A Letter to My 21-Year-Old Broke Self

Money doesn’t get better. You do.

Photo credit: dotigabrielf, CC0 Public Domain.

Dear 21-year-old Brit,

I know you’re tired. I know you feel like a failure, with your two jobs (neither of which is giving you nearly enough hours) and continuous need to take out short-term loans from the Student Life Office to pay your rent. I know you feel like quitting everything.

I know you feel ugly, because your stress is taking a toll on your health and your nerves. It feels like you’re always out of place. Your family is upper middle class, but you’re working at a level that none of the folks from your neighborhood would ever dream of doing while getting a degree.

I wish I could tell you you’re wrong. But you’re not. Your instincts are 100 percent accurate. Here’s how you stay sane:

Stop asking your parents for money.

You’re not wrong to do this. Oh god, you’re not. Mom and Dad never had a discussion with you about who would pay for what in college. You have no idea what to do, and what you’re responsible for. So, like a baby bird peeping in the nest with her beak wide open, you’re asking your parents for help.

It’s not worth it, Pop Tart. It’s not worth the psychological damage and scorn that their saying no will cause you. Your mother is a narcissist, and your father is more mentally ill than he seems. Just two incidents of asking them for support will summon the terrible line, “You only call to talk about money!” So please, resist your very human urge.

Instead, talk to Grandma and your boss.

There are so many people who want you to succeed. There are also so many more role models around you than you can see right now.

Grandma, for instance. She raised kids as a single mother, advanced in her career, earned a Master’s degree and is kicking ass being happy while in retirement. Talk to her. Get as much advice from her while you still can. You’ll lose a very valuable role model in her four years from now.

Don’t let your struggle to feel “good enough” sneak into work.

I know you’re feeling insecure AF right now. You’ve just been kicked out of your current living situation because you ate too much of the public food. Your roommate also suspects (incorrectly) that you’ve been stealing her tampons. But you’re a pariah, nonetheless. So you’re getting the boot from those basic b*tches who pretty much were your Friendship Goals.

Pop Tart, you’re always going to feel insecure. Always. Even when you’re riding high at a New York book party and shaking agents’ hands, even when you’re receiving thank-you packages from clients you’ve retained for years. The feeling of Is My White Trash Showing? will never go away.

So do yourself and me a favor: Keep saying your deep truths. Keep lying to your heinously insecure side about not being terribly broke. Hold on to the part of you that reads Les Misérables on your lunch break. Believe that you are worthy of the Big Good Jobs that all the people in your dorm with the secure families are applying to. You deserve that too.

You’re going to be okay.

Look at you, reading Victor Hugo on your breaks at the theater. Studying to the Einstein on the Beach soundtrack. Hosting movie nights in your shitty apartment with just a laptop on a chair. You’re so precious, you baby intellectual, trying so hard to build the life you want.

You’re going to be okay. You’ll likely always have to be frugal. That familial support will never come, and you’ll have to deal with that hole inside you for several more years. But even at rock bottom, you still have value. You still have friends, even when it doesn’t feel like it. You still have men interested in dating you.

I wish I could tell you these things in a way that would have you believe me. I know it seems that the people with familial support, a free ride, more time than you, etc. have everything put together. But trust me, the path you’re on is very good for you. You’re toughening yourself. You’re cultivating deep dreams. There will come a time when people will wish they had your perspective. The people who matter will respect you for your ability to work hard and your terrible desire for culture to alleviate your hard work.

Also, for god’s sake: Buy some body wash. Saving a few bucks on nasty bar soap is not worth it. Just stop.

Brit McGinnis is a copywriter and author of several books. Her work has appeared on XOJane, SparkNotes and anywhere fine stories are sold. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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