A different league

Abilify withdrawal is no joke. My anxiety is through the roof and nothing seems to settle it. I may be in for several more weeks of this, too. It doesn’t seem to respond to any of my usual anxiety-management techniques.

It’s been a tough couple days, even without the Abilify withdrawal symptoms. My youngest son found out that he didn’t get accepted to his first-choice university, which seems to upset me more than it upsets him. He still got into a very good school and submitted his acceptance already.

I’m also looking for work, as I’ve mentioned, and that’s not going particularly well, either. I know we have the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, but I honestly didn’t expect it to be this tough considering that I’m going for relatively low-skill jobs in which I already have a couple years of experience.

I find that with both my son’s university pursuits and my job search, I’m falling back into bad old comparison habits that I know don’t serve me at all.

I recognize that I had a LOT emotionally invested in my son’s university search. He was being recruited by Ivy League schools and ultimately decided not to apply to any, focusing on state schools instead where the tuition was lower and it didn’t seem like as much of a reach to get in. It honestly never once crossed my mind that he might not get into a state school, since he has a 4.3 GPA and his SAT scores were in the 99th percentile. (Well, he did technically get in, but only to the College of Liberal Arts, and he wants to major in STEM.)

On some level, I still feel like I’m comparing myself and my kids to the other moms in my online moms group that I was a part of for nearly 20 years. Many of their kids are indeed going to more prestigious universities. I thought (naively) that there wasn’t any more to account for this than the student’s individual performance, that it was strictly meritocratic.

But the truth is more complex than that. Their kids had the benefits of years of private lessons, social connections, and even being able to attend the university summer camps to which my son was invited but couldn’t afford to attend.

My husband always said that the women in that group were in a different league than I was but in many ways, I didn’t believe him. They were my friends and we shared interests in politics and books and movies. We discussed current events in an intelligent manner that I couldn’t find among my economic peers. Surely, there wasn’t so much separating us.

But there was and there is. Many of these parents are able to afford to pay for their kids to go to prestigious universities out of state, even private universities. They could afford to buy their kids cars when the kids turned 16, which we weren’t able to do. I thought that college would be the great leveler, where my son’s academic achievements would more than make up for what we lacked in income. But just as always, I find that individual merit isn’t enough to make up for a lifetime of the advantages that come with being upper middle class.

Then yesterday, I saw on LinkedIn that a young man I worked with at a previous job went from being a customer service rep—just like I was—to being a VP at JPMorgan Chase five years later. I know that kind of leap in job title rarely happens in that time frame and he probably had family connections. But I can’t help but look at where I am now versus where he is now and feel like I’ve made some serious missteps along the way. At the very least, if I’d been able to stay at that job (instead of having to quit because my kids needed transportation to school), I probably would be looking for much better jobs than I am right now.

Five years later and I’m trying to get back to the work I was doing then, in hopes of proving myself enough to establish a career. I just feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels for so long and have nothing to show for it.

I get it: the world is not really a meritocracy. It’s often more about who you know than what you know, which isn’t surprising to anyone. I just wish I could break out of the cycle of having been raised lower middle class and manage to achieve more. I hope my son can break the cycle, too. I really don’t want to see my kids have to struggle just because I did.

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