You Need Help: You’re Not A Loser, Baby

Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.


Q:

I feel very shitty, Riese :/ I’m almost thirty and haven’t achieved huge success in my professional life as some of my friends of college, recently I found out that what I make monthly in my job is pretty much nothing compared to these friends I’m telling you and honestly I’m feeling really down… everyone seems to have it all sorted out and my babe and I are still struggling to make it until the end of the month without crying. It’s been a sad week, I feel like a loser.

A:

So there are two things going on here and first I’m gonna talk about why you shouldn’t, objectively, feel like a loser, and then I’m gonna talk about what to do about how you feel.

Part One: All We All Do Is Win and Lose

Girl, I could chat about how it feels to make a lot less money than your friends ALL DAY, and I’m well past 30! You definitely don’t need to have it all figured out by the time you turn 30. Very few people do, especially in your generation. Perhaps you’ve heard that “the thirties are the new twenties” and that the past ten years have been a “lost decade” wherein the recession dramatically stalled career and family development for so many “millennials.” Although the unemployment rate for all Americans 25 years and older is only 5.1%, it’s 7.2% for women between the ages of 25 and 34. The fact that you have a job at all makes you much luckier than many of your peers! Also please tell me you’re not comparing yourself to straight people, because those b*tches are always at least five years ahead of the rest of us on all counts: career, family, home ownership, all of it. I wish I had data to tell you why but for now you’ll just have to trust me.

What you’re experiencing, though, seems to be status anxiety (which’s killer these days because of Facebook, where everybody shares selective truths about their lives and are rarely honest about work ’cause our co-workers and employers can see everything we say). REAL TALK: very few humans are as happy and satisfied as you think they are. That’s just not how life works. I probably seemed like I was “living the dream” back when I was 28/29, simply because I had a girlfriend, lived in California, and was doing work I usually enjoyed. But I was also deeply in debt, working 80 hours a week for WAY less than minimum wage, rocking an obscenely high blood pressure for a twentysomething who exercises regularly, drinking like a fish, uninsured despite many chronic health problems and living with furniture I’d made out of cardboard boxes. The only thing that saved me from crippling status anxiety was that I never had time to speak to any of my friends in the first place, let alone keep tabs on their salaries.

But let’s say all your friends are truly as financially and professionally fortunate as you perceive them to be — that still doesn’t make you a loser. It just means you have a lot of extraordinarily lucky friends! They’re certainly not exempt from status anxiety, either, because there’ll always be somebody new to keep up with, a new set of expectations with every rung they reach on the ladder. I hear “money is tight right now” just as often from friends who make $25k a year as I do from friends who make $65k a year.

We’re all striving for something — and that’s actually totally okay. Our desire to make our lives better than they are is what puts us in a position to take risks, to try new things, and to be alive. Every day I’m working towards so many goals, and it’s frustrating at times — I still don’t have a baby and my baby-making years are ending soon, and Autostraddle still is on the brink of financial extinction more often than we’d like to admit. There are people who have all the things you want who are reading your question and thinking, “damn, I wish I had a girlfriend like this girl does.”

The journey is all.

Part Two: What To Do About It

What do you want? Like what do you actually want? Do you like your job, are you surviving on your income? This is shameful to admit because it’s SO f*cking selfish, but my anxiety about how poorly I was doing financially compared to a lot of my friends lessened significantly when the recession hit in 2008 and suddenly I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t afford to go out for drinks or secure a $20/hour temp job at a bank. If all your successful friends got pay cuts tomorrow, would you still feel bad about your own income? I mean, Alain de Botton is only kinda joking when he says that “the best way to feel successful is to choose friends who are just that little bit less successful than you.”

If you can’t survive on your present income or you’re unhappy with your job, though, then the best way to feel better would be to start looking for something new. I don’t know enough about you to know if this is even possible for you, but if it is, then get started on it. I think we get down on ourselves the most when we feel like we’re stuck in a bad spot and we don’t trust ourselves to do anything about it. Applying for new jobs, even if you don’t get them, will at least make you feel like you’ve done everything within your power to change your situation, and that is, by definition, empowering.

If progress stalls in that area, remember that not everybody in life gets a fulfilling or financially rewarding career! Some focus on fulfillment in other areas — family, friends, relationships, hobbies, athletics, volunteer work, scholarship. Pick something you like to do or something you care about and double down on it so you feel forward momentum in some area of your life. That could mean so many things: joining a rugby team, teaching yourself Women’s Studies, volunteering, learning a new language or instrument, reading all the books we’ve told you to read. Doing volunteer work might really really help your state of mind.

