When I take stock, I realize I'm nothing
June 19, 2010 6:15 AM   Subscribe

I feel out of place when I'm where I have to be. Help me feel less worse and get a grip on reality.

I went to two name brand universities for my bachelor's and master's degrees. No matter how hard I tried, and despite a plus 3.5 GPA, I couldn't land one of those management consulting jobs they have for liberal arts college students that some of my friends landed. After puttering around for ten years post-BA/MA and a lot of soul-searching and analysis of my interests and work habits, I've decided to try to gain admission into pharmacy school. My science credits aren't good anymore (it's been more than 5 years since I graduated), so I have to retake them, according to my state's pharmacy school. I don't have any debt (no loans or credit card debt or anything), but I've been so poorly paid during the past ten years that all I can afford is the local community college for prerequisites. Which isn't a problem for the admissions committee, but suddenly poses a some kind of emotional/psychological problem for me that I hadn't anticipated.

I was raised working class but went to school with people whose parents were really well off and sent to to prestigious schools, camps, trips, etc. It was fairly pretentious, where everyone loved you if you went to Ivy League schools or the top liberal arts colleges. The parents financed the kids' dithering around NYC after graduation and eventually, degrees in something practical when their artistic desires didn't pan out. One friend who did a Master's in Russian Literature at NYU after college decided to go to the Goucher College premed postbac program after a few years of working, courtesy of her parents. Another friend married a guy who paid off her graduate school debt in one fell swoop and she quit her extremely well paid analyst job to have kids. They have a beautiful house and take amazing vacations.

I know I'm working class, but I never really felt working class. I had a friend refer to me as "low income" (which I'm not -- I don't make that much but I'm single, childfree, I can afford rent, and I'm not in debt and I'm able to save, and I don't qualify for welfare).

I'm jealous, and I'm ashamed of being jealous. I should be proud of myself and have higher self-esteem. If I could just accept who I am instead of daydreaming about what I wish I had, and pretending I'm too good for something when I know I'm not, then I could stop feeling like a loser. I know that when I was little, I was really influenced by television and books and by my friends and their families, rather than my own family (my parents had to work alot and were tired when they got home, so there was very little contact or ability to absorb philosophy, and I'm sorry I ever had them pay my tuition to fancy colleges with their hard earned money, which is why I wouldn't ask them for money or help ever).

I also don't want to be the person who complains about how much I have to work and how easy other people have it, and make myself feel better that way. Additionally, I'm living in a place I hate (DC/MD area -- I'd started running out of money towards the end of grad school and took the first job that came my way and changed jobs based on really small rises in pay and perceived stability).

I want to move, but it takes forever to get residency anywhere else and I feel like if I did, I'd be alone and end up homeless or dead or even worse off than I am now. I don't know anyone in the places I'd like to live and I'm generally afraid of strangers now, so I can't make new friends. I have a longtime boyfriend here too (who supports my plans, but thinks all I need to hear is positive statements to feel better), and friends (who are typically too busy to see me but it's not easy making friends with normal people -- everybody already has their friends). I'd love to move to Hawaii or NM, but everybody would love to do that, so I try to be realistic about that and tell myself I have to stay where I can save the most money (here, in ugly, depressing, pretentious yet crappy, low rent, horrible MD) and have some semblance of a personal life (boyfriend and friends), rather than being totally alone and depressed somewhere else.

How do I get a grip on who I am, stop wishing for what can't be, and build real self esteem that isn't based on what schools I'm going to or what career I'm going into (my fancy friends wrinkle their noses at my mention of pharmacy school and suggest I try to go to medical school and attend some expensive postbac program at Georgetown for $1K a credit. I realize that they're just uninformed, but it's irritating and at the same time, makes me feel bad), where I live, or what anyone else might think? I know I'm doing the very best that I can and I should be proud that I'm paying for my own schooling and making all the right decisions for myself, but I just feel so small and alone and scared. At the least, I just want to feel better about leaving my job and going to community college.
posted by anonymous to Education (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you just need better friends? To me the problem sounds less financial and educational and more that you are depressed. Which is understandable....look, the unfortunate reality is that the difference between you and your school acquaintances is their family/friend connections. I know folks who got amazing jobs after college and after liberal arts degrees because somebody knew somebody knew their dad or something. It wasn't that they were necessarily smarter or more talented, etc. than anyone else.

What you need to decide for yourself is what YOU want to do. If it is indeed pharmacy school, great! Go do what you need to do that. And quit hanging around with people who make you feel bad about what it takes to do it.

(And it wouldn't hurt for you to be screened for some depression while you are at it. But you are NOT a nothing, you have accomplished things that not everybody has, and unlike some, ahem, you are earning it.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:42 AM on June 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

You're pursuing something you want to do even though it will be difficult, and that's awesome. Your friends are being dicks when they should be supportive and encouraging. Don't let that, or stupid societal labels like "working class" affect your ambition and motivation. That's wasting energy you should be putting towards your goal, which is a solid one.

