You Were Born into an Arbitrary Set of Circumstances
You had no say in what shapes your core being: ancestry, colour, race, gender, ethnic origin, place of origin, sexual orientation, family status, and to some extent, creed.
I am a queer, Chinese millennial woman who was raised in the suburbs of Toronto. I went to a private school. A corvette and a convertible sat in the driveway. My father was an entrepreneur. My mother worked her way up in the advertising industry. My grandparents lived with me until I was about 14 years old. My immigrant family hustled their way into an upper-middle class lifestyle. I didn’t deserve anything that I had. Life just rolled the dice and I ended up being raised in these circumstances. When I was 17, I tasted my first bite of freedom — moving to another city to attend university, approximately five hours away from Toronto.
It was there that I discovered my own skills and interests, and grappled with interacting with people who were brought up in totally different environments.
And you know what happened during my first year? I was bullied. Terribly. Mostly by the girls who lived on the same floor in my residence. There were multiple days where I called my mother crying, asking her why this was happening to me. There were rumours going around that I was queer (I hadn’t come out yet) and that I thought I was better than everyone else (since I attended a private school). I had such a horrible time that I transferred universities after my first year and ended up at McGill University, which ended up fostering my skills and interests.
The difficulty that I had at McGill is that I entered a whole new level of privilege. I remember one of my first undergrad classes — Introduction to Western European Politics — and my professor decided to play a warm-up game before the lecture. She would place a picture on the screen of a notable European politician and we had to guess out loud who that person was. Within a matter of seconds, someone would shout out the correct name. The class had about 20 students and, as I soon discovered, more than half were children of diplomats.
I share this story because in some ways, I was teased for things beyond my control. I was bullied for having a background that was, in relation, much wealthier than most of the girls that I was living with in my first-year residence. And then I changed schools and was on the bottom-rung in comparison to my peers. Most of which were from “old money” and were predominantly White.
Being Born into Wealth Doesn’t Guarantee Future Wealth
After graduating from McGill, I took a year off to travel, party and work minimum-wage jobs. During that time, I applied for law school because I had a degree in political science, potentially wanted to get into politics one day, and “thought it would be something I would be good at.” I landed myself into another privileged environment and $50,000 of debt. I landed a great job after law school that came with a comfortable paycheque.
And I spent as much as I earned.
I went to Starbucks at least once a day.
I bought my lunch at least twice a week.
I ate at restaurants whenever I wanted.
If I went to a concert or the theatre I would have to purchase the better seats. I had no idea how to save money.
Suffice it to say, I lacked financial discipline. I saw that everyone else around me was living this way, and used that as an excuse to jump on the “keeping up with the Joneses” bandwagon.
I acted rich and had zero wealth.
And this was something completely in my control.
Self-awareness is Learning from Both
Self-awareness boils down to this: determining what you cannot change and understanding what is under your control.
The things that we cannot change matter. In fact, they are the leading determinants of where we fall with respect to class, job prospects, and social and economic mobility. This can be combatted through economic policies that redistribute wealth.
What’s within our control are our beliefs, habits and lifestyle. When any of these no longer serve us, we can always change them (through work, of course). For example, living a frugal lifestyle is one of the most effective tools to accumulate wealth — regardless of income.
Understanding the difference between the two is vital. Yes, it will enable you to become better with your own finances, but it will also give you a deeper understanding of the economic system that your money filters through.
Understand your money. Appreciate your privilege. Promote a more just and equitable economic system for all.
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this story, you should check out www.jenonmoney.com where I write about personal finance, progressive economics, going against the grain, and tons more. — Jen