Speaking of reading, I highly suggest it. When I couldn’t even watch Law and Order anymore because I was so jealous that the detectives had jobs and I didn’t, when I couldn’t read Joan Didion without envying her fancy trappings, I buried myself in short stories by writers like Lorrie Moore and Mary Gatiskill about similarly confused young women and felt much less alone. Maybe read Self-Help or Birds of America!

If you’ve got no idea what you wanna do with your life yet, just throwing yourself full-force into exploring the possibilities is a perfectly normal place to be right now. Focus on keeping healthy so that you’ll have a nice long life with which to enjoy all the options available to you! Have you heard of this thing? I hear people like it.

FYI: Gloria Steinem was 38 years old when she launched Ms magazine. The guy who invented Coca-Cola was 55 when he invented Coca-Cola. Colonel Fucking Sanders was 65 when he built Kentucky Fried Chicken. Dorothy Allison published her first book at 42, Dr. Seuss at 46, Laura Ingalls Wilder in her mid-60s, Toni Morrison at 40, Julia Child at 49, David Sedaris at 38.

There are lesbians your age who don’t even know that they’re lesbians yet!

We all have these moments of jealousy, weakness and envy of friends we perceive to be more fortunate than us. I have a list of at least 20 internet writer people who I have unhealthy amounts of jealousy towards. But as my then-boyfriend told me in 2005, “jealousy is a useless emotion.” He was 31, by the way, and had been waiting tables at the same Greek restaurant for nearly a decade (that’s where we met). A few months later, he applied for the Police Academy and started life all over again. We broke up, obvs, because I was a criminal who wanted to date girls. Anyhow — now I am here giving you advice. Life is full of surprises!

You’ll be okay. You’re a winner, I’m sure of it.

Love

Riese

 


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Riese

Marie Lyn Bernard, aka Riese, is an award-winning writer, blogger, journalist, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in the midwest, lost her mind in New York City and is currently making it work in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better, The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image and The Hazards of Being Female," "Dirty Girls," and "The Best American Erotica of 2007," magazines including Nylon, Marie Claire, GO, Curve, Interlude, and CollegeBound, and all over the web including nerve.com, Jezebel, Queerty, Emily Books and OurChart (RIP). She was the recapper for The L Word Online and host of Showtime’s Lezberado and her personal blog has earned many dubious honors including Best Personal Blog 2008. Riese has spoken about blogging, community-building, feminism, cyberculture and sexuality at places like BlogHer, Yale, New York University, The University of Chicago and The Museum of Sex. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Interlochen Arts Academy and The Olive Garden's week-long training intensive; she enjoys eating foods, having big ideas, reading books & talking to her stuffed dog, Tinkerbell. Also, she's Jewish. Follow her smokin’ hot adventures on twitter. Contact: riese[at]autostraddle.com

Riese has written 2896 articles for us.

59 Comments

  1. “I think we get down on ourselves the most when we feel like we’re stuck in a bad spot and we don’t trust ourselves to do anything about it.”

    True fact!

    Thanks Riese! This is some really good advice, and if that reader needed to hear it, and I needed to hear it, I would wager there are bunch of other readers who need to hear it too. Anyway, thanks again.

  2. “There are people reading your question who have the things you want who are thinking, ‘damn, I wish I had a girlfriend like this girl does.'”

    Damn, I wasn’t even thinking about my lack of a girlfriend til this line. :(

    But this is all great advice! I hate being so far behind many of my college friends when it comes to money, but I love my job and understand there’s still so much life ahead of me. Now, off to go try out the Passion Planner…

  3. oh my gosh, i really needed to hear all of this, especially right now. i’m still a student and no one around me has money so it doesn’t bother me that i’m perpetually broke, but the feeling of success/lack of it is such a stupidly important thing to me. as an artist i’m constantly comparing myself – the first thing i do when looking up an artists work is look at their giant cv’s and instantly think of my accomplishments as nothing.

    as for jobs, i think i’m slowly realizing that no job will make me as happy as i want it to. i tried a couple different things, conventional and not, and it’s heartbreaking feeling like no matter what i’m doing, work will not be fullfilling. aside from commissions and shows (which of course do not pay the bills currently).

    i remember a couple years ago i was crying to my then girlfriend about my unemployment and blurted out “i can’t even watch the office because i’m too jealous of their jobs!”

