Bullish: How Do You Improve Your Life When Friends and Family Tell You to “Be Realistic”?

lisa simpson this isnt your life

Jennifer Dziura writes career and life advice weekly on TheGloss. Here is an archive, and here is an archive of Bullish columns from our sister site TheGrindstone.

I’ve been reading your column and it’s honestly become a lifeline for me. I grew up being taught that income wasn’t something you could control or seek to increase, you just got what you were handed. Being a graduate, (Psychology), in this economy and walking into a dead-end job just compounded the problem, but reading your column has made me realise it’s not wrong but actually smart to think about where my money is coming from, and to cultivate multiple incomes. (I know it sounds obvious, but before that the only advice I’d ever heard on making money involved a lot of visualising and very little doing.)

My question is how do you begin building that life when everyone around you has a completely different set of beliefs? I love to write, so another long-held belief is that choosing that path means choosing poverty. My family and friends are sweet, but if I mention multiple income streams or freelancing they tell me I need to learn to compromise. I find this really patronising since I’ve supported myself for the last 8 years and I kept the dead-end, low income job for four of them in the name of paying my rent. I’m also having health issues at the moment that mean my youthful mojo isn’t where I’d like it to be, (I’m exhausted most of the time and get debilitating headaches from concentrating on even simple tasks.)

In the last month two of my older family members have passed away and a third has gone into assisted living care. I’m more aware than ever of the need to provide for my future self when she’s inevitably hit by a train and everyone she knows gets cancer, but I feel stumped since I’m my only support and my only experience is in maintaining a job I hate. Most of my friends’ money management consists of lowering costs on food and leisure and clothes and all the things that make life awesome rather than income increase. They think I’m being childish when I say I want the awesome.

How do you survive and even flourish when you’re a team of one with limited energy? How do you forge your way when no one around you can relate or guide you?

This question kind of killed me. In a good way — I’m glad you sent it. But goddamn, yes, I understand. I understand all of that.

In Bullish: Social Class in the Office, I mentioned a book called Limbo, about blue-collar kids struggling to adapt to the Ivy League and the white-collar working world. I recommend this book. You should check it out. I recognized in the book a lot of the attitudes I didn’t realize were causing me to shrink back, like a factory worker afraid of the boss-man.

You can be raised by very nice people — even very nice, very responsible people — and still be raised with totally self-defeating values about money, work, education, navigating institutions, and planning your life.

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    • Julia Sonenshein

      Spot on.

    • Sarah Morgan

      This is the best thing of any kind, that I’ve read in a long time. I’m so glad I found this.

    • Meg

      This reminds me of Dr. Meg Jay’s discussion on strong ties (closer relations, good friends, people you see often) and weak ties (friends of friends, distant colleague, etc.). She says we’re attracted to groups of people so similar to ourselves and we
      become so comfortable with them that they don’t stretch our minds and our abilities; it’s the
      weak ties who are so different from the people we see everyday that
      really make us grow and inspire us. She even gives the example of people growing complacent at work because everyone else is and it’s only when you see someone kicking ass at their own business/career that you realize how far you can go and it’s inspiring.

    • On a train to NYC

      The other day I told my parents that I had an interview in NYC and was thinking about moving to NY or Boston. Their response was “You can’t afford to live in NY!” Um, A) somehow about 9 million people are able to afford living in NY, and I’m pretty sure I’m at least as smart and capable as some of them, B) I’ve been unemployed for 9 months in my hometown- I can’t afford to stay!

    • http://www.the-loudmouth.com/ the-loudmouth.com

      Thank you.

    • Michelle Miller

      This is an incredible article. I wish Jen could track down the letter writer for an update!! I am so pulling for this young woman. Great advice at any age.

    • Erica

      Thank you for this article! This describes my life perfectly!