If you could offer one piece of advice to yourself at 22, what would it be?
To begin, let’s set the scene, Paige Earl (my maiden name) was pretty fresh out of university at 22 and living in Portland, OR. She was dirt poor, just entering the full-time workforce, living with her boyfriend, Justin (my now husband!). Paige and Justin would wait up until midnight the day before paydays so they could go to the grocery store and restock the kitchen. Between working opposite shifts for the same company, they spent their free time Netflixing and chilling before it was a thing—DVDs from Netflix being a splurge.
Living in a humble apartment and exploring adulthood for the first time was both trying and exhilarating. I had already lost sight of becoming an architect, my childhood dream job. You see, this was back during the recession that hit in 2007. Building and design had come to a screeching halt as the economy was spiraling downward faster than I could spend my entire $12/hour paycheck. With my nearly four years of bookkeeping experience, I couldn’t get a job at a firm as a receptionist or office manager. I desperately sought any form of employment after packing up my entire life after graduating from UC Santa Cruz.
For many reasons and another blog post, I wasn’t super close to anyone in my family at the time which meant Justin quickly became my family. It was us against the world—we quickly formed an impenetrable unit. We worked, we slept, we explored, we over-drafted accounts, we fought, we rode the wave of transitioning into adulthood together. Ultimately, we were doing our best to build the lives we had always dreamt of.
Just about everything in those days felt like a struggle. After landing a job with a temp agency at an insurance company, life really began to shift. I got a huge raise to $16/hour—a full 30% increase in income. I felt like we were living the cush life. Having always been focused and driven, I excelled in an office setting. Where I began to question myself came with my colleagues. At 22, I was easily the youngest person in the office and often felt like a fish out of water. I couldn’t connect with the folks that were gunning for promotions or studying for their MBAs, I didn’t have much to offer in terms of conversations with the people growing their families and raising their small children. I was barely surviving. Admittedly, since my architect dreams were crushed, I had lost my purpose and vision. When you find yourself adrift, it becomes tough to connect with anyone, let alone colleagues that gave the impression that they had it all figured out. I felt so out of place.
Contributing to these feelings of being an outsider, I was reconciling socio-economic shifts within my family dynamic. I grew up always cared for and deeply loved but as I got older, realized that we were definitely in a lower income bracket than some of my more well-off friends in school. To this day, I don’t know how my mom did it as a single mother of two. It didn’t bother me too much growing up, fundraising helped with sports, and when I finally got a job in high school, I could shop where all the cool kids did. Part of my unease at my shiny new corporate job was realizing that these people I was surrounded by could afford a lifestyle I had yet to experience: annual European vacations, weekly shopping trips to Nordstrom, and weekend getaways to the mountains were regular water cooler topics. All of this made me feel less than and like an imposter.
There I was, having broken the mold set by my family; the first to graduate from college, set up for success, but feeling entirely out of my element. It felt as if I no longer fit in with my family. I definitely didn’t fit in with Justin’s firmly established middle-class family, I had nothing to share or contribute to conversations at work or with new friends with all the activities enjoyed which required a level of monetary comfort I was just beginning to explore. I felt like money equaled individual worth, it somehow made people better. If you’re still with me, this is where my advice to 22-year old Paige comes in.
Our worth is not counted by the dollars and cents in a bank account.
No amount of money makes a person valuable.
Even wealthy people are assholes and have their own problems.
You never have to prove your worth to someone.