Not everyone has black cards and Beemers.
Growing up I had to move around a lot with my family for various reasons, like my mom going to graduate school or getting offered a job with the government in Washington DC. We finally settled in northern Virginia, specifically North Arlington. Of course I was sad to move again, as all children become attached to their environments and can’t conceptualize the idea of making new friends, but since then, I’ve called Arlington my hometown and I’m completely in love with it.
However, North Arlington is an extremely affluent area, due to its proximity to DC, so most of its residents are well-off business owners, CEO’s, politicians, contractors, and federal employees. My mom’s position elevated us to a different way of living than we experienced back in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Even though, when you go to school with the offspring of major political and government figures, you start to notice, especially as a teenager, the economic disparity.
My school was one of the best in the area; I’ll always think it’s the best. It provided me with a great education and helped get me into a wonderful college. My peers all went off to attend really great schools themselves. We were all lucky enough to be placed in an environment that really catered to making our future the best it could be, however many didn’t have to work for it at all, depending on who their parents were. Being well-off in Arlington means something completely different compared to the rest of the nation. The majority of my peers got their college completely paid for out of pocket. While I can’t complain because my mother paid for half my college, I am still among the minority that took out student loans.
By comparison, I knew several people who had two houses just in Arlington alone, and almost everyone’s family had at least one piece of property as a vacation home or condo at the shore. The student lot was filled with luxury cars, and one of my best friends got to drive hers out of the dealership for her sixteenth birthday. Two of my friends had their own credit cards in high school that were paid for by their parents, so money was never really an issue for them. This might seem excessive, and it is, but when you’re so close to the nation’s capital and are surrounded by powerful adults all the time, it becomes the norm.
Growing up around this affluence made me feel slightly excluded from my friends. I have worked since I was fifteen, and I wasn’t given a brand new car, and I pay for my own credit card. I try to be as fiscally responsible as I can, but living in this environment at times makes it hard to distinguish between the necessary and the extravagant. As a teenager I became a little materialistic and self-absorbed with stuff.
Although we lived in a very nice condo less than two miles from Georgetown and had a view of the National Cathedral, I still felt like we were lacking compared to others. And in some ways we were, if compared to the affluence we were surrounded by. We didn’t have a house with white columns like my friends did, and my mother was not the CEO of her own company. As she liked to regularly remind me when I lost myself in the world that wasn’t mine, “We are good, we are beyond good. Be grateful for what you have and look at how far we’ve come. You have everything you need.”
Going to college and seeing how the real world works, I have noticed that I am definitely not in the minority. I also realize that in my own way, I am actually very privileged. Looking back, I’m glad that I wasn’t part of the elite, because I learned how to work hard, forge my own path, and succeed on merit.