How Do You Even Know to Do These Things?

I think about class a lot.  More so now than I did before I moved to Nashville.  Even when I first moved to Nashville, I thought about class but only in terms of how normal I was compared to the Vandy kids who had so much.


Later, I learned that it wasn’t that other folks had so much, it was that I had so little.  But fine.  We don’t want for much, I don’t think.  My own house with a fenced in yard so the dog and I can play without the leash in the way.  A car for the Butcher.  To be out of debt.  I can’t get the Butcher’s shit together, but I’m slowly getting my own.


But I have an acquaintance who’s just gotten a new job.  And I’ve been thinking about how he got that job.  I don’t know the details, but at some level, it comes down to him realizing that they would need someone to fill that position.


I had access to all the same information he did.  I saw all the same people talking about the same things.  And I said, “Oh, great, look.  Folks are talking and having a good time.  Okay, let’s see who else needs a good talking to.”  I didn’t say, “Hey, wait a minute!  How can I use all this information to my advantage?”


It never occurred to me to say that.  I go around being open to possibilities.  I do. Even when something scares the shit out of me, if I’m asked to do it, I do it.


But I’m no good at creating my own possibilities.  I know how to meet large numbers of people and talk to them and be delighted with them.  I don’t know how to turn that into some kind of opportunity for me.


I don’t know if that’s a class thing or just a me thing.  But here I am feeling like I desperately need to bring more cool stuff into my life and I don’t think I know how to do that.  I want to just be open and have you recognize my worth and bring me in.  Because I just don’t know how to do this other thing.


In fact, until very recently, I had no idea other people were working it any other way.


I’m kind of a naive idiot.  I think that contributes a great deal to my frustration with myself.  I sense the world works differently than I think it does, but I’m not quite smart enough to figure out where my assumptions are wrong.

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15 thoughts on “How Do You Even Know to Do These Things?

  1. Wait, so if the key to happiness is to not want, then having ambition is bad?I swear, I will never understand you libertarians for as long as I live.

  2. I actually disagree. Some of this is about class. As someone who was raised in a working-class family and with working-class values, I have been continuously amazed at some of the things I wasn’t taught that children raised in middle-class families (especially upper-middle-class families) were taught. Many of those things center around a person’s relationship to money and education, but many others do seem to influence personal and professional communications. While it is true that "ambition" may have some connection to my personal and defiant "rise" into the middle-class, I did have to find my own ways of executing that ambition. As an academic, I am constantly reminded of how different my upbringing is from the majoritity of people around me. And I am constantly trying to balance self against class and to negotiate a world that is foreign to me.My struggle is the desire to hold onto some of those working-class values while living in a middle-class world and working an upper-middle-class (and quite snobby, to be honest) profession. So, you are not alone in your discovery of a world outside of yours. I feel certain I will continue to learn things about the middle-class. I take what is useful to me. I try to leave the rest.

  3. I think if you just replaced everything Exador ever said with "God, B., you’re such a fucking nut." you’d end up with the same effect.Anyway, I do think my relationship to authority is much different. I was raised to stay away from people in power. Some people are taught to court power.

  4. Katherine, you took the words right out of my mouth. One can aspire continually without knowing how to realize those aspirations. Working-class parents equip kids differently for life than middle-class or elite parents. If you aspire to middle-class or elite pursuits but come from a working-class background, the path to success is not readily apparent. Personal communication and so-called "networking" is a big part of that. Don’t call attention to yourself by "showing off," don’t ask for help, don’t stick your neck out, don’t make trouble by asking for more money, damn girl you’re lucky you got a job…a lot of what is good survival wisdom for working-class jobs is counter-productive in the professional world, right? And then there’s the question of "to what were you encouraged to aspire?" I’m guessing that B. was prepared by her parents to aspire to far different things than those for which she’s now hungering. She’s succeeded in being a humane, intelligent, compassionate, committed person — which is probably what they thought would be the precondition for whatever she later chose. The drive for material success (not just an adequate income, but affluence…not just a job, but a professional career…and so forth) that is ingrained into middle-class children so that it becomes part of their expectations just isn’t part of the kit for a lot of us. So not only does one have to have the ambition to jump the groove, but once the groove is jumped, one has to make up the new path as one goes along.

