Dealing with the Guilt

If you’re a long time reader, or have read my financial background posts (one & two), you’ll remember I wasn’t born into the upper-middle class lifestyle. I grew up pretty poor. Medicaid, food stamps, government housing, free breakfast and lunches at school, and low-cost after-school care was my life for the first 6 years.

Then my mom got married to my stepdad and he catapulted us out of poverty and into a solid upper middle class lifestyle.

Flash forward a few more years and I worked hard all through high school to get my full-ride academic scholarship to college.

Flash forward a few more years and I worked hard through my internship to get a great full-time, white-collar office job.

Now I’m 25, worth $100k, and am poised for a life of comfort and sweet dreams undisturbed by worries about money, having a roof over my head and putting enough food on the table.

I feel so guilty.

Which is ridiculous, right? I mean, I’ve worked my ass off to get to where I am. Spending 12 hours a day at the high school working on getting good grades, volunteering, and doing plenty of extracurriculars. Joining the military for extra spending money in college so I didn’t go into credit card debt or take out student loans. Staying late at my internship, coming in on the weekends if they needed me and never saying no to any request from someone higher up than me.

I still feel guilty that I have such a good career and life when other people I love and care about struggle to make ends meet at the end of every month. They work just as hard, if not harder, than I do, and yet are nowhere close to my life.

One of my friends went to college, and then went on to get her master’s degree. Only problem is, she didn’t like 99% of the careers associated with her degree, so now she works a low paying job that pages her at all hours of the day. Together, her and her husband still make only 75% of what I make.

My other friend is a very talented graphic design artist who happened to have the misfortune to graduate from college in 2008. She is now going back to school for a certificate in an in-demand medical field.

My sister is an administrative admin making a third of what I do. She has one kid and another on the way.

My mother is a very smart lady who took some punches in life and got a late start. She graduated with a degree from the local community college and now works as a librarian (which she loves and has harbored a life long dream of doing). She doesn’t get healthcare, or paid vacation, or sick days like I do. I save more a year than she earns in her salary.

Being surrounded by all these talented, funny, smart, amazing people stuck in low paying jobs has made more than a few impressions on me.

1.) Major guilt.

How did I get so lucky to escape their fate?

2.) Gratefulness.

Hearing their stories about money makes me incredibly grateful and appreciative of what I have. If I want to do something, I evaluate whether I have the time and/or vacation days to do it, and then base my decision off that. Rarely does the actual cost of whatever I want to do factor into something. For instance, when agonizing over whether I wanted to start up my side hustle, my friend suggested I take some time and save up for it. I already had the money. My struggles were over whether I’d actually stick with it and find the time to work on it. But for her, the start up costs of equipment and supplies would’ve been the biggest factor in her decision because it would’ve been fairly costly (and it was, even though I found several good deals on used stuff from Craigslist).

3.) Career v. Job

A career is an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.

A job is a paid position of regular employment.

I have a career. My friends and family have a job. I have a very clear path for progression within my company. Go up grade levels, get more responsibilities, take on more challenging work. Unless someone quits or is fired, my friends have very little progression in their current company.

I NEVER want to be in a position where I have to worry about paying bills or covering an unexpected major expense.

The funny thing? I hate this career. I hate being stuck in a cubicle for 8 hours a day staring at a computer and dealing with petty coworkers. I suppose some of my reluctance to embrace this career stems from the fact I feel a touch of the imposter syndrome. I’m not sure I have trouble internalizing my achievements, since I’m quite proud of what I’ve done and what I’ve worked on, but I do feel like a fraud. Especially in my current position when it seems like every time I turn around, someone has something to say about what I’ve been doing at work, how long I’m in the office or even what I’ve been wearing! The stress of always being monitored for every little thing is starting to get to me. Upon saving up enough money, I will be more than happy to return to part-time retail work, or go back to working an entire summer at a local camp for $700. I get a lot more personal fulfillment from mentoring little kids, or being a member of the ski patrol at the local ski resort, or even teaching swim lessons than I do from pushing bits of data around for a big company.

Or, even better, I’ll be free to pursue whatever artistic direction my heart fancies. Woodworking? Sure. Pottery? You betcha. Sewing ridiculously cute cat costumes? Done.

I’m starting to realize I’m much happier in a creative endeavor than I am doing pretty much anything else. I love the feeling of accomplishment I get when I set a hard stitch in a scarf. Or when I see how happy my friend is when I give her a customized letter “I” for her feature wall at home. Or the thank you card I get in the mail from my friend when I make a baby quilt for their newborn that’s the perfect size and exactly what they needed.

