The Bottom Feeding Line

I got to chatting with a Young Person, who is in the early laps of a Master of Social Work program. This person has an AA degree and a BSW, and has worked at least part-time for the duration of her higher education years. She’s been married and divorced, moved six times (that I know of), and never had more than a speeding-ticket brush with the law. She manages at least three pretty serious mental health issues, and is conscientious about physical fitness.

But she’s not happy with herself because she isn’t financially self-sufficient.

I want to shake her, or hug her, or lecture her at length. My darling brothers and my father, when they slogged through grad school, were PAID to attend to their studies with assistantships. Yes, they also taught–in their field, entry-level courses, without much accountability for the results. But mostly, they hung out in seminars and procrastinated writing papers. And my dad at least didn’t have to bother with any pesky old master’s degree. He went from undergrad to PhD in three years, and then a fairy god-father got him a tenure track position right out of the gate.

What my young friend  has had to pay for her education is least five times what I was charged, and she’s not attending fancy schools. Her student loans carry at least three times the interest rate I was charged, and on much harsher repayment terms. She hasn’t a prayer of scoring any employer assistance with tuition, which I could do with a few law school courses.

I feel like I’m watching somebody carry two cinder blocks at all times, while berating herself for not being a better high-jumper. And what’s more, this person is physically self-sufficient. She has never asked for any help with activities of daily living. Not ever.

She’s emotionally self-sufficient, acting as her own case manager when the mental health issues flare (which they do). She’s also morally self-sufficient. She doesn’t need any accountability group, regulatory oversight, or external consequences to inspire her to make responsible choices or treat her fellow creatures well. In almost every regard–physically, emotionally, morally, spiritually, and socially–she’s self-sufficient.

But because she’s not earning more money than she’s spending (yet), she struggles to think well of herself. Maybe it’s a good thing she’s going into social work, because issues of self-worth will dog her clientele, no matter where in that field she practices.

And this just frosts my cookie, friends. I worked for and with any number of lying, lazy, self-important bums in suits, who were making plenty of money, but they were disgraceful people. They at least seemed to have good opinions of themselves because Miss Dignified Coverthey had “healthy” bottom lines.

I know which kind of person I’d rather share a hurting planet with, and it’s not the bums in suits, but what would you say to that young person, trying to make something of herself, and feeling like a failure every time she looks at her bank statement?

Miss Dignified will release in the web store on Tuesday (retail on-sale is Jan. 4), but I am still giving out ARCs. Just email me if you’d like an epub!



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18 comments on “The Bottom Feeding Line

  1. This last two weeks have been the most difficult of my life. My youngest son, who struggles with mental health issues, left our home after a minor disagreement with us and didn’t come back, which was not like him. He was found, alive, in rural Mississippi (we live in Chicago)after law enforcement finally agreed to declare him an endangered missing person.

    Some of his issues are exactly what you suggest about your Young Person, and feelings of lack of respect for his profession (he’s a professional church musician and quite accomplished)and feelings of inadequacies. He has 3 degrees and was planning to apply for a Doctorate but all this overwhelmed him, something happened at work and our disagreement pushed him over. We’ve found a new doctor and we are hoping that helps.

    I would say (and have tried in many ways to get this through to our son) to your Young Person that your bank balance does not mean Diddly Squat, it’s the people you’ve helped and lives you’ve enriched and the people who LOVE YOU that matter. And there’s always a way out, you just have to keep looking. Keep looking.

    • I am so sorry your family has gone through this, Teenie Marie. Prodigal offspring age us overnight. Thank God and a mama bear’s tenacity, you persisted with law enforcement, and the story has a hopeful prognosis. I agree with you, it’s all about the love, is, was, and ever shall be. Hugs to your whole family.

  2. I make very little money at a job I enjoy, but realistically there are not many other things I can do with my TBI. I lucked into something that suits both my disposition and interests (and am not the breadwinner), but I could not support myself with the number of hours I can sustain. This is Hard. The Hardest thing is that I couldn’t support my children on my own. The vulnerability is stressful but also the knowledge that I am in our societal context, a Failure. The only advice I can give is to be critical of our societal context and the alignment of priorities around money as a measure of success. Also make sure to really see those who are also Failures and value them then apply to self.

    • Good advice. I’ve wondered how much of our societal context would shift if we nationalized health care. Then, at least on a financial basis, we’d be carrying a shared load for our medical wellbeing. As it is now… Oh, don’t get me started.

  3. Awwww, I just want to give her a hug! We’re asking young people to take on massive debt that won’t qualify for bankruptcy
    And at a time when their futures are so dim
    It’s simply not fair.
    I think the tincture of time is required for people to realize that it’s not their fault, but that does not help them immediately, unfortunately.

    • Make, you are right that time helps. I wish every young woman (and maybe young men too?) could have a few years in their twenties with the outlook of an elder. No reproductive agenda (which is not the same thing as no intimacy agenda), plenty of experience with failures that didn’t end the world, and successes that didn’t buy happiness. I like my beady-eyed old crone self, and I also have much more compassion for my younger self now than I had at the time.
      When I am queen of the world…

  4. I wanted to comment on this post but couldn’t think of anything constructive. I wanted to so badly because my heart tugs desperately for your Young Person. I also deeply relate to your position too, watching by the sidelines not knowing how to help a young person going through this young lady’s struggles. It’s gut wrenching.