  5. Some points: "Being a humane, intelligent, compassionate, committed person" is something that many people who are working class are not, and that many people who are middle or upper middle class are. I don’t think that was what Bridgett meant, but that was how I read the first time through.Also, "The key to happiness is to want for naught." Huh, didn’t know Exador was Buddhist.Also, my situation. The best way I could describe my growing up was upper-working class. Dad works for UPS, so he has an extremely well paying blue collar (or brown collar) job that actually makes more than many white collar jobs. What I did not pick up from dad was how to network, how to sell yourself, how to get your name out, etc. This is what I am learning and doing right now. A perfect example: I had no idea of the potential that working for free as a summer intern had. Therefore I did not pursue an internship, and this bit me in the butt when I graduated. (That and the fact I graduated the spring after 9/11 into one of the worst job markets ever. Ugh.)But I’m learning now, and while not content with my current job, I have learned enough from it to make my next one capable of getting a mortgage, which is the ultimate goal of my 3-year plan.That and starting my work on the great American novel.

  6. Read "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" for a great explanation about this very topic. Kawasaki’s bio dad was the poor dad –the working class guy who taught him to get a steady job and stick to it. The rich dad was a mentor who taught him to be an entrepeneur and take risks.The author lays out how to think about your life in order to learn the lessons of the rich dad and make it work for you. Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by Eker is also excellent for understanding and breaking the assumptions of money that can keep you down that we learn in childhood.

  7. Coming at this from my own professional perspective (I’m a career counselor), I think what you’re describing is not so much a class issue (although it’s related–courting power vs. avoiding it) as it is a networking issue. You said "I had access to all the same information he did. I saw all the same people talking about the same things. And I said, "Oh, great, look. Folks are talking and having a good time. Okay, let’s see who else needs a good talking to." I didn’t say, "Hey, wait a minute! How can I use all this information to my advantage?" I immediately thought of the people I work with (smart, thoughtful) who are either uncomfortable with or unaware of how to go aobut networking. Some people are naturally better at it than others, but the bottom line is that anyone can learn a few basic things and become better at it. If you’re open to possibilities and talking to people already, you’re 80% of the way there. The trick is to think systematically and a bit intentionally about where/who best to expand your network.Just my $.02Anyone can network

  8. Lee, thanks for reading my words generously and coming around to my intended meaning despite my garble. My point was something along the lines of "some parents excel at teaching kids how to be good humans and hope for the best in the career department." Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that a schoolteacher and a minister probably chose the vocations they chose because they privilege intellectual and spiritual well-being over material success…and so (based on a whole lot of nothing, I grant you) I concluded that B is an outstanding success in terms of what her parents seem to value most (family, loyalty, compassion, generosity, curiousity, humor, hard work, tolerance, intelligence). That’s something to be proud of, even if it won’t pay the rent. The rest is skills.

  9. Aw, shucks, Bridgett. You make me sound downright cool. I’d like to say that you have me pegged pretty well, but you’ve said such nice things, I’m afraid it’ll make me look vain.But anyway, yes, I get what Lee’s saying and feel I was in the same boat. I’m totally learning how to be a self-promoter and am not entirely comfortable with it.A lot of the bravado here on Tiny Cat Pants is just practice for how I’d like to be in real life.

  10. I really loved this post. I was brought up to be good and keep my head down, although my parents and I argue about class (they’re rich and get mad at me for pointing that out).Since then I’ve met those ambitious people, and I know that no matter what I did I will never be one of those people. I can’t think that way and if I try to it doesn’t work out for me.I know of an alternative, for what it’s worth…Look for the biggest authority you can find and pick a fight. The smarter and more passionate you are the better. Obviously, some people don’t like this. But the smart ones respect intelligence, confidence, and passion and will give you opportunities you never thought to ask for.

  11. B., I think another possibility here besides class could be gender. Historically, women have been raised to be the caregivers, not the breadwinners. We’re not supposed to worry our pretty little heads about careers and money, we’re just supposed to take care of the house and the kiddies and make sure we’re "ready" when Dear Hubby gets home from a hard day at The Office.We grew up watching June Cleaver and Donna Reed and Laura Petrie. Sally Rogers was a "career woman," but she’d d trade it all for a big diamond from Mr. Right. Our first real professional role model was Mary Richards, who over the years showed us how it was done.My biggest career issue has always been in the "asking for/going after what you want" vein. When I lived in L.A. and worked in television, I was plenty ambitious — I was gonna be the next Steven Bochco. But the things I’d learned from watching Donna Reed teach her TV-daughter held me back, and the monologues in my head when something like this: don’t go after the job on the cop show, they’ll never hire a girl writer, you’re not as good as whatever guy they’re gonna hire anyway. Even now, as a paralegal in Nashville, my need for a much-deserved raise in my current job is being sabotaged by old lessons. After all, Della Street never asked Perry Mason for a raise. (But… Mary Richards asked, no, demanded, and got a raise. More than once, if I remember correctly. Guess I need to channel my Inner-Mary…)Thanks for an extremely thought-provoking post, B.

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