What No One Says About “Pulling Yourself Up By The Bootstraps”

The other day I was wasting time on Twitter and I came across a tweet that moved me. Not in an inspirational way, but more in a “ugghh, yes but also NOOOOOOOO” kind of way. A fellow blogger tweeted an article about someone receiving parental support until age 29. Another blogger chimed in to share that there was nothing wrong with parental support, but that he had been “hungrier” without it.

These two bloggers are wonderful people and I have no problem with their points. But it struck a chord in me that we were feeding two problematic narratives: first, that parental support makes you soft, and that independence breeds hunger and hustle. Hustle is, of course, the ultimate goal. It’s what gets you to the life you want, and it’s endlessly glorified. There’s no downside to hustle!

The personal finance world has a big problem when it comes to talking about privilege and accessibility. It’s all “bootstraps this” or “latte factor” that. People talk about their accomplishments, and people are happy to share financial lessons they learned that helped them achieve success. But rarely do people want to talk about the emotional burdens that come with money, or acknowledge that certain people have financial privileges and access that others don’t. I find that this omission happens a lot, which is a large part of why Bravely exists. We talk about the full spectrum of money: how to earn it, keep it, and what it does to us as people.

I can tell you a bootstraps narrative that is impressive:

I grew up in a single-parent household, and money was tight for the majority of my childhood. In college, I paid for my own books and any fun I wanted to have. I worked all throughout college and held three jobs my senior year. Post college, I get a birthday check every year from my mother to the tune of $100.

I’ve never received financial support as an adult. (Though I did live rent-free at home for my first year out of college.) I waited tables and paid for my own cell phone, car insurance, gas, going out money, and built enough savings to move from New England to Texas. And that lack of support has in part motivated me to work harder, save more, and build financial security for myself. I paid off my student loan debt in three and a half years, while never making more than $32,000. In 2014, I lived off of $15,000, and still paid off $2,000 in debt.

I was responsible for myself. That knowledge has always made me volunteer for the extra shift, or turn down a night out in the name of building my savings. It’s pushed me to work more, negotiate more, and to start my own business. It has fueled my ambition and my hustle.

It has also made me anxious as fuck at times. I didn’t deal with anxiety growing up. I’m not naturally an anxious person. But since graduating college, anxiety has become a part of my life, and it’s almost exclusively because of money. That bootstraps narrative is just one side of the coin.

Graduating with no job, $25,302 worth of debt, and into the worst recession ever was a huge financial burden. It’s one that I’ll probably never recover from, given stagnated wages and the rate of earning power for women and Millennials. Millennials are making just 43% of what Generation X made at our age. We’re starting from behind, and there’s just not enough time to catch up.

I’ve cried over money. I’ve gotten anxious over money. My student loan debt literally landed me in therapy for six months. The fact that I couldn’t make my payments made me feel like a failure who would be broke until the day I died. My entire life has revolved around money, sometimes in unhealthy ways. My relationship to money has literally shaped my current life.

I have been anxious about money since 2011. And a little parental support would have definitely changed that.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with accepting parental support after college. It can be a really rough road, and if your parents’ money makes it a little easier, then I’m all for it. However, I think it’s important to be vocal about receiving support, and to understand not everyone has that. Don’t mask the support and make it seem like you’re doing it by yourself. That does everyone, including you, a disservice.

I think it’s crucial to develop financial and professional skills on your own and to work towards not relying on your parents. But if my mother had been able to send me a check every month, or to provide free housing in Austin for me, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.

Feeling anxious sucks. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s difficult to understand the toll it takes on you. Anxiety will wake you out of a dead sleep with a racing heart and your brain yelling, “EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE.” It will keep you in your house for three entire days in a row because the world is too much. It will settle into your stomach in a knot, and refuse to let food in.

This is not an ode to unconditional parental support. This is a plea to everyone to acknowledge that our emotional relationship to money is a varied, changing thing. It comes with highs and lows, and no two experiences are the same. Let’s open the conversation up and talk about the full spectrum of dealing with money, rather than continuing to push one-sided narratives.

Kara Perez is a freelance writer and the founder of Bravely, a company that connects women and money. Visit bravelygo.co, or follow Bravely on Instagram and Twitter.

Image via Unsplash

  • Violaine

    Preach! I grew up with very little money, and I still feel super anxious. I earn enough – just about because I have a fixed-loan that I need to pay every month no matter what-, and if my parents could help me, I would feel so much better and so much less worried about losing my job. And my loan could have been paid back by now. I feel super proud to say I did it “all by myself” and I think people who did that should be proud, but honestly, I’d give that up if I could have a bit of peace of mind.

  • Judith

    I think there are important distinctions about parental support that are almost always lost. Receiving help so that you can afford to eat proper food or replace a pair of jeans at the end of the month is an entirely different thing than getting a new sports car for your birthday or getting your credit card bill picked up by your parents each month. It’s a spectrum, not an absolute.

    • Sophia An

      This. I think there’s a real disconnect people have with receiving help from parents and using parents. A lot of people imagine getting financial support from parents means being a trust fund baby but 99% of the time that’s not the case.

    • Very true that there are varying degrees of parental support. Every bit helps. For all those receiving very little, there are also some receiving a lot, but also some who receive none.

  • Ashley Derum

    Psst, your Bravely link in the body of your post is broken… PS: Thank you for being so honest about the “boot straps” theory. Your story sounds similar to mine– anxiety included.

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