    I found something constructive to at least point to when I went back a post to the ‘When to Hold ‘Em’ responses. Not a cure-all of course. But Beth stated she felt like she hadn’t accomplished anything (after listing all she’d done on a given day!) until she wrote down everything she’d done at the end of that day. I thought this was great. I think this is the secret of ‘list makers.’ Crossing them off makes you feel great about another thing done.

    I know that’s oversimplifying it to an extreme. Having other people remind you of what you accomplished is great. But somehow those of us who feel especially underachieving need that reminder from ourselves. So, thank you Beth! And thank you Grace, for having a heart for this person you spoke of.

    • Ooo! Michelle (and Beth)! I like the writing down all you do in a day as a way to point out how much this lovely Young Person is doing and succeeding at!!! 😀

    • This is actually a strategy used to combat the never-ending to-do list. Don’t make a to-do list. Make a “Got Done” list. At the end of the day, that list is usually impressively long. As Beth indicated, if you can look out across the ripples that any action or decision creates, you can see an impact that extends well beyond, “Folded the laundry, got the oil changed.”

  5. I would say there is more than one kind of success… and, if her head is playing a tape saying that financial success is the only true success, that is a lie.
    I would ask her who in her life (perhaps a father or mother or other relative… or a teacher?) might have given her that tape. Because, it’s time to take it out and put in her successes…
    It also seems like she is only looking at the one place in her life that isn’t “successful” (although, I truly hate using that word.) Why does that ONE thing get to crown her the Queen of Failure?
    We, as a culture, receive many messages through media that money is the all-important and only way to judge success, but that simply isn’t true.

    I would encourage her to think of this part of her life as a season. So, right now, she’s paying into her future by getting an education. That education will help her get better jobs than she could get before. Right now, she’s not supposed to be making more than she’s spending. That’s not her job. It seems like she’s given herself unreasonable goals in the finance department. She will wear herself out if she doesn’t giver herself a break _somewhere_.

    I personally know many of the challenges (especially the curse of student debt) she is working with and she is knocking life outta the park!

    I think there’s probably a lot more advice or words of encouragement, but that’s where I’d start!

    • Speaking as a single parent who always worked at least one FT job to make ends meet, your comments hit home. What did I model to my kid? I am ashamed to say that my parental repertoire included, “Please don’t get sick because I’m out of personal leave…” And that was just me, passing along how unimportant my child’s health was to my vastly profitable Fortune 100 employer at the time. You’ve given me some things to think about!

      • oh! I don’t wish for there to be any shame attached to life events! We all do it… you had to do what you had to do. We are not always put into situations where there is one “perfect” solution.
        BUT, bringing out in the open and recognizing the tape as something to think about is good. Thinking about it instead of it being in the background without recognizing it is there can help… I hope.

  6. At the moment here in the UK we are dealing with shameful and deplorable behaviour of some members of our goverment.Privileged upstarts who think they are somehow entitled to break rules insisted on by their own Tory party.Not once but many times.Trouble is their leader is no better.Dedication and respect no where to be seen.I feel for the young politicians who are having to see this behaviour.Young people need help and support when starting out but it seems bums in suits in all areas of work rule the roost.I am appalled by this greedy and self serving species.At this time when we should all be helping each other.The covid has brought out the worst.I and many others are upset and it could lead to the country being in turmoil.

    • I’ve been watching the UK news, and how ironic, that BoJo is now a dad. Some role modeling there, Mr. PM. Maybe the results from North Shropshire will inspire more of those young people to get involved and clean house.
      Scary to think that a year ago, we had no vaccines, and the high and mighty were acting like that. Tempting fate, if you ask me…

  7. I can understand your Young Person’s view – when I was at university one of my worst fears was that i failed and my money ran out, and again later in life when I lost my job and couldn’t find another job right away – it is very hard in our western money-fixated society to not be able to check that off confidently – and young people have enormous expectations of themselves today.
    My advice to her would be this: Every time you think about money, take a money to breathe and think of one of the many positive things you have accomplished today/this week/this month.
    Sometimes it is a question of fixation. I felt so inadequate when I didn’t have a job, so I quite forgot all the things that I was still able to handle without thought.
    So sometimes we have to remind ourselves that yes, I am also a good mother/colleague/friend even if i can’t afford new shoes/coffee shops/trendy appartment location.

    • It occurs to me as I’m reading all these wonderful comments that I should just invite my young friend to watch It’s a Wonderful Life with me. That movie says it pretty well, and so do you!

  8. Greetings young person. Please try to remember that you are not alone, in your educational journey, your health struggles, or your financial challenges. Not only that but you are not alone in your difficulties thinking well of yourself.

    I would like to share with you that I am currently a fan of Brene’ Brown, who studies some really interesting emotional struggles such as shame. Look her up on the Ted Talks and if you like her, go after her books. I love the audio books and I get them through the library.

    With your MSW you will be in a position to help others which is a wonderful. I have worked with autistic children and when I was present when they made a breakthrough that improved their lives significantly I felt like I was witnessing a miracle.. It is an amazing feeling, As an MSW I believe you will be in a position to experience the same.

    All the best to you – Sue