This is the word that I have come to believe epitomizes my family‘s working-class ethos. Though we’re firmly middle-class, the lot of us, in fact some quite well off (in the top 10% of wage earners), the reality is that we’ll never shed this sense of wanting to do better. Better than what, at this point, you ask? I’m not sure. Most of my cousins are better off than their parents, I think. Most of us could probably keep up with the proverbial Jones, whoever they are.
But there’s this feeling, best summed up by my godfather once talking about his daughter getting a promotion at work because “she was looking to do more” and her higher-ups noticed. This is a good example of how the intangible becomes tangible. How trying to prove oneself pays off.
Yet, striving includes determination fueled in part by insecurity – am I cut out for MIT? How did I get here? Will people find out I don’t really belong? That I’m faking it? There’s also how we measure success: for some of my cousins, it’s the size of the house or the paycheck or even the clothing brands they bring home. Some of those matter to me too, but clearly I’ve chosen to prove myself through education, by going where no one in my family has gone before.
In choosing an adulthood of more or less continuous graduate school, my income has fluctuated dramatically over the years, and I often find myself filled with self-recrimination because money is tight and the future’s uncertain and I am definitely not financially secure like a responsible adult in my family should be. This post is spurred by the fact that I had to put plastic up over my living room windows tonight to keep out the draft, leaving me feeling ashamed that I am worrying about my heating bill and embarrassed that I’ve had resort to crude and unattractive measures when my parents clearly would not want their only child to be worrying about her utility costs like they did long ago. I should be beyond this, I scold myself silently.
Seriously, somebody call me a wahhhh-bulance, I know. But my family’s version of making it is always having enough disposable income for shopping or dining out, and then talking about our purchases (look at us! We can buy what we want!). And here I am wondering how I’m going to pay my household bills come June. (Any other debt payments have already been slashed to the bone.)
I’ve started to resign myself to that reality that I will probably not outearn my parents in my lifetime. In exchange I am trying to figure out the bourgie trappings of academia, to demonstrate a different version of, a slight twist on “making it.” I am a quick study, at least. I only need to get around my own working-class chip to embrace the intelligentsia lifestyle. We’ll see. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to learn a whole new language out here. And I need some (lace-) curtains stat, so no one can see my plastic window.