Many people who grow up in poverty say they didn’t feel poor when they were young, because everyone around them was in the same situation. Yet some people raised with the conveniences, love and attention of caring middle class parents say their childhood was filled with a profound sense of lack, because they regularly interacted with kids whose families had so much more. These are the kids from the “wrong” side of the tracks who didn’t have the luxuries — the European vacations, the new BMWs for their 16th birthday, the expensive designer labels — that many other kids around them had.
I unwittingly did this to my kids by trying to give them all the advantages and privileges of a great education, which we could access by living in an affordable community that fed into a wealthy school district. Many of our friends made 5x, 10x and even 100x more in annual income than we did. It didn’t bother me at first because I knew I could have had that lifestyle if I had made a different choice.
But I consciously chose a profession that fulfilled my passion and not my pocketbook.
I graduated with two degrees: one in communications and one in computer science. I knew I wanted to be a journalist, and I didn’t care that I took a job as a reporter making 25% of what I would have made if I had gotten a job in computer science. A few years later I had opportunities to move into a different, higher-paying track in my field. I considered making a change and talked to a former colleague who had crossed over to “the other side” and gotten a job in PR. “What’s the biggest difference between reporting and PR?” I wondered. “A lot more meetings,” he lamented, shaking his head. “And a lot more money! It may not be as much fun, but at least I’m not working nights and weekends.”
I thought about more meetings, which translated to less meaningful work to me. I thought about having nights to myself, which translated to less excitement to me. That trade-off didn’t appeal to me at all.
When I married a musician and music journalist, I knew I was choosing a soulmate and not a provider. Like me, he chose a career based on what he loved. When our kids came along, those decisions weighed on me a bit more, but I became resourceful enough to provide everything we wanted for our children. We got a house in an affordable community that shared schools with a wealthy community, so our kids would get a world-class education. I got all our clothes, books, household items, toys and more from freecycle.org, so we could afford sports and music enrichment for our kids. We camped in tents on vacation. We found free family events everywhere — from outdoor community movies and concerts to free museum days and government-sponsored summer camps.
It was great until the kids hit middle school and especially high school and realized what they didn’t have rather than what they did have — because the comparison between us and the upper class neighbors was shoved in their face at school every day. They regularly called my husband and I “losers” for choosing low-paying industries where we struggled to bring in consistent income with freelance work, now called the gig economy. We felt guilty and inadequate, especially during the recession years when we struggled immensely.
Now we’re in a time period that people call the Great Resignation or the Great Reflection, when people are leaving jobs because those jobs leave them unfulfilled, when people are making conscious decisions about how they really want to spend their time. When they find the right opportunity, are they going to be thrilled to wake up every day and dive into pursuits that stir their soul like we are? And will that lead to financial struggle like it did for us?
My husband and I chased our dreams and never gave up on them, despite the hardships they caused our family. I never wanted to look back and think I wasted 5 or 10 or 20 years with something or someone that didn’t matter to me. I’ve had my instinct to stick with my passion reinforced over the years by friends who tell us we’re lucky for doing what we love.
But I still wonder about the damage I did to my children because they grew up with a sense of lack. I’ve spent years learning about personal development concepts like growth mindset and abundance. I feel abundant when it comes to health, safety, happiness, intelligence, passion, family and so much more. But feeling financially abundant, now that’s a struggle. And I know the only way to get the big house with the beautiful furnishings I still want some day is to wrap my mind around the fact that the world really is full of unlimited wealth. And I don’t have to stop doing what I love to attract that abundance.