I don’t know if this its a symptom or a cause of a consumerist society, but in wealthy western countries, we spend a significant amount of time thinking about what we don’t have. We constantly compare ourselves to our peers to see if we’re meeting manufactured milestones that carry no weight in measuring our true success.
I was reading the comment section of an article yesterday when I stumbled into a young woman’s comment about how much of a loser she thinks she is. She said she felt worthless relative to her peers because of her perceived lack of success. Her primary reason cited for feeling like a loser is the fact that she still lived at home. At the ripe old age of, wait for it… 25. TWENTY-FIVE! That’s how old she is. And that’s why she feels like a loser. She went on to say that all her friends have nice apartments and she was the only one who lived with her parents.
Leaving the nest at a young age is a relatively recent American phenomenon. It is not uncommon for first generation immigrants to live at home until they are married. It also was not uncommon for it to be that way with American kids before going away for college became popular. In fact, if we go back even 100 years, I would say that multi-generational families were not uncommon either. So why is it that this thing that we started doing less than 50 years ago is now considered a deciding marker of success?
I’m not encouraging anyone to be 40 and still mooch off mom and dad. However, if you’re 3 years out of college, with no kids and no spouse, what’s wrong with going back home to get a temporary boost? 70% college student graduates with $29,000 in student loan debts and the average starting salary for new graduates is $45,000. I don’t think it makes anyone who wants to have food security and a roof over their head a “loser” when they’re in that financial situation. And we know what average means for the people in that group. It means that many new graduates have more debt and a lower starting salary than what’s listed here.
We spend so much time worrying about our perception of other people, at least the perception they want us to have, that we can’t see the forest for the trees. This young lady doesn’t know her friends’ financial situations. She sees the apartment she doesn’t have and assumes she’s a loser. Does she know how often her friend is left with $7 after paying rent? Does she know how much credit card debt that friend has? Does she know if that friend is able to save for retirement? When it comes to money, we see what they want us to see. We don’t see the reality. Often times, the reality is grim. Very grim. (More on that in a later post.)
Additionally, why isn’t she grateful that she even has parents who are able to give her a place to stay? Some people’s parents are so financially strapped that moving back home wouldn’t even be an option. She also didn’t complain about her relationships with her parents. Maybe that’s not what bothers her the most. Maybe she has a great relationship with them. We don’t know. But since she didn’t mention it, we’ll assume it’s fine. Why isn’t she grateful for that?
She didn’t say she was unemployed. What I gathered from her comment was that she was working but didn’t make enough; at least, not enough to move out. I empathize. But her fortunes are still greater than her problems.
She’s a college graduate (Bachelor’s Degree). That makes her more educated than 70% of the American population.
She has parents who can subsidize her.
She has a job.
She lives in the richest country in the world.
She’s not homeless and made no mention of food insecurity.
This is not intended to dismiss her problems. Rather, I am encouraging her and anyone who is in a similar situation to focus on their blessings rather than their misfortune. Your only focus on your problems should be how you’re going to solve them. Not how sad you are that you can’t live alone in an overpriced apartment filled with Ikea furniture.