The Cult of Bootstraps

I am a strong believer in personal work and development. I am living proof that determination can actually attain goals and do things. I’ve been able to achieve a lot in 25 years of living, and 26 brings more goals. Yet, there is also a wall that exists that many of us hit and only a few can crawl over. I’m banging my head on that wall right now.

The reality is that outside factors play largely into whether or not someone will succeed in the way they want. These outside factors come in many forms. They’re income-based, education based, socio-economic based. Sometimes it comes down to sexism or racism. And even though we all want to believe that we have to tap into some type of well-spring that will fix our lives the reality is out of our control.

One applies for jobs they really want, one is maybe perfectly qualified and ready for the commitment. Your write a stellar resume and provide great references and update your website and you pray for the job. Yet 70 people apply 50 are just as qualified as you but 5 are more qualified and have more experience. Guess who gets the interview? Guess who stands out. Probably not you.

It raises the point that for every job in a certain field there are possibly hundreds trying to break into the field. Add onto it a later retirement for most people, which isn’t opening up jobs like it once did, and less jobs to go around in many industries and one is stuck in a bubble of underemployment.

For people in the millennial generation our wages are low and our potential to move ahead is harder. We buy homes less, because we can’t afford them. We’re loaded down with student debt, buying into the idea that our education was worth it. We don’t have benefits with many jobs we have, and we are having a harder time breaking into the fields we went to school for. If we ever get there. Many of us are still slinging pizza and selling clothes at Kohl’s to try and make it.

Many of us that went to school for a try at the middle class are facing an existence that has had wages stagnate for our lives and that of our boomer and gen-x parents. Add on the great recession which knocked a lot of people out of careers and into a downward spiral and we have a hot mess.

While I admire the idea of creating happiness and creating wealth in little things it’s also important to understand the crunch that basic survival takes on those living it. So much of one’s energy is placed in how to pay all the bills and come out with enough to buy food. A lot of energy is placed on figuring out summer camps and how to afford it and stressing about credit scores and if one can ever get ahead.

The increments are tough too, we might get a new job and make more, but then we lose our medicaid or other benefits such as income-based rent. So one has to earn significantly more to make a difference permanently in their lives. If you live somewhere like Fort Collins it’s even harder to pull ahead as the cost of living and cost of rent is harder to afford. 

The reality is that every single person living in the lower class or lower middle class, is literally pulling themselves up every single day by their bootstraps, just to get out of bed. The reality is that it is often so hard to want to even be alive. I believe this feeds into the drug epidemic and why so many people rely on medications of various kinds.

Much of this is compounded by a lack of well-paying and benefit-heavy jobs. Which I also understand. When a business is trying to employ people but it lacks significant profit it’s hard to pay raises and insurance and taxes and vacation and everything else. Sometimes companies can’t even fathom employing people full time, or only employ a few people full time for these reasons.

So what do we do? As the gap between rich and poor grows so wide.

A few ideas that would help would be single-payer healthcare for everyone, education for everyone, improved high school education that is heavy on teaching valuable skills, more corporate taxation and oversight, and more programs to even the playing field. Of course this comes down to taxation and taxing either everyone equally, say 20%, or a higher tax rate for those that earn more.

Historically, the United States had it’s largest economic boom in the post WWII years as a result of higher taxation and more education with the G.I. Bill. We also held onto manufacturing jobs and “built” the United States and much of the world. While globalization has changed much of where we manufacture, we also have opportunities to create more equality and affluence. Perhaps those that worked on the oil rigs could be recruited to work with renewable energy sources?

Much of this starts as early as high school and is a goal of lifetime improvements and learning. It also has to be backed by money going to actually helping teachers and educators and not for-profit systems. We also could take a look at higher education and why the hell it has skyrocketed (administration costs) at such a horrifying rate.

While I respect the idea of self-improvement and fighting for what you want, there is also a lot to be said for the people that can’t afford to meet their basic needs. It’s expensive to survive and to have kids and when a family can barely pay their bills month to month, it’s hard to see where the next spa day and yoga retreat are coming to calm the mind.

There are little things every day that improve one’s mindset when facing hard odds, but at the end of the day we must ask if this is the continued existence we want and want for our children, or are we going to fight to make sure everyone has more opportunities?

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