  4. Ugh, the timing of this is seriously great for me. Granted, I’m a few years younger that the person who sent you that message, but it seems like all of my friends have their shit 100% together and I’m over here like “what’s up I still live with my parents and eat ramen twice a day lol holler.”

    Like, my friends are all wearing slacks and taking conference calls and throwing DINNER PARTIES where they serve WINE and I’m still at community college and serving froyo to gross trust fund hipster kids.

    It’s taken me six years to get a two year degree. Who does that even?! Me. I do that. I’m doing that. But then, like, I have to remind myself that motherfuckers tried so hard to tell me I wouldn’t even get THIS far in my life, you know?

    Like, I graduated from high school with a 1.7 GPA and my social worker straight up told me to prepare to work at McDonald’s for the rest of my life. Literally everyone gave up on me. Except for me I guess, because now I’m at college – a shitty little community college, sure, but my GPA is a solid 3.5 and I got straight A’s for the first time ever in my life last semester and YES I’m going to continue bragging about that because who the fuck saw that coming?!? NO ONE.

    And so yeah sometimes I feel like a fucking loser and I feel soooo fucking embarrassed when I meet someone and they ask me what I do for a living or ask me about my living situation or whatever. But then I remember what a badass fucking underdog I really am and I feel much, much less loser-ish. And things like this thing you just wrote here really really help.

    So yeah, thanks Riese. You’re my fave 5ever.

    • I just made an account RIGHT NOW to reply to your comment. It took me SIX years to finish at community college. SIX YEARS. But last spring, I graduated, and let me tell you, that was the proudest moment of my life. All those shitty jobs to work, the naysayers including my own parents. Now I’m at a 4 year school on track to finish in less than 2 years. I now look back and am so proud of myself for continuing to go, to keep it up when everyone discredited me. I learned so much not just in the class, but about myself. You’ve learned so much. And no one can take that away. Hell yeah we’re bad ass underdogs, no one saw us coming. :)

  5. There’s so much truth in this. I’m in my mid-twenties and two years ago I thought I had finally figured out what I wanted to do in my professional life, but I’ve come to realize that I really want to do something totally different, which means giving up on everything I’ve been working for and starting over AGAIN when I already felt wayyy behind my peers in career/finances/relationships/everything. And it seems like every day, another straight/cis friend is announcing his/her wedding engagement or promotion or whatever. GAH.

    So I’ma print this article out and post it beside my desk. Mille grazie, Riese. Sending jealousy-whacking, motivational, self-confidence-inducing vibes to you and to the person who asked for advice and to everyone else who feels this as hard as I do.

  6. Sometimes I find posts on here that help me more than anything else in life. (OK more often than sometimes. 90% of the time) Up until a few months ago, I thought I always wanted to work in the hospital as a nurse. But then a lot of people at work started talking about things and opportunities as a nurse and sometimes I think about ‘what if’ and still not sure if it’s what I want. It’s like if I don’t jump on that opportunity RIGHT NOW I’ll miss it and later on I will be too old or obligated with other things I won’t be able to do it. I consider myself too blessed whenever I bring up these thoughts with my wife because she tells me that because we’ll be spending quite a bit next year to get her here, I should wait and see until she is physically here and has a stable job so we don’t have a problem with income.

    And that thing about your colleagues and friends who always seem to have more success of some sort. Sometimes I feel the pressure from other people when they tell me they have secured a house, new car, having children, always on vacation of some sort etc. Meanwhile, I’m still here at my parents at 25y.o but I always tell myself it’s for a good cause because my loving parents think that it’s more important to save my money rather than spend for rent. (MY PARENTS ARE REALLY NICE PEOPLE AND MOM STILL PACKS MY LUNCH)

    • My sisters are both still with my parents (ain’t nobody can afford to live solo in California!) and I 10000% endorse staying with your parents when the relationship is good. Benefits for everyone!

    • Nursing is a pretty awesome job because there are so many environments to work in and so many specialties (I’m an OR nurse, current civilian and former military). But the education is seriously draining- lots of clinical time, and it will be really challenging if you aren’t sure it’s for you. As far as the financial side goes, a number of hospitals will fund nursing education for their employees, which helps a lot!

      • How cool! You and my wife are OR nurses. Its an area I could probably never do.

        That is very very true. Nursing school isnt for everyone..you do kind of shun your social life to the side. Im surprised i even managed nursing school given my drinking memories. Haha. But I know its a very stable profession because healthcare isnt something that just goes away you know?

        Where I work now they offer education but its based on seniority so im thinking of still sticking with it.

