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Upward Mobility Downfalls, Part 3: Getting to the Bottom of Money Woes

Molly initially sought therapy because she wanted tools to cope with her overwhelming anxiety. Despite working feverishly, Molly felt as though she was drowning. She had used student loans and credit cards to get through school and now this debt was accruing at an exponential rate. She’d moved to San Francisco because of the booming opportunities in tech without anticipating the high costs of living. Her rent was through the roof, her car payment felt astronomical and her monthly spending on dinners, drinks and clothing was tipping her over the edge. She beat herself up session after session for being unable to keep up with her most basic expenses.

Given these concrete, financial struggles, Molly identified her money woes as the source of her problems.

When looking around at her peers, she saw that everyone seemed to be moving through the world with ease. Her colleagues exchanged professional strategies at daily happy hours, casually declaring that they’d like to “open a tab,” as they ordered round after round. It seemed totally appropriate to trade in her Honda for a new Prius, sign up for a monthly fashion consultant and dine out more often than not. It seemed that everyone around her considered these things to be the basics.

It wasn’t until Molly was struck by the idea of enlisting an expert to help her with her finances that a new awareness emerged. Feeling uncomfortable asking her work friends for a referral for a certified financial planner, Molly asked her nearest and dearest for a recommendation. She was greeted by blank stares and an occasional “Certified financial what?” It became clear that no one within her closest circle of support, despite their continued confusion about how to manage their finances, had ever even heard of a financial advisor.

She then, despite feelings of intense anxiety, mustered up her best tone of nonchalance (and downing a third dirty martini), asked a colleague if she could recommend an advisor.

“Oh, hm. I just use my dad’s guy. That stuff is so confusing, right? Ugh, I just let him handle my financial estate and whatnot. Wanna order Hamachi?!”

It was through the observations of her therapist that Molly began to realize, for the first time, that there was a huge chasm between her reality and that of her professional peers.

When stepping onto the ladder of economic mobility, it is easy to look around us and imagine that we are all on a level playing field. If we’re struggling to keep up, then we consider this a personal failure and, almost unawares, increase our output to stay in the game.

Molly had been mired in self-loathing, anxiety and depression unable to grasp why she was falling behind while everyone around her seemed to be fine. Those in her professional network took their advantages for granted, thus could not identify with nor acknowledge Molly’s struggles. Those within her closest circle of support – long standing friends and family – offered vague advice and more than a little envy if Molly tried to talk about her struggles.

For the upwardly mobile, it can feel impossible to relate to professional peers who were raised with a familial tradition of educational and economic success. Likewise, it becomes increasingly difficult to find guidance from family and friends, as you are up against challenges that they have never before encountered. Those who are striving to achieve something more are often caught in an isolating limbo.

The upwardly mobile often become stuck between feelings of guilt about leaving loved ones behind and feelings of shame about being grossly unequipped to navigate new personal and professional responsibilities. And – here’s the kicker – it is likely these feelings are happening outside of your awareness. Thus, while you are doing your best to keep up, these unconscious thoughts and beliefs are influencing your behavior in subtle or not so subtle ways, likely holding you back.

In fact, many of us rebel against those who can help us – like a therapist – because we’re unconsciously pissed off that we have to work so much harder to attain the same level of emotional and intellectual bandwidth as our peers who were raised with more resources. These feelings of guilt, shame, envy and frustration can blind us to the very resources that could help us move forward.

So, what can you do to successfully navigate the next level of financial success?

1. First, recognize that – yeah – a lot of your professional peers got their shit paid for and don’t have to work as hard, financially, to stay in the game. Sucks, but that’s life!

2. Let yourself feel pissed, frustrated and guilty about this limbo space that you’re caught up in. Though you tend to heavily rely on your intellect, remember that those who are most successful at leveling up recognize that emotions are a form of information and it’s wise to pay attention to what message your feelings are sending.

3. Get help! A lot of us have learned that asking for help is a form of weakness, but guess what?! Everyone who is successful had help to get there. (For those who have “picked themselves up by their bootstraps” this help may have come in the invisible form of engaged, educated parents with financial resources, well-paid private school teachers, influential connections and house-cleaners!)

Like the idea of seeking a financial planner, the possibility of finding a therapist often does not even occur to those of you who are in the process of leveling up. Yet, a therapist is quite possibly the most appropriate expert to help you as you begin this journey.

Though Molly had sought therapy for income-related anxiety, she came to realize that her difficulties were much more complex. By taking the time to understand her unique unconscious variables along with the hidden, yet powerful, class disparities Molly was able to access her mind in ways that she didn’t know were possible. She became less interested in keeping up with her peers and more interested in developing a successful life based on her own rad notions of living.

Yeah, it can be a bitch to bust your ass without seeing immediate results. But, the truth is, access to resources – external and internal – is one of the biggest factors that can allow you to pop up to that next level of success. Though the challenges can feel insurmountable, upward mobility is possible. The UM are the most interesting, creative and solid cats out there. So, hoist up your britches, tighten your boot-straps, and then ask for help!

Tiffany McLain

Tiffany McLain

Tiffany McLain has a psychotherapy practice in San Francisco where she specializes in working with young professionals who straddle multiple identities, be this professionally, ethnically or economically.

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