Keep in mind that everyone has insecurities and feels envious of the people around them. Your friend who married the guy who paid off her loans and quit her job? Probably envies women who still work. The friend with the Russian lit degree? Might feel guilty that her parents paid her way through life. We all compare ourselves to others and find ways to come up short, but the most important thing is following your passion and doing some good in the world. If you're doing that, the labels and other bull shit don't really matter.
posted by tetralix at 6:46 AM on June 19, 2010

Well since you've implied that positive statements don't make you feel much better, I won't try to think of any.

There's two kinds of "losing" here: one, that you haven't succeeded in creating the kind of life your 'friends' have in spite of going to the same colleges as them and scoring high GPA; and the other: that you feel you've already lost a lot of time (and your parents' money) trying to do things based on what other people might think and that isn't working out for you, self-esteem wise.

Do you see the contradiction?

It's difficult to look the past in the eye when it feels like a waste. But how could you have gotten to this point -- realizing that you want to be your own person and not some vague sum of what other people think you are or should be - realizing that this career or this place is not for you - posting this question on Metafilter seeking help - and all the things you do every day taking responsibility for your own life and trying to make it good -- without living through every minute of it? Without trying what you thought, and what you were repeatedly told, was the right path? This is your path. This is the journey you've made. You have to own it. Fucking embrace it, it's the only one you've got!

IMO the biggest part of a struggle like that is to accept what you have done and the choices you have made. Feeling like a loser is such a vicious circle (it's like breaking up with yourself but having to stay with yourself nonetheless, augh!) and in fact that sentiment is the only thing that is a waste of your time. Because it's all in your head. (There's a video infini just posted on the blue - check it out.)

So first, get out of your own head. Get out, stop hanging out with these friends who probably don't mean harm but nonetheless make you feel like crap, and get involved in something other than yourself. If strangers make you uncomfortable, find a non-threatening situation. Rescue a puppy. Tutor a kid. Use the skills you bought at your name-brand college and share them for free. Take money out of the equation. Don't tell your friends about it.

Discover that you can put your own value on things, no matter what they cost or are worth to others.

I can say with some conviction that this will help you break out of that vicious circle. And after that, hopefully, you can start examining your past choices and experiences - not confrontationally, not judgmentally, but with some sense of ownership and acceptance - to figure out what, in your life, truly means something to you. What has made you happy in the past. What has made you feel good about yourself. A good therapist can also help you do this, and to trust what you think.

And as for community college - just go. You'll see that you are not too good for it (them's people too), and you'll be grateful that it's not too good (ie, expensive and filled with entitled kids) for you. It's just where you are, what you want to study and what you can afford. No one says you have to go. In fact, people are saying you shouldn't go. This is your choice, so how can it be a defeat?

Good luck. :)
posted by mondaygreens at 7:29 AM on June 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Friendships change over time. It may be that you're reaching a point in your life where your old friendships are not as good for you as they used to be. What suggests this to me is not just the class-based cluelessness about costs and money, but that you're jealous and/or envious of their money. A good friendship will have rough patches, but good friends don't make you feel like crap and it sounds like that's what's happening ("low income" and the idea that you have to conform to their social choices to manage your career).

Pharmacy school will provide you with new peers, including some like you who are returning students. Try to expand your social circle with some of those folks--invite them to study groups that have a social component--and maybe some of the jealousy will fade.

Another thought is to speak honestly about money and debt with one of your closer well-off friends. There have been a lot of discussions recently on the blue about taking on academic debt and how badly it works out for lawyers, PhD scientists, and so on. There's nothing wrong with answering the suggestion that you go to Georgetown with "that's such an expensive program; even if I enjoyed the field, it would be so much debt I'd never pay it off" and go from there into a discussion of the value of academic credentials and debt. Your friendships may be better off for the honesty and you may find out some things about your friends that surprise you.

Good luck. You sound like you have the career side well in hand, but changes to your social life are always nerve-wracking.
posted by immlass at 7:59 AM on June 19, 2010

You can't base your own happiness on other folks' outcomes, but you need to remind yourself that your "fancy friends" are likely dealing with their own angst. That stay at home mom might not feel like quite the cinderella story--she probably didn't go to a high-ranked school dreaming of a Mrs. degree. The Harvard Law graduate envies your lack of debt which probably looks like freedom to someone who went to HLS because they loved philosophy and is now stuck at Big Law for the forseeable future. (Even once those loans are paid off, kids+mortgage+etc. keep many people trapped anyway.) There is at least one person in your graduating class who thought they'd be on the track to President by now, one person who is cycling through endless postdocs in the midst of curtailed science funding wondering if they'll ever get a tenure track position, someone who went from a sexy hospital position to a boring local clinic to be a trailing spouse to a rising star, someone who got that consulting job and lost it in the 08 meltdown. There are also tons of alums from your school happily working as public high school teachers, small business owners, nurses, farm hands. If you talked frankly with some of these people, they would empathize with you and respect you. If you don't have these kinds of friends, get some.
posted by availablelight at 8:04 AM on June 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

You're what Alfred Lubrano calls a straddler, raised in a blue collar family and living in a white collar world.

