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Dear Emma, WTF?!
I really enjoy your blog, but I’m getting sick of your snotty advice. Sure, you’ve got it all going on: your great career and your beautiful kids and your fabulous life in New York. Well, guess what, not everyone had all the advantages you did. We all can’t just become successful entrepreneurs hiring house cleaners and laundry service and babysitters while we go partying with our slutty single-mom girlfriends on weeknights.
I’m 24 and I have three kids ages 5 and under by two different guys — neither of whom is around. I always dreamed of becoming a teacher and had really good grades in high school. But instead of going to college I got pregnant. I live in a small town with a terrible economy and the only job I can find is at a daycare where I barely make enough money to get by. I would love to move to a bigger city — one with a university — get a teaching degree and start a new life around interesting people doing interesting things. But my whole family is here and this is all my kids know. I’m stuck, and I don’t need you rubbing my face with your blog posts three times a week. In fact, most single moms would identify with me more than you. Go to hell.
Irate in Iowa
Every night when I tuck my kids into bed we do what we call, “SayWhatWe’reGratefulFor.” We take turns listing a few things that we appreciate in our lives. With my daughter, I often include this:
“I’m grateful that we live in a time and place that women can do whatever we want.”
Our grateful exercise is about reminding ourselves of how rich we are. I also use it to rid myself of excuses. If I recognize how abundant my life is, I find few reasons not to be happy.
On reading your letter, my first impulse was to give you a rundown of all the hard knocks I’ve suffered in life, and then tell you how I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and assure you that, Yes, you can do it, too! And all of that would be accurate, but here’s the thing: You’re right. I do have something that many people don’t have: I had a mother and grandparents and aunts and uncles who supported my dreams to go on and do great things, even if we were all in a small town where things were far less than perfect and no one was doing anything that I thought was exciting. I had people who expected me to be who I wanted to be.
I can tell by your writing that you are very, very bright. You have a big personality (Who you telling to go to hell?!), and you have big dreams. Plus, you’re pissed. This all makes for the momentum you need to make a change. Whatever happens next will be scary. You relocate with your kids, you move away from everything you know and risk falling on your face. Scary! Stay put and you risk hating yourself for the rest of your life for not living out your dream, becoming a (even more?) bitter person and mother and set forth the cycle of poverty and blame and excuses for your children. WAY MORE SCARY, right?
So here is what you will do:
1. Decide where you’re moving. Not where you’d like to move. Where you will move.
2. Find the best education school in that city. Make an appointment and go to that school. Talk to the dean of admissions. Meet with someone in financial aid. Get a grip on what it will take to go there- financially, logistically.
3. Walk around the campus. Walk around the neighborhoods. Imagine what it will be like to live there. Look at the people. Won’t they be cool to know? Take your kids. Talk about what it will be like to go to school there, play in the parks, eat in the restaurants. See it and feel it. This will be your new life.
4. Make a plan. Not a 10-year-maybe-if-I’m-lucky plan. A real plan for one year from now. Your plan will include making it happen financially — rent, a new job, and school for your kids and you. The plan will include you envisioning packing a moving truck, saying goodbye to your friends and old life, loading the kids up and the four of you driving down the freeway towards your dreams. Your vision will feel scary and thrilling and hopeful and even more scary. You will think of driving that moving truck down the freeway and feeling and thinking all of those things. The sun will be shining and you and your kids are laughing.
5. Read stories. Stories about people overcoming adversity. Oprah, J.K. Rowling, Jay-Z, David Geffen. Here’s a run-down of 20 business leaders who started with nothing – even less than you in most cases. Being poor in America with dreams of teaching school in a city starts to become a normal, everyday thing.
6. Only tell your plan to a very few select people. Not people who may be jealous or doubtful and will steal your thunder. Maybe you don’t have anyone like that. So you will email me, and I will forgive you for telling me to fuck off and write you back.
7. Take a moment and be grateful. Grateful that you are smart and willful and a determined mother. Be grateful that you have a city and education and career that you can dream about. Feel gratitude that you live in a time and place that as women, we can do whatever we want.
8. You will do it. And it will be so, so hard. And you will cry and want to give up. And then it will be OK. And you will not be able to believe that you ever thought about staying in your hometown.
9. When you are on your feet you will fly to New York and we will go out drinking. On a weeknight.
In this weekly feature I answer your personal finance questions. Send me yours at firstname.lastname@example.org