21 Comments

The key seems to be staying married, but not having kids, though most people fail at both.

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I love the underlying message here: that we do have agency in our lives, and that we can make a difference and a change.

So often it’s the reverse: either (valid imo) critiques of bootstrap mythology, or (invalid imo) condemnations of poverty as moral failure.

But actually if we flip the script like you’re doing, it becomes empowering: we can acknowledge the vastly different starting points our systems give us, while still distinguishing that from our ability to act, both within and outside them. Which means all of us, wealthy poor and btwn, have our futures open.

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I applaud your hard work and for being realistic about the need to give up a certain lifestyle in order to save for a secure future. I think that many people need to be reminded that you need to work hard and budget to get the rewards. Thank you for sharing your personal life. I also applaud your commitment to charity and extending our privilege to everyone.

I appreciate you can’t cover every aspect of this huge subject. But I do feel you have left out some people in our society. The people upon whose shoulders we stand. They run the world we live in; they make it possible for us to do the work we love. We are enormously fortunate to live in a society that is rich enough to allow people to focus on the arts and ‘non-essential’ jobs.

We can do that because people work as bin collectors, in the sewers, in factories, down mines, cooking food, cleaning offices and streets, etc. etc. They often earn too little to save or put anything by, and are working too hard to study, even if they could afford it. We need those people; our society needs those people. They can’t all go to Spain or get a sailboat.

It is also true that because of their social circumstances or lack of education, some people cannot conceive of trying to improve their job prospects, or their life. It seems inconceivable to us, but our privilege also extends to having a belief in ourselves - that we can improve our prospects. There are some people who manage to get out of a bad situation and succeed, but they are rare.

I think lifehacks should be taught in the classroom. Before algebra kids should be taught budgeting, and other practical money skills such as what interest rates are, and how to negotiate your salary. Other life skills should be taught as well, such as cooking on a budget.

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A category you didn't cover is societal where our affluence has let us be so separate, in nuclear families with our own houses where community is so lacking. When co-housing came along from Denmark in the '60s, that looked like heaven. Families were together in their wings and the kitchen and outdoor areas were shared. Babysitting was not an issue and time was used more efficiently when you didn’t have to cook all the meals, plus being so connected with others made for a much more pleasurable experience of life.

Another thing you didn’t touch on was not getting married right out of school. I was Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude from NYU, but I became Mrs. Him. That was another generation so it’s not the same for women today, but still traveling the world, seeing what’s going on, collecting your own experience before you become a couple I think would be valuable for everyone.

Another thing you didn’t talk about was how what you did talk about should be taught. Thinking ahead like you did doesn’t occur to most people and how valuable your piece is to open people eyes to that. I loved it.

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I think the subject of money and class is the true third rail of writing in general, including Substack so I applaud your transparency.

I have been writing about my own situation on an increasingly transparent basis. I come from a wealthy background. My post below rides that third rail of money and class.

https://robertsdavidn.substack.com/p/my-personal-myth

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It's all of the things combined. Some privilege, some luck, a lot of good choices, smart financial decisions, hard work, willingness to take risks and try paths less walked, etc etc.

Don't let the haters get to you.

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A few thoughts (mostly making explicit things that are already said or implied in your piece).

First, I appreciate you writing this. People will have different levels of comfort describing their personal financial situation on social media, but I think providing real numbers adds a lot of context to the story you're telling.

Second, I think it's absolutely good to say, "this thing that looks difficult may be easier than you think; and you shouldn't avoid the idea just because it seems intimidating." But that's not the same thing as saying, "this is easy" or "there's no risk." (and I don't think you are).

Third, for a lot of major life decisions there's a lot of path dependency -- there's no way to fully know in advance what opportunities a decision will open up or close down without actually trying it. As you say, having a broad sense of goals and understanding how choices fit into those goals will help a lot, but it's still the case that all sorts of things outside of our control will shape our lives, and that decision making always involves uncertainty.

Which gets to the final point, thinking about luck in our lives. I feel like much of what you're saying could be abstracted into, "If you work hard (and know how to look for a decent job) and don't make major mistakes that will take you a long way" and "you will have a lot more financial freedom if you can avoid spending too much on things that aren't central to what you want (but may appear to be the trappings of success."

Both of those messages are true, and worth sharing, and both reflect a combination of hard work and good luck.

That's true of my life as well; I can look back and think, "I should have been more ambitious there" or "I should have avoided that mess" but overall, I have worked hard and avoided major mistakes and done fairly well (in my case I've ended up choosing a path which has reduced my financial upside but had the benefit of feeling a lot of creative investment in my work, which as been worth it).

I can absolutely say that I've worked to create many of the opportunities that I've taken advantage of and, at the same time, there are a dozen reasons why it was easier for me to take my path than it might have been from someone else -- reasons both of my own skills and temperaments, but also starting out from a position in which I had basic financial and emotional stability and generally good health (for myself and my family) and that is very much not guaranteed.

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