I was fortunate enough to grow up rural and poor. Unlike many like me, I’m fortunate as well to no longer be in either category. I thought I’d make a list of what you find yourself doing when you’ve worked your way from being poor.
The hungry animal wins the fight, right? You’re in a place now where cockfights/dogfights/bumfights/any-other-fights-besides-UFC are in poor taste, but the sentiment remains: you fought hard to get here and, now that you’ve overcome most obstacles, you worry your form is slipping. You try to stay hungry, but more often than not you end up well fed.
Worry about money differently.
Before, money issues were the absence of income: what hustle would keep you afloat? How many days before they cut off [insert service]? When is the next payday (and the one after that)? At some point, paydays matter less because income is steady and you’ve learned to live below your means. Subsequently, you’ve got a pool of money—and your concern now is that you’re filling the pool faster than you’re draining it. Are you saving? Should you be investing? In what? Things like these plague your thoughts now.
You’re not taking that 14-hour drive to see family anymore; you just grab a flight. Furthermore, visiting family isn’t considered a vacation. Now you can think about previously unthinkable getaways like quaint inns nowhere near a tourist attraction. All your family is talking about a trip on a Caribbean cruise ship, but truth be told you’d rather rent a boat and hop the Greek isles. You met another couple while vacationing in Sayulita who, upon hearing of your holiday trip to NYC, mailed you the keys to their Manhattan flat since they’d be away. You felt mixed emotions—shocked that someone would trust you like that, angry at your own association of lower-class past as a mark on your trustworthiness.
Stop dodging calls.
Growing up, you answered the phone for your parents and dutifully recited the reason they were not home/couldn’t come to the phone. Your kids don’t have that problem, because all your bills are current and no one is seeking you out to get what they’re owed. Now that you’ve cleared your debt avoiding calls is no longer about your finances and is entirely about social matters.
You should’ve never stopped, as giving was something that was always a part of your world. You remember the girl in college who came over to cook for you, always leaving more groceries than was necessary for the meal. You remember the near-stranger who floated you a couple hundred to cover the rent that time. You remember how your old faithful vehicle broke down in the middle of nowhere and no one would stop for you. So you promised you’d help once you got your stuff together. Now that it is, you can donate. And you can support. You can give—not loan—and you can make a difference, even if the difference is only seen by you.
Think about your family.
You start feeling responsible for other people’s situations. You let your sister stay with you a few months and hope she can free herself like you did. You still resent your crackhead mom/deadbeat dad, but you just donated to a charity what would’ve paid their mortgage. You wonder how you’ll take care of both your parents now that they’re happily remarried, and whether not caring for their spouses will cause more harm than money it would save. And then there’s your favorite childhood cousin, who’s still living at home working at Payless, who just posted photos of his firstborn. Yeah, you definitely start feeling responsibility for others’ situations.
Wonder if you’re losing touch.
Because you used to talk to that cousin everyday, and now you’re looking at a Facebook photo of his kid when you didn’t even know his girlfriend was pregnant. Because you live far from where you grew up, in a place where no one you knew could afford. Because if you hadn’t left you’d have gotten an invite to that friend’s wedding—but now it’s sorta expected that you wouldn’t come back these days. Because you just recognized the awkwardness each time you recommend logical solutions to the problems your girlfriends are discussing. And any time someone calls, it’s for a reason. You kinda want to avoid them, actually.
Remember simpler times.
Like when you swore you’d never pay a grand for rent. Like when you’d watch wrestling with your old high school buddy on Thursday nights and then ride to the diner where your other two high school buddies worked—and you knew every employee and regular. Like when you ate diner food, for that matter. Or when you thought you could work your way up into fashion from that retail job. Like when you used to sit on the back porch with neighbors as the sun set and the birds roosted and the bats stirred and the crickets chirped and the frogs croaked and the stars snuck up on you, and people said things like “snuck up” and “ goll durn!” and “jeetyet?” and you really did think it was pronounced “lightlin” and “liberry” and people loved you regardless of income or attire.
Unfairly resent privileged youth.
Remembering all these things, you seethe when you hear the newly-graduated hire complain about the effect of the rain on her new suede shoes during the walk to subway. When the student intern has an Audi TT and you just have your BMW (Bus, Metro, Walk). A lot of it isn’t that the young person is evil; it’s just that you feel they’ve an unfair advantage. Because your first job was for a janitorial company when you were 13—and their second job is as your manager. What’s more, they’re actually good at it.
Notice how rich people really live.
It certainly isn’t as flashy as you thought. I mean, you’ve definitely stepped into situations that were way beyond your pay grade, but on the whole they’re very savvy—at least the smart ones. You discover that you’d be embarrassed to be caught dead in your VPs dinged and dingy economy car.You had a ride like that in high school. And then you think about the car payments he’s saved. And the three companies he’s managed…
Obsess over your progress.
You realize how old your veteran COO is and start doing the math; can you match his trajectory? How many years was he in “upper middle class” before he went “mind-numbingly loaded”? You’re just getting used to middle class—wait, should you be getting used to middle class? What’s your trajectory? Now that you’ve gotten soft you can’t risk also losing momentum. Did you grow as much this year as last year? Last year was a pretty bad year; maybe you should look forward rather than back. Who are your new heroes? Should you have heroes? Mentors? You had inspirations previously, but they’ve little to offer you at this level. Maybe you need that subscription to Harvard Business Review after all.
To be better. To be happy. To acknowledge all your blessings, opportunities and benefactors as well as your fears and concerns. To build (rather than shrink) from comparisons and observations, and to address regression as well as regret. You determine not to desensitize yourself with happy hours and hollow hobbies but to maintain (as much as is possible) the things you grew up knowing: honesty, craftsmanship, good intent. Most importantly, you resolve to be open, hoping that it would inform and encourage others who find themselves in your situation someday—even if today is that day.
You’ve stopped being poor, after all; you can afford it.