For most of my adult life, I’ve survived on poverty wages.
That’s pretty much all I could get. Most of the best-paying unskilled jobs required a personality type I just don’t have: namely that of an extroverted sales associate who can convince people to buy more junk they don’t need.
I thought I could deal with poverty though. I thought it might be better for me to be poor, that it might help me become a purer person. Instead what I found is that poverty in a culture where charity can no longer meet demands is almost impossible to keep up for very long before it destroys you and leaves you all alone with only your wits to save you.
I’ve decided that there’s no shame in allowing myself some luxury if the chance comes in this life. I don’t want to be a conspicuous consumer but I don’t want to make do with crappy homes and cars any more. I want to be able to afford something smart but not ostentatious, like a country house on 3 acres or so outside of town, a top-of-the-line Ford (they park themselves!), and a few indulgences like my own library and mini nature preserve. I want to live like medieval yeomanry, understated but not spartan and with just enough land to support me indefinitely on its resources.
But I also don’t want to lose my morals, or forget how hard I’ve had to struggle and how lost I’d be if no one at all had helped me. This is what I’m most afraid of if I begin actively trying to move up the ladder: that I’ll lose my humanity in the process. I don’t want to become a suburban pharisee, the kind that can afford to tip their pizza delivery driver but won’t (I know the type; I used to work delivery). I want to get myself a nice place but I want to do it my way and actually try being nice to people, and generous when they do something for me. It’s stinginess and arrogance I can’t stand among those who can afford to be more generous.
My values are old-fashioned. I want to believe I can have it made in life and still be generous and benevolent, like someone who never completely let go of Victorian ideas of benevolent paternalism. But I have to admit, I’ve never actively tried to succeed in life while doing something I love and staying true to my morals; that’s something I was taught I might have to compromise on. Now that I see a possible path to Cambridge or Oxford as my BA program draws to a close with 3.66 GPA and a likely endorsement from any professor who’s really worked with me, I have to start thinking about how I’m going to conduct myself when I can get better jobs based on a sterling academic record. For me after living on less than $10,000 a year for so long, a modest sum like $40,000 a year is a lot of money and I feel I could transform my life with that much income, student loans be damned.
I’m ready to give it a try. I’m much more fortunate in this life and it’s time I started living like it.