I was trying to find an honest account of what it’s really like when you are working/living/spending time around a lot of people who are much richer than you. Apparently, I love this situation. I dealt with it in college, and find myself in the same situation again at my job. My superiors and coworkers and even those in lower positions seem to have all come from money, made large sums of money in other business, or have significant others with large sums of money. Nothing wrong with that, it just doesn’t match my own economic situation, where I feel I am just barely making it, although we are able to do some of the things we want (like travel and host our wedding). But I love my job and think everyone I work with is smart and driven, and great to work with. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t notice the gaping differences between our socioeconomic statuses and I don’t think others notice it as acutely as I do. These are just a few observations I have made over the years:
You Have to Work Harder than People Who Are Born Into It.
Yes, it’s true. If you don’t come from money, you will work harder. Ever since starting in my career, I have learned to always double- and triple-check my work. When I provide analysis, I make sure all of my assumptions are backed up and I anticipate follow-up questions and prepare my answers for those as well. I always review anything I do for any legal and ethical implications. I dress well. I keep my desk spotless. I never, ever say anything even slightly rude or divisive on email. I can’t afford to make careless mistakes and be let go. That doesn’t mean your better off friends are going around doing crappy work while you are always outshining them. But let’s just say if they got a DUI, it wouldn’t be the end of the world for them, just a “sobering lesson learned”. But if you got a DUI? Oh boy, that’s not gonna look very good. Your mistakes look worse. Your bad decisions seem to resonate a lot longer.
People Will Make Comments that Will Strike You as Ridiculously Pompous Later.
Maybe I go out of my way not to be pompous or pretentious, but too much talk of country clubs and lavish vacations starts to grate on you after a while. I remember a conversation where the other party mentioned some hotel and I said, “Where is that?” to which he replied, “Oh you’ve never been to Monaco? Really?”. It’s true. This humble blogger is just one more loser who hasn’t been to Monaco. The horror! I think I am pretty well-traveled for someone without a ton of wealth, but I don’t travel just for the sake of showing off about it. It strikes me as obligatory for people of a certain segment of society to need to do similar activities- like Ski Week in February at an expensive resort town, certain wineries, certain sports for their kids. These are generalizations, but you’ll see them come up more often than not when you hang around long enough, and you’ll start to connect the dots of a certain “Preppy Handbook” kind of lifestyle.
They Will Think You Have a Chip on Your Shoulder if You Mention Any of this Aloud.
Let’s take for example wedding costs. A lot of upper middle class and even middle class families contribute to their children’s wedding costs. That’s great for them, but in our case, we are not getting much (maybe a few hundred bucks from each family) to help pay for our wedding. It’s probably better this way. I actually dread asking anyone for anything, even parents, and I know that they don’t have it, so why make everyone uncomfortable? When it’s all said and done, I know we will be happy and proud to have taken care of this wedding by ourselves. But when I said that to a coworker, and mentioned this reasoning, it felt totally awkward! Their families had footed the bill for a 300+ person wedding and he probably didn’t pay for anything besides the rings. Our worlds are totally different. The thought of someone having to pay for their own wedding doesn’t come up often in their world. They regularly attend weddings that make the New York Times wedding announcements. But if I were to point any of that out, it would feel totally obnoxious on my end, as if I need to make them feel bad about their success. So I try not to bring it up and we all live with a little bit of class tension.
You’ll Just Have to Get Over It If You Want to be Happy and Live Your Own Life.
I learned long ago to stop comparing my life to others, but it’s also time to be less sensitive about what other people say. Rich people are going to continue to display their wealth and sometimes give little thought to how it might be perceived. There will be many, many people who start with bigger advantages, stronger networks and safety nets so large I would probably retire with their “safety net”. If I sat around and resented them, I would never get anything done. So sure, I can chuckle to myself when I hear a good humblebrag (“I couldn’t believe how sloppy the slopes were in Aspen this week!”) and I can promise to always stay humble, never be too snobby to enjoy a good street taco and never need to rely on someone else’s money. We each build our own life. I value not being part of any status quo, even that of the wealthy and elite. To be able to question things and think critically about the reality closest to me means I’ll probably always carry some of my outsider status, and that suits me just fine.
(This post is part of our MOST READ series, which preserves posts from the Tiny Apartment Design archives. Credit and copyright goes to original author.)