Ask Polly: How can I stop feeling like a failure?
I am in my late twenties and I am currently working almost seven days a week to make ends meet. I barely have a couple hundred dollars in my savings account…much of my paycheck goes towards paying for bills. I do not shop much nor spend too frivolously thus I live within my means. I feel that my life now revolves around finding ways to make more money so I don’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck. My family currently lives in a small apartment and there’s not much space for anything. I crave for a space that is mine, a place for a desk and a flower – a place I can work. I want a garden for my grandmother so she won’t be bored. She loves growing plants, flowers, and vegetables. I don’t think I am really good at anything or have any skill that’s valuable to be able to increase my income to a lot more than what it is. I guess time, hard work, and patience will be best for me. I’m not too happy with myself because I don’t make much and I can’t take care of my family the way I want to. Or I guess, I’m not happy because I feel that I haven’t accomplished anything. Any ideas?
Too Poor Too Worried
Everyone starts at the bottom. Everyone. And the fact that you aren’t making that much means you probably are at some entry-level job. It takes usually a couple of years doing entry level before you are promoted to a decent salary given our economy. Sure, you didn’t land that hot high salary paying job directly out of college and maybe you have stumbled upon many mediocre jobs before landing this one which by the way is still mediocre because you are again – starting over. However, any job is better than no job. Any movement in a direction where you are at least paying your bills, where your car payments and rent are being paid off is a positive direction.
Try sticking this job out for at least 2 years while improving instead of jumping from entry level job to entry level job. It takes a certain tongue biting, a certain level of drudgery you’d have to endure before you can even demand for more. You bid your time, you make friends with the boss, you make friends with coworkers, and you work smart enough to be noticed… but while you wait you don’t have to twiddle your thumb in agony over your low pay, you wait in GREAT ANTICIPATION AND EXCITEMENT for that day where you can ask for a higher salary because you fucking deserve it.
And let me tell you, that day will come sooner than you think. Negotiating a higher salary is very common… Employees all around the world engage in this very act CONSTANTLY. Once they ask for something better and they don’t get it, they at least have a couple of other options lined up. So stop focusing on the drudgery and the low pay and the minutia of daily life. Start collecting and DOCUMENTING your progress. A good salary negotiation is going to be backed up by facts, by a long list of email testimonials of how great you are at your job, a power point presentation of how your contributions changed your company by X percentage in terms of sales, customer service recognition. Arm your portfolio with as many complimentary amos as you can and spend your hours collecting and collecting instead of moping. No compliment through email is too small. No sales number is insignificant. Not as long as there is progress.
I would highly recommend investing in salary negotiation techniques because they are worth it. Ramit Sethi is known partially for his salary negotiation online product. It is a couple of bucks for a chance to have the confidence to negotiate a several thousand dollar increase in your salary. It is worth it. I tried it myself and increased my bonus amount by 300%. I know, ridiculous. But you never know how much your employer is willing to give unless you ask for it. Meanwhile, never stop applying to other jobs AS YOU IMPROVE, because you never know there might be a great job right around the corner with a higher salary you can use as leverage. If another company is willing to pay you more, your company will no doubt look at you with a different perspective. If you are suddenly in greater demand, that is all the more reason for them to give you what you want.
Let’s focus on your living situation. Having your own desk with a FLOWER is not hard to do in any situation as long as there is a roof over your head. Cell mates have their own desks. At work, you have your own desk. For your grandmother who loves growing vegetables, there are many indoor hanging plants she can do without having to add extra real estate to your current situation. She can do a hanging tomato garden. They even sell some kits at the $.99 only store! She can totally start doing urban indoor gardening.
Sometimes, people in their twenties have the luxury to fool around, make mistakes, live life recklessly. Life has serendipitously landed you a role of the caretaker for your family. For you to take on that role is already so self sacrificing, you do not need to beat yourself up with further guilt for not providing them the mansion or lifestyle you believe they deserve. I am pretty sure as long as you are paying all the bills, they have it pretty nice that someone else is taking care of them when they cannot do that for themselves. Already there should be a deep sense of gratefulness and if you are taken for granted then you should not beat yourself up more for it. Kind reminders of your generosity should at least be doled out once in a while so they can thank their lucky stars they are not homeless and starving.
You are right. Time, patience, and hard work will definitely be the best for you. It is in how you are biding your time that is causing mental agony. Bide your time by filling it up with your portfolio of minor to major accomplishments. You will see how they all add up. Bide your time by relishing in the simple joys life affords you because you are going somewhere and doing something instead of sitting around all day waiting for someone else to take care of you (I am adding this just in case but I know you already have your own life-relishing activities). It is important not to dismiss how important you are. Without you, your family will not have the care they are receiving. Without you, your company wouldn’t be benefiting so much from your efforts. It is important also to not dismiss your accomplishments no matter how minor.
The accompanying praise and the relics given to those who reach their milestones which are declared on Facebook or in real life… their milestones for the most part resulted from long roads traveled. Their milestones were accompanied by years of hard work, years riddled with tiny moments where they feel they are not worth it because they haven’t reached their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow yet.
The accomplishments you achieve, however minor, should be documented and not so easily dismissed so that when you step back to get an emotional outcast of your current situation – it is a feeling of gathered accomplishments enough for the overall picture to be a good one. A progressing one. There is something inside of you that is burning with truth – that you are worth and you deserve a lot more than your current salary and standard of living. Keep that truth burning because it is so so so much better than resigning to thinking your current situation is the way it always will be. Your salary is the best you can get. Your life is as good as it gets when it isn’t so good. The fact that despite what you tell me about how down you are about your current situation, you still maintain the “this can’t be it, it can get better, I am worth a lot more than this” attitude. So deep down you know your worth. KEEP PUSHING that feeling towards the surface so taking a step back to view yourself won’t be a painful experience of, “where am I? I haven’t gone anywhere,” to “I know my value and I am not standing still. Life is moving forward. I am moving forward. I am not where I want to be now but there is nothing stopping me from getting there. THESE ARE JUST MY HUMBLE MOTHERFUCKING BEGINNINGS, BITCHES! ONWARDS HO!”