An Open Letter to Talia Jane

Dear Talia,

I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I did get a glimpse into your life through your recent open letter to the CEO of Yelp last week. What you’ve described is tough, no doubt. But it seems from what I’ve seen on your social media that you’re being offered some nice money for groceries. So good for you! Your writing made an impact; and as a fellow writer, I know just how thrilling that can be!

I’ll admit… When I first read your blog post, I was exceptionally frustrated by you. The mom in me allows little room for self pity. I wanted to sit you down, pour you a cup of tea, and tell you to (with as much grace I could muster) pull your head out of your butt and act like an adult. You presented a mindset that so many millennials fall into and, grumpy old 22 year old that I am, I wanted to shake my little fist at you and tell you that your (sigh… Our) generation is just the worst.

But that wouldn’t do you, me, or any of our readers any good. 

Instead, I would like to gently let you know that you are not alone. Many other share your struggles. Your blog post, however, presents a defeatist, entitled mentality. A mentality that, unless changed, will keep you in your current circumstances well into your later adult life. 

We live in a surprisingly kind world. People give money and help to those in need often. I’m sure you’re seeing examples of this as people donate to your PayPal or gofundme. I experienced it when benefactors paid to send me to a pre-college program in Manhattan, something I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise due to the fact that my dad was unemployed and my mom was swamped with five children. It’s a blessing. People give! Institutions and employers, however, do not. Nor should they. That’s not an effective way to run a business. Those our age seem to be under this misconception that we should be given numerous handouts from colleges, from the government, and from those more successful than us. But that’s how we end up in more debt.

And believe me, I know that can be hard to deal with. My student loans haven’t been entirely paid off either.

Another excellent writer posted a rebuttal to your initial letter. It really struck a chord in me. I, unlike you and Stefanie Williams, was not an English major. I considered it, as I love English literature, adore writing, and would probably kill to teach a class on Tolkien. But no… I decided to take the risk and study vocal performance and opera. I had been given the opportunity to study at the conservatory level for two years and craved that stage. And you know what? I was darn good at it. However, it ended up not being good for me. I was shrinking, transforming into a hollow shell of Emily with none of her love for literature or life. With school days that lasted twelve hours with no time in between rehearsals and classes for meals or a job, I was definitely becoming a little unhinged. So I took another risk, this one even more unconventional than the first. I left college. Queue the gasps of horror from everybody who ever invested money in me or thought I would go far! (Incidentally, this allows me to appreciate and sympathise with what you said about needing to get away from where you had been previously living.)

I was in a long distance relationship at the time and needed money to be able to take trips to see my boyfriend (a lot of wasted money, FYI, because it was a terrible relationship and damaged my heart significantly. Ah well, what’re ya gonna do?). My parents, although allowing me to live with them, absolutely did not want to help me with my travel expenses (for good reason because this guy was awful) and really couldn’t help much even if they had wanted to since they were still in a fairly tight spot financially. Think it’s stressful finding a job in your twenties? Imagine being in your forties with a master’s degree and years of work experience under your belt and still being unable to completely provide for your family. That’s stress. My dad is literally a saint for all the hardship he’s pushed through. 

So it was off to get a job. An acquaintance of my dad’s was starting patient advocacy franchise in our state and I was hired to work as their marketing manager. It absolutely thrilled my socks off! Fresh off the “I quit college” boat, I was writing for a living! But it didn’t pay very much and I still needed some more money. As it turned out, I knew somebody who needed a nanny twice a week and I snatched that job up as quickly as I could. I even managed to buy myself a car, a clunky old junker built in ’92. 

But due to our fragile economy (and partially due to my lack of ambition as I was distracted by the end of a relationship), our patient advocacy franchise closed down. The kids that I nannied ended up being unmanageable for me. Once again, I was jobless. Without a degree. But with student loans and gas expenses and needing groceries. What was I good for?

Now, I have bipolar disorder and get very depressed very easily. The simplest course of action would be to get fed up, mope, and insist that everybody pay for me to escape my problems. But nope! I got a new job. This time, a different nanny job with an especially long commute. It was paying the bills, but my car was sucking up gas so I got a second job at Starbucks. Life never gets easier. I ended up in a car accident and could no longer commute to the better paying nanny job (Starbucks was walking distance from my house). I took more Starbucks hours, working late and long shifts and picking up any shifts that colleagues dropped.

Okay, I know I’m rambling a lot about my life and experiences, but it’s important that you see that you are not alone in this. Times are really tough out there! Girls like me, you, and Stefanie have had to put up with a lot of opposition. I woke up hungry often too, having worked it out in my head that somehow if I refused to eat, my four younger siblings would have more. I too slept in the cold as the upstairs heating in my family’s home was a bit tricky. But the response cannot be to lash out online and potentially lose our jobs. The response must be to put on our big girl panties and work harder with happier attitudes.

It would be fantastic if there was a fairy godmother who could wave her wand and fix all our income problems. But that’s never going to be the case. We have to be resilient! It is much easier to think about things than actually do them, as you mention in your profile on Twitter; but then nothing gets done. Societies crumble. Economies collapse. People become fragile creatures unable to function in the face of life’s challenges. But human beings are surprisingly sturdy. We currently live in a generation of wimps and whiners who call out for “safe spaces” and feel triggered by everything. It’s kind of ridiculous. We can handle a lot more than we think we can. Not to be all Judge Claude Frolo, but “the world is cruel, the world is wicked.” Does that mean we cloister ourselves in towers, attached to our twitter and instagram, mindlessly binging Netflix? Absolutely not! (Even though I am about to go binge watch Mad Men. I have bronchitis and pregnancy pains and God made Netflix for a reason.) 

My point is, Talia, that it’s hard to be a grown up. It’s not all Spice Girls and pagers, nice apartments and fancy cars.  Sometimes being a grownup means doing without.  Do we need places to live? Obviously. But we can learn to live with little space and without the hottest amenities. Do we need smartphones? They’re awfully convenient, but no, we don’t need them. Do we need unlimited data? Not if we learn to budget how much data we’re using. Do we need the bottle of wine after a long day’s work? Honestly, I thought I did, but I’ve gone 9 months without that all important glass (or four) of wine and I’m doing just great. 

Look, everybody thinks my husband and I have it easy because he’s in the military and “the military pays for everything,” but that’s not true. We have to budget and scrimp and save. My car window doesn’t roll down and we can’t afford to have it fixed for a third time. We once paid our entire toll fare from Virginia to Massachusetts in spare change that we had collected (the toll lady wasn’t too happy when we paid a $10 toll in nickels and pennies). He needs new uniform pieces frequently and those are not cheap. And there’s a third little mouth to feed coming into the picture any week now. So we ditch the movies, we don’t go out to eat as often, I learn to cook from those meal on a dime magazines. But it’s oddly fun to go over our monthly budget and to strategise. Life really is what you make of it.

So go out there and tackle the work force, girl! Not with timidity, but tenaciously. Apply for all the jobs you can, not just the jobs you deem to be at your level because you’ve graduated college and not just the jobs you think you’re qualified for either. Aim big, aim small. Take one job, take two. Learn to budget your time, not just your money. See a financial planner to better understand where your money is going. Sacrifice unimportant things so that you can embrace the things around you that are important. You’ve got this. Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking the world owes you any of it. You need to achieve it yourself.

You can do it!

Love,
Emily 

PS: And do be careful what you say online. Bosses and superiors read things. Your frustration isn’t worth losing your job.

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