    • I’m also part of the 25yo-living-with-parents club! It’s the only rational option for me at the moment, but my brain still tries to make me feel bad about it. Sometimes it succeeds. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’m just really grateful to have such awesome parents.

  7. “We broke up, obvs, because I was a criminal who wanted to date girls.”
    This is how I’d like to describe every time I broke up with a boy. Actually, I think I want “Criminal who wants to date girls” business cards to give conservative relatives

  8. oh riese, i love you. the whole second half of your statement REALLY spoke to me. I’m 33 and still have no idea if i am gay or not, not sure i love my job anymore (toddlers are draining my soul), barely make enough to live alone (which i know is a luxury), and don’t know what i want to be when i am grown up, which is now. UGH, LIFE. And yet, day by day all i do is sit on the couch, watch mindless tv and pet the cat. Sigh. This is a wonderful read, but i can already tell you my mind is so mired in the “can’t do this” mentality, that i felt empowered for about a half a second. Back to regular life it is.

  9. I had an 18-month stretch of unemployment that ended this year, and these are the kinds of things I was repeating to myself on a regular basis. I really wanted to hear them from other people, just to know I wasn’t just giving myself false hope.

    I got lucky, and now I have the privilege of struggling with impostor syndrome. It’s mostly under control. Mostly.

    • Yup, I also live in imposter syndrome land. And not just professionally – I keep waiting for my friends to realize I’m not the awesome person they think I am…

      My brother came up with an ingenious way to fight it. “If these people are all so much better than me and they think I’m great, they must be right and I must be wrong because I’m such a piece of shit!” ;D

    • I feel an Imposter Syndrome’s Anonymous Support Group is needed.
      Where we can all do our day and night jobs safely and ?competently? and then go to the Anonymous Support Group with a mask over our faces so no one knows who they are talking to, and all sorts of shame and integrity are preserved and remain confidential, but we talk and share and have cups of tea, hugs and commiserate and celebrate our fraudulence, compare our acting school majors and minors, and achievements in faking it until we make it. You are not alone.

  10. Thanks for this. My gf is doing so well and we’ve only been out of undergrad for a year. I mean I know I’m lucky to be in graduate school but I’m so tried of volunteer work and unpaid internships. I feel like I made responsible choices but there just isn’t work. It’ll another two years before I can even hope at gaining financial independence.

    And yea all the straights are getting married and having babies. I wanna marry my girlfriend but I’m like baby I wanna be able to offer you something first.

  11. The part about sometimes your job isn’t super fulfilling is so true! I spent so many years doing what I’m passionate about- working with disadvantaged kids- but not advancing in a career or making enough money to live on. Now I’m working in a job that is 100% not my passion- but I get paid a ton more and have job security- and I volunteer with kids that I really care about on the weekends. So yeah- sometimes you have to look elsewhere for fulfillment if you need to pay the bills.

  12. Yes. This is relevant to my life. Because a ton of my friends are 10-15 years older than me. Of course their lives are more put together than mine! Of course they have real full-time adult jobs and have serious relationships and even children! They have had at least 10 years more time to get to that point!

    But at the same time, I’m looking at “well, the likelihood of living out of my car in 7 months is really, really high.” And on one hand, I don’t really care. I did it for a month this summer and it was actually pretty fantastic. On the other hand, it feels a bit awkward to explain to people that yes, I will have a very expensive bachelor’s degree in a field I love and instead of using it, my life plan is to be homeless and not get a job in said field. (I mean, if I do get one of the jobs I’m hoping to I’ll be living in Ecuador or Chile for 6 months of the year doing the thing I love most in the world so really if things work out I will have zero complaints. I’ll be super broke and that isn’t ideal, but sacrifices.)

  13. Sometimes you just need a cheesy country song to spell it out for you:

    “I will stumble, I will crawl, bang my head against these walls, in the end I won’t have it all, but I’ll stand tall.”

    Priorities shift and goals are moving targets, but if vacations and bank accounts are what kept us standing tall, I never would have made it out of single motherhood in one piece, let alone upright. After reading your post, it sounds like you and your babe can do that and then some. You’re working hard and the struggle is real but you’re helping to hold each other up. That’s a special sort of success, too. Love and luck to you both!

  14. I’ve recently made the choice to STOP having the “professional” well paying job with fancy nice work clothes, because it made me miserable.

    Now I’m back to being a loser, and kind of feeling shitty about it. Thank you for this very well timed, wonderful advice! So much of what I needed to hear.

