In the wake of taking up this midlife reinvention, I’ve been facing a challenging narrative that I’d like to rewrite. You know, for my eventual taking over the world, and all. As has been the case since I was a young girl, the act of declaring an issue out loud is one specific way of purging it. But to banish it for good? It’s been often more effective to write it down, and then send it out into the universe. So I trust you’ll forgive me for what is about to be a boatload of purging, as I begin the process of making peace with something that’s bothered me for decades.
Officially, I’m laying to rest ‘Rich Bitch.’ May she rest easy.
If you’re confused at all, well, thank you for feeling this way. Generally, I pride myself on most decidedly NOT being too much of a ‘bitch’, and I’d hardly call myself ‘rich’. Although the latter depends only on the metrics you’re using or whatever perspective you choose to take, as it’s all relative. But let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, I’m talking rich rich. (Interestingly, it’s been widely reported that Canadians snatched the distinction of the ‘Richest Middle Class’ in the world from America as of 2015, though for certain this virus crisis will shatter all global data in a downward trajectory.) By Scrooge McDuck standards? I don’t measure on the scale. I will, however, say that I’m aware of my privilege and blessings, and these make me feel a gamut of emotion, from gratitude to humility to utter discomfort.
Who is she… this ‘Rich Bitch’ you speak of?
Allow me to introduce you: her name is Samantha Leigh.
She’s such a nice, young girl. Now 13 years-old and most definitely a ‘pleaser’, she’s desperate for the approval of others. She longs to be a professional ballet dancer one day and flits about anything with a flat surface. Currently, she’s in the throes of that awkward stage… a mouth full of braces, overly-permed/hair-sprayed hair and regrettably, zero curves (for which she prayed daily would one day appear, and then when they did, she cursed them all to hell!). She lives on a beautiful, quiet cul-de-sac with her brother and sister, mom and dad, and an extra adorable sheepdog. Samantha is mostly happy — at least, this is what she projects.
But she also hurts.
There have been whisperings going on during recess for about a year now, and whether or not she was intended to hear these things, she heard them. ‘She’s such a rich bitch!’ … this coming from a couple of the neighbourhood boys who attended school with her. Certainly, she was conscious of her family’s abundance during this time, but her awareness morphed into a cavernous shame that would swallow her for years, and ultimately come to shape her view of money (and, sadly, people).
A belief system is born.
As she enters her last year of elementary school, she’s optimistic these whispers will simply fade away. They do not. In fact, they seem to ramp up, seeping deeper into the dermis of her skin, where they take hold of her value system and then spread like cancer, creating a number of other beliefs she would subscribe to for years.
Having money is a threat.
Having money makes people jealous.
Having money makes people hate you.
Having money makes people think that you think you’re better than everyone else. Having money is therefore the devil.
It sounds outrageous, dramatic, perhaps even a bit silly. But this is her truth. My truth. These were my core beliefs as they related to finance and I grew up to eventually become … wait for it… a Financial Advisor… someone literally committed to helping people build and accumulate their wealth. You can see one reason why I needed to leave my career. Not exactly the healthiest relationship on earth with money!
An uncomfortable display of ‘rich’.
But how did these idiotic boys come to this conclusion? And more importantly, why did I let their taunting hurt me?
The answer is complex. Honestly? I had one of those classically, ‘great’ childhoods and would not trade my parents for the world. Let me be crystal clear about that. We all know, however, there are always problems lurking behind the scenes. And we will do whatever it takes to hide these from others. Welcome to Facades 101 — a course that teaches you to unconsciously craft a kind of storefront you may not even realize you’re building.
What affected me so intensely was the obviousness or at least the overt appearance of having money, especially when I knew there were others who didn’t. This gaping, socioeconomic inequality struck me. One particular boy — who shall remain nameless — appeared to grow up with considerably less. He had a distinct edginess about him, always milling about in his shredded jeans, his house perched close to the neighbouring shunt yard. I never judged him for this, I’m simply painting a picture. But he was a ringleader in goading others; before long, he had many of the boys calling me ‘Rich Bitch’.
So what did I do? I dated him, of course. (If you can call it dating when you’re barely 14!) Shocked the teachers and kids on the playgrounds alike… what was Samantha — this goody-two-shoes — doing dating the rebel who smoked and ditched school?
I had hoped this strategy of mine would alter his opinion of me, once he got to know me. Ha! We lasted barely a month and it wasn’t long until the whispers graduated to other audible blasphemy. (Sidebar: this boy grew up to be a social worker and is a fantastic human, I hold no grudge for his hurtful egging on. For he was in pain, too.)
And what of that uncomfortable display of wealth I alluded to?
