Growing Up Poor Was The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me

When I was a kid, I hated being poor.

My parents were constantly in and out of work and for the most part, didn’t seem too stressed about making money or providing the best life for us. We spent most of our years living with my mom’s parents, crammed in a tiny two bedroom apartment. That was me, my mom, my dad, younger sister and older brother, plus my grandparents, and my aunt — all stuffed into a small (and did I mention roach-infested?) apartment. If you’re wondering who got the bedrooms, it wasn’t the kids. My mom and dad shared one and my aunt had the other. Grandma & Papa slept on a pull out couch in the living room. My brother, sister and I slept on make-shift “beds” made out of a few quilts layered on the floor for many of my young and adolescent years. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we had the luxury of crashing on a couch.

For the most part, I wasn’t particularly sad about this. It was really all I knew. What bugged me most was that I couldn’t have friends over or have sleepovers. I could never bring them to my house. Could you imagine the sheer embarrassment I would face if I had to explain that I didn’t have a room and slept on the floor? What would I tell them when a cockroach scurried by? “Yeah, we’ve had them for as long as I can remember. No matter how many times the exterminator comes, we can’t seem to get rid of ‘em! It’s especially terrible waking up to one crawling on your face!” Yes, that really happened. I was living in Fear Factor. Well, perhaps it wasn’t that intense, but I sure had to deal with the reality of bugs crawling on me more often than a contestant on an hour-long game show. I was that kid in school who would have a cockroach crawl out of their backpack and then make a fuss about seeing it to make it seem like I had no idea where it came from.

While all my friends had parents who would drive them to the mall and give them money to go shopping, my brother, sister and I would ride the bus to the mall, with empty shopping bags in hand, ready to walk out with them full of five-finger discounted items. My parents had no car to drive us and no money for new clothes; so at 12, I was an expert shoplifter. I knew the tricks of the trade. Hiding a folded pair of pants under a big sweater when walking into the dressing room so the employee assisting me would never know I was bringing them in the dressing room, how to pull and twist just right to get the plastic magnet security tags off, which stores in the mall had the most closed off dressing rooms, all of that. Our parents had to know we were stealing these new clothes, yet they never said anything to us about it. I guess because they knew they couldn’t buy them for us, so we had to do what we had to do. It was more than clothes though. Any school trip that cost money, I couldn’t go on. I had to pretend I wasn’t interested. Same goes for concerts my friends would go to, or trips to Six Flags. Even going out to eat with friends was something I had to pass on. We just never had the money. It was always embarrassing to admit this to friends who never struggled with money and always had everything they needed.

Once I realized just how different I was from other kids, I started to resent my family for it. How dare they allow me to be raised in this environment? I was a good kid, a great student, an all-around sweet and smart girl, yet I could never have the basics. Pent up anger towards my parents for the life they were never able to give me came out more and more as I grew into an angsty preteen turned teenager, constantly getting in screaming fits with my parents and cursing them out without an ounce of remorse, and finding solace in my headphones blaring angsty punk rock and escaping from reality with the many coming of age books I read time and time again. Maybe if I wasn’t poor, I wouldn’t have felt the need to get into punk music and escape in books, and my music choices and love for reading made me who I am today, so I don’t want to imagine a world where I wasn’t molded by these two things.

The older I got, the more I realized that growing up poor gave me an advantage. It gave me the drive to work harder for everything and make sure I was doing all I could to give myself a better life than my parents could give me. Hence why I made the conscious decision at 15 to leave behind my family and friends and only home I ever knew in Queens to go to a better school and start building that better life for myself. Perhaps if I had grown up in a better home environment, I would have stuck around in Queens, continued to slack off as a student, and hung around with the same pothead friends and not amount to much. Instead, I left my comfort behind and started anew, became a straight A honor student who still smoked a little weed, and OK — maybe I was hungover and throwing up at my high school graduation but that’s irrelevant cause I dropped all those bad habits after high school and went on to start interning and pursuing my career path before most of my peers.

While kids were partying at their colleges, I was spending long hours in my dorm room, glued behind my laptop blogging away, trying (and succeeding at) being the best, fastest and most reliable writer on my team, which at the time was an all-female team of bad-ass beauties who loved hip-hop. My kind of people. My accomplishments with my first blogging internship moved me from intern writer to Editor-In-Chief in a matter of months, and landed me my second internship at The Source magazine, where I would gain tons of experience and learn how the music industry and music journalism really worked. This is when my dreams finally caught up with reality and I realized I had been spending hundreds of dollars commuting to the city everyday to work for a magazine that would never pay me. With this realization, I also came to the conclusion that getting paid for writing was not going to be an easy task. Future jobs in the industry would prove my theory true and made me come to another decision about my future. As much as I loved writing, I didn’t want to put my all into writing for someone else’s website, to make their dreams come true. I wanted something of my own. And I certainly didn’t want a boss.

Now you find me here today, working for myself as a publicist for musicians. It isn’t my dream job but not having a boss is a dream, working from home is a dream, and having plenty of free time to pursue other creative endeavors like photography and getting back to my first love, writing, is also a dream.

I would say I’m doing pretty well for someone who just turned 23. I have my own business and a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn, and I work hard to make sure I never have to go without. I’ve been on my own since 21 and never asked my parents for help or hand outs and I never will. I learned the responsibility of taking care of myself at a young age and I’m forever grateful for that. I know I have a far way to go but I’m on the right path.

If my parents were able to provide for me, I wouldn’t have been in such a rush to move out and start a new life on my own two feet. If I didn’t watch my parents struggle monthly to pay bills, I may not have taught myself to be so financially responsible. I believe that if I didn’t grow up poor, I would never be where I’m at now. I might have went to an expensive school and been in lots of debt and struggling to find a job like many people I know who grew up with more money. I might have just became a burnout with no real ambition. Instead, I became a success story in the making. When you have nothing, you have hunger, and hunger mixed with hard work will get you everything.

It seems I forgot to mention that the unfortunately close quarters I was forced to grow up in also made me closer to my family, something money can’t buy. As cliche as it sounds, though we didn’t have money, we had love, despite my dad’s short temper. I always felt loved and encouraged to do what I wanted. I also had the privilege of growing up around a family that loved music, each family member particularly fond of a different genre or two, so that made me well-rounded and anself-proclaimed music enthusiast and expert.

I wanted more for myself and I knew enough to know that if I wanted to see success, I had to learn from my parent’s mistakes. This combination drove me and molded me into the kind, wise and responsible young adult I am today. Don’t get it twisted though, I am still an angsty punk at heart. I will sing along at the top of my lungs to Green Day songs about burning out and lacking motivation, but in reality, I’m an adult with rent and bills to pay who enjoys making extra cash to blow on nice sneakers, so I can’t actually ignore responsibilities.

Just because you aren’t born with everything doesn’t mean you can’t have it all. Growing up poor didn’t mean that I had to spend the rest of my life struggling. One of the best lessons I learned early on in life is that no one owes me a thing. The universe doesn’t owe me, or you, or anyone shit. So if I want something, I better go out and get it my damn self. I could have moped and complained about my shortcomings and turned out like my parents and blamed my environment for it but that would have got me nowhere. Instead, I took my chances on creating a better environment for myself. If you bet on yourself, you’re totally in control of the outcome; and trust me — it’s a bet you’ll want to win.