I don't claim it'll give you a solid direction, but I found his book Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams insightful, at times infuriating, and helpful in understanding my lack of a sense of belonging with both my family and my peers.
posted by thatdawnperson at 8:11 AM on June 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you always compare yourself to others, you will always be miserable. How about doing what makes you happy and quit living to impress others? If you want to move to NM, then move. Having a crappy job there will be the same as having a crappy job where you currently live plus the cost of living is less. Establishing residency only takes a year, not forever, so during your first year there, work and volunteer (volunteering will get your mind off of yourself and on to others, helping others will make you happy, plus you can try a number of volunteer gigs and maybe will find something truly amazing that you want to make into a career). After one year, if you still want to go to pharmacy school, then go. The difference between the "haves" and "have nots" is in a continual state of flux (note the recent recession and the many "haves" that lost their jobs/homes/status) and the only way to be happy is to find a calling that makes you happy...then the money will come but by then you probably won't care!
posted by MsKim at 9:00 AM on June 19, 2010

You are the new middle class, except you're better off than they are.

The new middle class is the first generation in America that cannot expect to do better than their parents generation. The new middle class hasn't quite accepted this reality, and is buying the trappings of the old middle class on credit, because after all they're middle class and that means a house with a bedroom for every child, an SUV, an annual vacation and the yearly bonuses to pay for it.

Learning to live within your fucking means is the new black. Welcome on board, baby. When people make you feel bad about living a non-aspirational lifestyle, you can look at them and realise that there are 576.4 million credit cards in circulation in the US, and that the average household owes $15,519 on credit cards alone at enormous interest.

You may not have any disposable income, but the secret is that neither do they. You don't have a Wii, sure, but you don't have a monthly credit card bill that hits four figures, either. You don't own a gorgeous house, but you're not depending on an annual bonus you no longer get to pay for it, either.

You are better off than most of your middle class peers.

If it helps you to feel smug about it, do so.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:26 AM on June 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

go to community college. one summer between semesters at my really expensive private liberal arts college i took a couple classes at my local community college because i was bored and needed to stay out of trouble. i don't even remember what the classes were, but i remember the life lessons i learned in the satellite classroom on the west side of town where my '88 corsica was one of the nicer cars.

people showed up to every class. "kids" my age (20ish). folks in their late 20s. at least one grandma. there were several middle aged people. but mostly it was single moms or former "thugs" who were finally able to go to college and who were not going to waste this opportunity. they didn't blow off going to class because they were hung over or because a marathon of "golden girls" was on or because they just didn't feel going. this totally diverse group of people brought a....diverse viewpoint to group discussions.

we had to do a partnered group project and i went over to my partner's house, where we couldn't get anything done because her kid was sick and screaming (she was my age). all she had to offer was WIC approved juice. i dropped her kid off at her mom's and her off at work because her car wouldn't start when we were done working.

i mean, this kind of stuff would not have happened at very expensive liberal arts school. you need to experience people who aren't privileged. community college isn't a failure. it's an option for people who don't have all the options that everyone else does.

your friends suck for making fun of you for wanting to go to pharm school. they should support you, or at least provide valid feedback for why pharm school might be a bad idea. maybe they've always been rich cunts and you just couldn't see it before.

for a long time i was very envious of my high school peers who had cars and homes and salaries (while i have a shitty apartment and no car and am self-employed, previously laid-off). the things they have are the status and success symbols of america and have been for at least 60 years. but values are shifting, at least in the small minority. having people who care about you and who you care about is the important thing, not how big your house is and how many garages it has.

so what if you don't have all the things your "friends" have? it doesn't make you a bad person. it also doesn't matter if you're working class or blue collar or whatever the term is now. it's a job that puts bread on the table.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:06 PM on June 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Not everyone wants to live in NM/HI. Especially NM -- lots of people are trying to leave. If you want to live somewhere warm and less pretentious, you should GO!

As someone else said, move where you want to go, work for a year, and then go to a state school or cc. You'll have a great time.

And if you really want to go to medical school, do that.
posted by metametababe at 2:09 PM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could be me. I was in your situation, and I DID move to Hawaii, Maui to be exact.

I was brought up working class and went to one of the most elite colleges in the world. I had family and friends constantly reminding me of my humble roots. Compared to my schoolmates (high school and college) I was poor and working class. My schoolmates thought of me as an anomaly, my family and friends gave me grief about putting on airs and not being married with 5 kids by the time I was 25.

I finally just said, hell with this and moved on. literally and figuratively. But I did get a couple of masters' degrees first and I made sure I had a job lined up in Hawaii before I got there. That was over 20 years ago It can be done. But remember, wherever you go, there you are. You are still you. Moving does not change that.

Now that I am on Maui, people who know about such things, ask what someone with my education is doing in this intellectual backwater. Nothing really changes.

I suggest you do go to pharmacy school, it is a great career with good prospects. Then if you want to move, go a head.
posted by fifilaru at 2:37 PM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

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