Well, at one point in time, we were the only ones in the neighbourhood with an inground pool, which in those days was the kind of backyard recreation reserved only for people with deep pockets. There were also multiple luxury cars in the driveway, and every designer name brand a kid could wear hung in our closets. ALL the expensive, usual suspects were there… Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren. (#Facts: as I’ve become more self aware, I have a visceral, gross response to visible designer labels on clothing. These labels created a divide that I can only now recognize, one that became more painfully obvious in high school. Understand, though, I acknowledge my own hypocrisy. Not only did I wear these ridiculously priced clothes, but I eventually sought out work at a store that allowed me to purchase even more, but at a discount price. The payoff being my own eventual delusion that I’d be more popular and ‘legit’ if I had the ‘right’ clothes on my back!)
Today, I can look back and objectively see that we weren’t rich, and in fact this has been validated by my parents directly. Upper middle-class? Yeah, that seems reasonable. But the story goes that we were also stretched quite thin… dangerously so at times. It was a precipice that seemed worth the risk of living on, for it fed the hungry, bossy ego and plugged the gap of limited self esteem.
Let me give you some concrete examples.
My mom used to always say, “I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, and no child of mine is…” insert whatever you’d like here. Do I fault her for this? Absolutely not. She was simply doing what we all do: wanting to give her children more opportunity and privilege than she had growing up. She was also incessantly teased as a child for having less than others… you can see how the circle goes.
My dad? He suffered terrifying abuse as a little boy, resulting in very deep, very painful trauma that caused him to believe he also wasn’t good enough. As a married couple, this combined shame resulted in an insidious need to acquire enough status symbols that others would see their obvious success, put two and two together and assume they must be decent people. Ergo, worthy.
Maturity, healing and wisdom, for all of us.
We are all older and wiser now, and know this not to be the way the soul works. Decades have past, people have changed, attitudes have shifted and healing has occurred. Our possessions do not define us. Standing in complete dichotomy to the past, my father is more comfortable living with less in a third-world country than he is showing any outward sign of relative privilege. He’d tell you he just flat-out doesn’t care about that stuff and would rather give away any excess that he has.
And my own thinking has evolved, too. Heck, I’ve been lobbying for years to sell everything and live out of a backpack, or at the least a Tiny Home. My time on the Camino solidified my thoughts on material possessions and the emptiness that comes from attaching to them.
I’ve also spent years viewing money as this necessary-but-undesirable ‘thing’, and yet I worked in this competitive industry where ego is most often splashed in front of anyone who didn’t care to look. Case in point, I once was at conference for rookie advisors, and the keynote speaker — a successful, seasoned advisor — took a full five minutes to show slides of his ‘compound’. I kid you not, he literally referred to his house this way; at that time I had no choice but to swallow down the barf in my mouth.
So what have I learned?
I am not this girl called ‘Rich Bitch’. And, it’s ok to have money, because I now believe that money is simply energy. We can hoard that energy, hold it close to our chest and maybe, find ourselves in a restrictive, lonely existence. Or we can put that money out into the world… in whatever form we think is best representative of our hopes and dreams. Note: I’m aware that even talking like this comes from a place of extreme advantage. There are billions in the world who require money just to stay alive. They’re often not even taught to dream, for what’s the point when survival is really the ideal outcome?
In terms of my own allocation of money, one thing I’ve prioritized is investing in my kids memory banks, possibly even to the detriment of their education savings. This has come in the form of some epic travel, partially driven by a desire to expand their own perspectives, but also by the idea that actually experiencing things you might otherwise only come to understand in a textbook, is worth something. At least, I believe it is, and it costs money. So, I send that energy out into the world in exchange for the unlimited potential growth that comes from discovering another culture. At the end of the day, I’ve also learned that what we do, how we act, or what we purchase simply proves what we believe.
It’s time for me to make peace with money. It’s been a festering block and I’m finally ready to banish it! In the process of creating my new business, I’ve discovered that although it’s specifically purpose that drives me, if I attach any shame to potential financial success I won’t be as strongly positioned to serve than if I happen to be so fortunate to smash it out of the park.
Likewise, I’ve had to face my own ugly judgement towards others. Just because someone is successful, or has money — lots of it, ALL the stuffs — doesn’t mean they don’t also uphold the virtue of wanting to make a difference, or caring about others. If a person chooses to spend their dough on a limited edition car, who am I to judge? Or a ‘compound’? That’s their prerogative. Besides, we all have different drivers for how we view money and I’m the last person that should be pretending I’m judge and jury of what’s ‘right’. I’m not.
So, my dear Samantha Leigh, I shall miss you, but I’m letting ‘Rich Bitch’ go. No tears, no regrets. Peace be with you, girl!