  15. I’m sliding into 32, wildly underemployed (and I feel it even harder because I’ve had internships in the place I “deserve” to be employed, ahahah entitlement, and I’ve never gotten a full-time offer out of anything), and painfully single with maybe one actual not-straight female friend. I ALSO NEEDED THIS. Ugh. Let’s all hold each other very tightly.

  16. THANK YOU so much for this. I’m in grad school in a field I’m not even sure I want to be in, totally drowning in anxiety at the moment, while a bunch of my college friends are having real jobs and lives and can do things like rent their own apartments and act like grownups. And the impostor syndrome is a pretty much daily occurrence whenever I’m in class/at a meeting for the scholarship organization/basically doing anything school-related. Some days I feel like I’ll never make it through this year. It helps just to know that other people are struggling with the same things, and that I still have time to figure it all out.

  17. To the person who wrote to Riese, dont feel bad okay? Remember that theres a lot of here with just about the same problem or situation andwe are here for you. Thats what I have come to love about this place. No haters. <3

  18. I love this and needed to hear it so so much, many thanks, Riese.

    I perpetually feel like I’m playing dress-up in my business professional clothes and any day now they’re going to find out I don’t really know how to adult.

  19. From the “it gets better” side of the fence:
    At 30, I was struggling with a lot of mental health issues. I didn’t have the terminal graduate degree I was “supposed to” have by 30. Didn’t have any kids and my life plan said I “should” by then. Didn’t have a real job. Felt like a big loser/failure in many ways.

    At 36, I am pretty happy and stable (that for me is huge and there were times I thought I never would be). I have 2 kids I love. I left the grad program I was in ABD, which wound up being the best move for me, and have been really happy for the past few years in a job I didn’t plan on doing but that most days I really enjoy and find meaning in.

    For me, the 30’s have been so much better than the 20’s, during which I really struggled. Try not to worry about the “supposed to’s” or anyone else’s timeline.
    Keep plugging away. And if sadness/crying are happening more than they should (or even if not, hey what can it hurt), therapy can really help.

  20. I constantly feel inadequate about every factor of my life but then I go for a walk on the beach and other people’s dogs choose to hang out with me because I am great at throwing sticks and giving unlimited pats and the owners literally have to drag them away as I quietly whistle them back.

    I forgot what my train of thought was because I just went to the doctor to get a refill on my depression meds and he told me that I should think about losing weight even though my depression “probably makes me not want to”.

    what a jerkkkkkk
    I need to go find a dog to pat

  21. I have ridiculously successful friends (who are that way, I have to remind myself, in large part because of a hefty amount of privilege, because I went to a college where privilege abounds) and every time I start comparing myself to them and feeling like a fuckup, I force myself to stop and ask, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” Sometimes the answer is “eat three chocolate chip muffins and watch Say Yes to the Dress in my underwear all day,” but sometimes it’s “send out five cover letters” or even just “update my resume.” It is hard to feel like you’re surrounded by people who are doing all the things they seem to want to be doing, but who knows what they really want? All you know is what you want to be doing (even if only vaguely) and only you can push yourself in that direction. Just start with a nudge.

  22. I love you, Riese. I hate how financial stress can make us feel worthless as humans. Grrrrr….The comparisons to friends can be deadly. I’ve made a number of changes to make this less painful (no more Facebook, no more pretending I can afford my rich friends’ lifestyle). Hanging out with people who are also following their own path on their own weird timeline is really heartening.

    And thank you for this: “Also please tell me you’re not comparing yourself to straight people, because those b*tches are always at least five years ahead of the rest of us on all counts: career, family, home ownership, all of it.” They really are!!!! It’s annoying! But they have their own burdens to bear (such as incurable heterosexuality).

  23. Wow, Riese. Thank you for this. In a dramatic reversal of roles Carrie actually e-mailed this post to me and said “you should read this NOW!” and in a less-dramatic/predictable return to our usual roles she was right. And you are perfect and really just have the best words for everything ever.

  24. old post but whatevs
    The great thing about getting into the uh..realm of thirty is.. it’s not so easy to just blame your dysfunction or whatever on your parents. And when you see what sitting on your ass hoping for the best even though you’re operating way below capacity (if that’s your issue, it IS mine)gets you, it becomes a lot easier to just do what you need to do as an adult. Its a special time, a sweet spot, You’re young enough that it’s kind of okay that you don’t have it together BUT you have (functional friends to envy) the looming spectre of forty to light a fire under your ass, and keep it lit.

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