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