The last time I checked my bank account statement, I saw a lot of zeros, and I don't mean the good kind. Let's face it; I epitomize the "broke college student". But it wasn't always that way. If I try hard enough, I can remember a time when shopping (and spending) at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica was a weekly bonding experience for me and my mom. I went to private school, took horseback riding lessons, singing lessons, even laid out my thirteen-year-old soul to a ninety dollar an hour therapist.
When you come from privilege, it's hard to imagine anything else. I saw struggle as someone else's problem, because no matter how hard my day was I knew there would always be comfort food in the kitchen, a Jacuzzi tub to soak in, and my very own bedroom door to slam.
Throughout high school I noticed my luxuries slipping away. After years of a successful television-writing career, my dad hit a wall and wasn't working; my parent's relationship was on the decline, and the ominous knowledge of college tuition loomed in my future.
By freshman year of college we lost the house, we lost the health insurance, and my parents parted ways. I felt completely disoriented.
The hardest part about this transition was my desperate attempt at holding onto an image. An image of privilege that I used to live effortlessly, had turned into an act. I felt like a poser. I was embarrassed and under the impression that the drama of my life was just as important to everyone else, as it was to me. The more I tried to play this role, the deeper the resentment I felt towards myself.
What I needed most was something I couldn't fathom at that time -- I needed a paradigm shift. Everyone else in my family seemed to accept the changes, adjusting their life styles accordingly -- but I couldn't shake the feeling that I had been gypped. I wanted so badly to go back to "normal", I didn't stop to think that maybe "normal" never stays the same.
My wake up call wasn't the transition from a cold-hearted rich girl to a compassionate girl in need. It was the realization that I could still be me, regardless of the fluff.
Though it sounds completely cliché, college is about finding yourself. Sometimes I wonder what these four years would have been like, had my bank account zeros been the good kind. Maybe I would have gone to Cabo for spring break, eaten less instant ramen, and bought my textbooks new, not used. But I would have sacrificed something much greater -- the knowledge of my own autonomy, the satisfaction of hard work, and the appreciation that comes from something earned.
As I reach the end of my college career, I feel nothing but gratitude towards the turn my life took. Rather than feeling gypped, I feel fulfilled. I've learned the power of being flexible, not just with others, but also with myself. It was naïve of me to think that the identity I held as a prepubescent tween, would be the same identity I hold today. And why should it be?
Now, when I look into the abyss that is post-graduation, I feel optimistic. My transition from privileged to "getting by", though rocky, grounded me in the understanding that change is both inevitable and positive.
I've seen both sides of the coin, and the only place I can go from here -- is up.