Look at that cute lil face
Look at that cute lil face


Readers….. how do you deal with the guilt of having a good life? Of being isolated from the problems of so many in the world? 

13 thoughts on “Dealing with the Guilt

  1. All those feelings make sense to me. But I’m going to be honest that I have no idea what the right answer is for dealing with them. I’m currently reading “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World” by Harry Browne and maybe it’ll shed some light on some answers 😉

    At lot of luck, perseverance, and hard work got you to wear you are. Don’t discredit the luck portion, but at the same time remember all the hard work that got you to where you are. It’s a tough balancing act for sure!

  2. You should feel guilty. As an evil 1%er you should be giving more to people that don’t get it. You didn’t build your wealth – at least that’s what I’ve heard. /sarc off

  3. Yep. I’ve been on anti-depressants a couple times because of that guilt. It pops back every now and again, and I bet it’s a partial influence on why I don’t seem to spend a lot.

  4. Gwen, our background is similar. I came from poverty and found wealth fairly quickly at a young age. Rather than guilt I wondered why I was so lucky compared to others. For me, I found awesome motivational speakers (Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins) who convinced me it was okay to have wealth and fell good about it. Feeling guilt is dangerous to the FI lifestyle so don’t let it consume you. You MUST ingrain in your mind that you worked hard to get where you are. You save and invest a large portion of your income. Those who do not have nothing to complain about. Engage in positive self-talk. It helps. And always keep looking up (unless you are crossing the road, then you might want to look both ways first).

    It felt good reading your story. Stories are the best when reading blogs. It pulls me, the reader, into the story and wanting more. Awesome job, young lady!

  5. I make sure to never complain. In the worldwide scheme of things, I have it so ridiculously good, I always catch myself before complaining about anything at all. Sometimes I think Americans are just privileged dipshits. And relative to people around me, I try not to talk about my salary, my investment property, the international vacations we take, etc. because it can come off as bragging. I don’t even like to mention that I get 25 vacation days a year, plus another 13 sick days, since some people get 10 days all together.

    You mention how one friend had the misfortune to graduate in 2008, and it’s true. A lot of the time, timing makes all the difference. It’s just a fluke of where and when you are. So take that to heart.

    To make the bad feelings go away, I give to charity through my workplace. I increase the amount every year, and that seems to do the trick.

  6. Excellent post that made me think. You’re right that having a career is a luxury as compared to a job but sometimes those of us with a career feel locked in and are envious of the flexibility of a job (atleast I feel that way sometimes). Also can relate to the parents guilt. A huge motivation around early FI for me is being able to help out my parents. Ultimately I want to make enough before retirement to help them out too.

  7. I have a similar life story. My upbringing started off shakey but I ended up living comfortably, in the financial sense, for most of my life. I went to college and grad school debt free and just started working. I continue to do well. However somewhere along the way i got sick with a rare life threatening disease. The uncertainty of my health takes away that guilt completely.

  8. I’m buried in student loan debt, so I’m not where I want to be financially and I feel worse off than many of my friends who graduated debt-free. I do sometimes feel guilty though because I have it much better than many people who are in debt. I have the option of living with my parents which allows me to pay off my debt much more quickly. Because of that, I’m able to live in a “nice”, safe neighborhood despite my financial situation. I always have enough food to eat and a roof over my head. I don’t have a family to support or any other enormous expenses. Many people who are in debt don’t have the same privileges that I have.

    I can understand why you feel guilty, and I think it’s great that you are so sympathetic to the difficulties that those around you are struggling with. However, you have worked hard to get where you are and you should be proud!

  9. It’s weird to me that you feel guilty about your success. As someone whose family has paid taxes to support all the programs you benefitted from as a child, and who pays 40% of my income in taxes, I have to say that it’s curious to me that you would feel guilty for your savings and financial prowess (which would allow people like me and my family to save money on taxes). You shouldn’t have any guilt at all, but why is your guilt about your success, not your (initial) family’s failure to work hard enough and plan well enough to provide for you instead of taking from innocent, hard-working taxpayers?

    Congratulations on your success, and let go of the guilt that seems to have come from being responsible. And say thank you to a generous step-dad who did what your parents couldn’t or wouldn’t.

    • I feel guilty because at times I feel like I haven’t done much to earn this success. I have, but I have friends that work way harder than me for peanuts. I sometimes feel guilty I earn so much for doing relatively little. Mostly I’m grateful though.

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