Wednesday, May 4, 2016

On being who I am

I grew up in a family that was functionally and socially lower middle class, although sometimes financially hovering below that due to circumstances. My parents, who were small businesspeople in a professional business (my father was a vet in a single-vet practice) prioritised education, faith, and family in our upbringing. My brothers and I were well fed, adequately clothed and provided with items of play, diligently cared for (in the case of my severely disabled brother), supported to learn musical instruments, and for the two of us to whom this applied, extremely well educated at good schools. We were raised in a loving, stable environment, one riven with sadness when my middle brother died aged 8 (I was 10) but never anything less than mutually affectionate.

What we did not have, of course, was the level of luxury in daily life, or the monetary parental booster rocket to start our independent lives, that some of our better-heeled peers had. We never went overseas or bought designer clothes. We didn't eat at fancy restaurants or have a swimming pool in the yard. We bought our first cars, and many years later our first homes, under our own steam, my little brother and I.

I was reflecting on this recently in the context of thinking about what legacies my childhood has left me. Losing a sibling young has granted me both empathy and anxiety. Being raised in a religious household has given me both a deep residual religiosity of my own and a complicated resentment that I sometimes struggle to unpick. Growing up in the heart of a small business gave me an understanding of risk, a penchant for lone-wolfing professionally and a preference for being my own boss, which probably explains why I have gravitated towards freelancing and feel settled in that life.

One thing I have rarely enunciated clearly, though, is how profoundly my childhood-born deep unease around very luxurious environments and very rich people has shaped my choices in life. I would say that we also are located in the middle class, my household and I, but the reality of living costs, as well as the phenomenal expense of housing today, means that although we objectively earn more than my parents did, our standard of living with our three girls is very similar to what I grew up with. My girls also are safe, well-fed, clothed, able to explore hobbies and interests, and well-schooled. We probably go on more holidays than I did as a kid, but they are similarly modest and local compared with childhood vacations. Like my parents, we have tight months when a lot of bills come due, we budget for non-essential items, and we are vulnerable to financial catastrophe. Like my parents, we are paying off a comfortable but not luxurious home, have no investments, and less super than we "should".

The thing is, although a part of me would cry with relief if a magical fairy granted me a competence sufficient to cushion life's slings and arrows, I know absolutely that I was not born to, nor am I fitted to, a life of ease and luxury. I feel uncomfortable in the presence of excess. There's a vague rage, a stiffness, and above all, a deep and complex shame. On the one hand, I feel lesser, not good enough, when around the very wealthy and the trappings of their wealth. I become awkward and inarticulate, clumsy and stupid. On the other hand, I feel existential shame that such wealth even exists when the world is so full of want. There is no rationality to this; it just is.

So if I could be a wealthy person ... I wouldn't be. I would not know how to be myself in a setting of glitter and gold; I would not see myself undistorted in the high gloss of that mirror. Not having too much, and occasionally not even having enough, is intrinsic to my understanding of myself. I am not good enough to be rich. I am too good to be rich. It doesn't have to make sense to be true.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post so very much!
    You know yourself very well. Self realized actually :)