I Grew Up Poor, But I Act Like I’m Rich To Feel Accepted


­Call me privileged, sure. I go to one of “best universities in the world”, something I’m reminded of constantly especially when I leave the bubble of my college campus. I go to a school rich with social justice history, where being low-income has become a sense of pride and entitlement for those who were lucky enough to be handed admissions.

Once in a while I try to pull the “low-income” card (which I really am). However, there’s something unsound when I try to validate my socioeconomic status while flaunting my $140 chukkas just because I felt like casually wearing it that day. I enjoy a lifestyle I cannot sustain. I know this much about myself. I make careless spending choices, sure. That doesn’t mean I should feel guilty for enjoying these “luxuries”, have people privilege-shame me and assume that I come from a wealthy, upper-middle class family. Cue “Royals” please, and can someone pour me a glass of chardonnay?

Only now have I been owning up to this guilt-free, albeit financially contradictory, lifestyle choice and taste. When I started off college, I was one of those pre-med students that wanted to save the world. I loved the idea of partaking in global health, helping the global south raise money for more medicinal access, etc. Like many of my peers, I had a huge savior complex. I felt that it was okay, because I was taught that doing good, though it may not necessarily be sustainable, is still doing good, and that somewhere down the line I would be praised for my “altruism”. It was all a bunch of crap.

Growing up low-income, why in the world would I be setting myself up for a life of perpetual guilt, disappointment, and low-pay in exchange for exorbitant amounts of hours only to reap rewards generations later?

I put in countless hours on trying to follow the standards set upon other pre-med students, that we should all strive to research/volunteer abroad to help those less fortunate than us. That in itself, is inherently problematic thinking that me, a suburban-raised male undergrad from California has any actual agency to create a real impacting change. And change for who exactly? Most of us thinks it’s for the poor, but ultimately, it will certainly be for the rich. I honestly don’t think I’m being as pessimistic as I am being real.

I took countless classes on development, ranging from global poverty (there goes that “global” word again), to the economic development of the global south. All of which told me the following: that no matter what I choose to do, no matter what type of agency I want when deciding to help “change the world”, it would inherently negatively affect those who are less fortunate in the long run. It’s like constantly putting band-aids on a scar that always bleeds and never heals. Well, that’s great. There I was sitting in a stuffy lecture hall, thinking that I’m really setting myself up for a life filled with guilt and non-profits that, quite frankly, would not be able to sustain the lifestyle I would want for myself.

I think our generation has trouble owning up to their true desires. Often, wanting “too much” is looked down upon, typically defined by the standards of those who themselves are facing the same identity crisis. “Oh, I want to live in the city and buy a car. I want to travel. But I also want to work for non-profits all my life. What to do.. what to do…”. Newsflash, you can’t sustain a 21st century (and skewed) urban lifestyle without money. If you’re fortunate enough to have parents that give you a helping hand, great. For most of us, we’re not too keen with the idea with compromising a safe neighborhood for cheaper rent… or god forbid living at home in a suburb without a car (this is a problem I think only us 20-somethings can understand).

So now, I’ve accepted the fact that in order to sustain the lifestyle I want, I’m going to have to own up to my selfishness, and take on a job that would ultimately benefit some people while pushing away others. It’s not that I don’t value the work that my social justice oriented peers are doing. We need people like them in the world to bring up the human morale of social good. Simply put, it’s just not for me, at least not right now, most likely never.

While I’m in my twenties, I want to pretend I have money, and then actually make money, and enough of it so I can pay off my debts while enjoying the best Napa Valley wine with my friends in San Francisco every week. I’ve strayed away from the world of ambitious global health and feeling guilty about not doing “enough” to help low-income countries, and into the world of champagne glasses, happy hours, brunch marathoning, and overpriced oxford shirts.

I’m a happier person for it. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Emmanuel is moving to New York City. He likes to think, write, and design. Follow him @emmanuelcoloma.

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