I have never been good at not comparing myself to others. It is one of my favorite activities—something I do in between work emails and the lull between episodes of Parenthood loading on Netflix. A simple glance at Twitter or a mindless scroll through Facebook reveals the various successes, personal and professional, of friends, people from high school, old roommates. They are all seemingly doing things. Big things. And here I sit, on my couch, doing smaller things, like watching TV, working and conducting consumer research on duvet covers or televisions. My mind starts to wander. "I should be doing better," a voice says, insistent and grating. "I should be doing more." This voice is the worst. It is career suicide.The correct response to this: "Keep your eyes on your own paper."
I am an inveterate comparison shopper. The internet is a vast trove of unfiltered community, each site brimming with hundreds of thousands of desk jockey and stay-at-home moms, eager to share their opinion with anyone who will listen. I consult product reviews before I do pretty much anything, getting lost in the mire of Amazon reviews of cat litter, or customer reviews of the boots I’m about to buy. My search for a dutch oven that doesn’t cost an arm and leg is an ongoing, two-year quest, enhanced by constant consumer research. I like my decisions helped along with the opinions of others. I apply this same principle to the job search. That is why I have embraced the glory of Glassdoor.com.
I don’t really buy much online, though I always intend to start. It’s on my mental to-do list of things I should do to save money, like doing my own laundry instead of dropping it off, or cooking every single meal at home. Everyone I know swears by it. "You don’t have to go to the store! You don’t have to deal!" they say as they open boxes full of new things from the comfort of their own home.
I am bad at saving money, though I really shouldn’t be. I have been in enough situations in my life where a savings account with anything in it would have been a great help, and while I consider myself excellent at budgeting (or at least having a very clear idea of how much is in my checking account at all times), I generally subscribe to the school of thought made popular by 2 Chainz: It’s mine, I spend it.
I have hosted Thanksgiving at my apartment for the past three years, mostly because I intensely dislike the idea of sitting on a crowded Metro-North train for two hours the Wednesday before, hiding behind magazines in order to avoid the people on the train I haven’t seen since high school. We are not a Christmas family. Thanksgiving, with its food and its revelry and the easy familiarity of drinking a nice glass of red wine around 3 p.m. with people I haven’t seen in a year is our tradition.
Between college and high school, I lived a dark, strange year at home, working a variety of serving jobs and moping around our house, a moppet of misery. I had to defer admission to college due to a financial aid keruffle, and I was full of vitriol; I was a miserable 18-year-old convinced that this minor injustice was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I don’t remember much about that year—maybe, because my memory is notoriously bad, or because I willfully tamped it down into the box of things I’d rather not think about—but at some point my father made me apply to a state school.
I have not asked my parents for very much, mostly because they've never had much, financially, to give. As a child, if you grow up with not that much, you don’t know what you’re missing. For so long, your worldview is only as big as the two-block radius you’re allowed to travel, and since you return home every night like a little boomerang, you only understand what it is that happens inside your house. You only understand the world within the context of what you’re living with, so when I was growing up, I understood on a very basic level that we had enough to get by.
Nothing feels as good as the free thing. Leaving your apartment and stumbling across a box of free books, or kitchenware, or a sofa that you find on the street that is hopefully not full of bed bugs is like finding treasure when you were just trying to go to the grocery store. I stop and look at every single dresser, or chair, or mirror that’s left out on the street, pausing and envisioning how it could fit in my room at home. "I need one of these," I tell myself. "Who can help me carry this home," I wonder, as I scroll thru the texts on my phone.
I have always done my taxes myself, because for a long time, they were very simple. I had one job, or maybe two jobs, depending on the year, and a student loan interest form that I always lost the minute it was mailed to me. Doing my taxes is exciting, because I get to fill in the numbers, check off the boxes, and watch the amount of money that I’m going to get back from the government grow. One year, I did my taxes at the end of January, got my refund by the first week of February, and booked a plane ticket to New Orleans for Jazzfest with the proceeds. Another year, I put some of the money aside in savings and spent the rest on a Coach bag, convinced that I would have it for decades, telling myself that I deserved the purchase because that was money I worked for.
Fire Island is the kind of place you see in Nancy Meyers movies, with big, weathered houses plopped right on the beach, with steps leading down to white sand and the ocean. Tina Fey summers there with her family, and on our last day on the beach, we sat next to her. She’s very thin, but seems nice. It’s the kind of place where shoes are optional and people ride beach cruisers along the boardwalks in their bathing suits.