The Grateful Depths

A spoiled brat with a slew of first world problems reflects on how lucky she is. Things could be a lot worse.

We’ve all heard about how many things we Americans take for granted.

“We live in the richest, most powerful country in the world.”
“We have big, beautiful houses with solid roofs over our heads.”
“How can we refuse our dinner when there are starving children in Africa?”
“We have so much, and we’re so ungrateful for it.”

Fine. Whatever. We know.

It’s hard to take lecturing seriously when everyone has the new iPad except you.

My life is not hard.

But I absolutely take it for granted.

My childhood was blessed, more than most, even in America. I was raised by loving, upper middle class parents who gave me as much respect, freedom and disposable income as they could. My childhood was the highlight of my life.

Which means things have been largely downhill since.

I shouldn’t complain.

Though it has been more than three years since he held a stable job, my husband loves me and would never leave me or cheat on me. He may have endowed me with more than $300,000 in student loans, but he is also my best friend, and our relationship, despite the typical ups and downs, has always been solid.

Though I spent way more time than I would have liked in front of a textbook in high school, I was able to attend and graduate from a top-tier university — my top choice of schools. While I am now quite certain that Berkeley was not the right choice for me, my degree did eventually bring me to my current job which lead me to a career that I enjoy with a lifestyle that suits me.

Though I graduated college at the height of the recession, I did find a job — or rather several jobs — and was able to support myself on my own straight out of college. Barely, and admittedly with a little help from the parents, but still, I did it. My first full-time employer out of college engaged in illegal activities, tried to steal money from my paychecks, didn’t care about her chronic under-staffing issue, lied to clients on a daily basis and treated toddlers with a lack of compassion that still makes me cringe. Still, that job was in the field I wanted and allowed me to have better jobs with more reasonable employers later on.

Though I irreparably injured my back, forcing me to give up my job, I was able to find a career that suited me much better — physically, emotionally and financially.

Though I don’t get to travel as much as I would like, I still travel significantly more than most people. And my parents paid for me to travel to Europe. Twice. Despite living on one income, my husband and I were able to travel to Japan for a friend’s wedding. And I was paid to travel to Guatemala.

I have no business complaining. Obviously.

Still, it’s hard working in Palo Alto when you’re surrounded by people who make gobs more money than you do.

It is insane how many people in the top 1% of the 1% live near me. I work within minutes of at least 10 billionaires. There are so many Teslas on the roads around me that I no longer notice them. I know people who can afford to spend over $1,000,000 on a skylight (yes, this happens).

I also know a large number of middle-class people who will never be able to afford a house because of their location. I know so many people who would be really well-off someplace where the average price of a house is less than $1,000,000. Who want to give their kids the world but can barely afford rent. Who live in fear of the day they can’t afford that anymore. Or whose rent has been raised $1,000 per month and don’t know what to do.

It’s hard not to take your life for granted when you can’t have the things you always expected.

And sometimes you have to experience someone else’s misfortune to appreciate what you have.

Today was one of the those days for me.

I spoke to a lovely woman who works in customer service for AT&T. She lives in Virginia, spent some time in Tennessee, but ultimately moved home. She has two kids, a boy and a girl, but their dad is not around.

Despite living in a state that borders the Atlantic, she hasn’t seen the ocean since she was four. She would love to take her kids on a vacation to the coast but simply can’t afford it.

She was very helpful and pleasant on the phone. Despite the complexity of my issue, she was eager to help and was able to fix my problem.

She wants her kids to go to college — whether they like it or not — presumably so that when their kids ask to go on vacation, they won’t have to choose between a week of dinners and a few days away.

I respect the woman I spoke with today. I know very little about her, but I am confident that she is a caring mother and a good employee who wasn’t dealt the best hand in life.

I will continue to want to travel more, to have greater purchase power, to someday own a home, to see an eventual end to student loans. But today I am grateful that, even though it’s farther now than it was when I was young, the ocean is only 45 minutes away.