.”
I wrote that the author of this HuffPo piece REALLY needs to read my favorite writer James Altucher’s most-recent book “Choose Yourself.”
She is frustrated like so many of us with struggling to make ends meet despite being college educated and having a relatively good job in the professional world. She recently started working part-time to supplement her income.
“While I agree with lifting up and self-empowerment, I am also beginning to realize that not everyone can make everything they want to happen come true here in America anymore.
“Not everyone can have a successful business. It’s a fact. You can work your balls off and still lose. And that goes for a lot of different industries.
“There is no guarantee.
“You know I am the first person to dream big and believe in making shit happen. However, I’m starting to realize it sometimes isn’t in the cards.
“Will that stop me from trying? Probably not, in a lot of cases. But is it true? Probably.”
I liked my response. And the sheer power of the truth in these words prompted me to write this post today.
“Of course,” I said. “It’s all a risk. Most successful people fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail at first.
“Remember the line about Edison’s trials in creating a functioning light bulb?
“’Mr. Edison, how did it feel to fail a thousand times?’”
“I didn’t fail a thousand times,” Edison said. “I have simply found 999 ways how not to create a light bulb.”
We have no chance in this life if we believe other people get to decide who we are and who we can be.
We have no chance if we spend our lives waiting for someone else to give us a shot.
We have no chance if we sit around waiting to be granted permission.
Choosing yourself means you don’t need permission.
Choosing yourself means you manufacture your own opportunities.
Choosing yourself means you—and ONLY you—get to decide who you’re going to be today, no matter how many times you’ve fallen, how many mistakes you’ve made, and how great the odds against you might seem.
That’s where hope and opportunity live.
And you deserve it.