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It's Not About the Money; Youth Need Support for Dreams


“You know, you won’t make much money doing that.” 

For a few years now, I wanted to be a social worker because I want to help people and guide them through their hard times. It seems rewarding to watch someone grow into themselves and be more confident. With all that being said, I don’t have a high school diploma yet or an acceptance letter from a college. I haven’t even applied, so my intangible plans of being a social worker are all I currently have. 

The first time I heard I wouldn’t make much money came from a relative of mine. It stung to hear that comment because it reassured my fear that my plans weren’t valid. We sat at the dining room table, and I stayed quiet after he said it, while my aunt harped at him, telling him that money is not all that’s important in life and that I would figure it out. I won’t lie, I was discouraged. 

The idea that money is the only aspect that shows success is a popular one among the Baby Boomer generation. It’s possible that this mentality stems from different cultural backgrounds and personal histories with money. It seems now, more than ever, teens and young adults are being told that their dream career paths are just that: dreams that are unattainable since they are not real jobs that allow you to support yourself. Although it’s important to follow your passions, it is definitely from a thing of privilege to be able to chase your goals. A vast majority of people have to work jobs that are available to support their family. Even though some people have to put their dreams on hold, it’s important to keep them in mind for the future. 

For teens, the future is especially unnerving. Due to constant discussion of college, many students are reluctant to talk about their own plans in fear of judgment. Although I have a rough outline of what I want for my future, not many teens feel sure about themselves or their plans. We often tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, or what we want isn’t realistic. This creates a massive battle between whether to choose a career that sparks interest or one that guarantees security. When adults’ comments reinforce all of the insecure and conflicted feelings, it’s a hard pill to swallow. 

Even though it seems shallow to be concerned mainly about money alone, it is not an unpopular opinion. According to a survey done in 2013 of 600 random employees from large and small companies by the Society for Human Resource Management Staff, 60 percent of American employees said compensation and pay were the most critical factors to job satisfaction.

Although the survey was conducted around five years ago, similar themes continue. For example, I went to the Portland farmers’ market in July and was able to get the viewpoints of multiple people. When I asked a vendor if he was ever told his job was not sustainable, he said that he had told himself he couldn’t make a living as a farmer because it wasn’t a profitable job. Despite being told that their jobs weren’t sustainable by themselves or someone else, each person I spoke with went after their dreams.

One story, in particular, was from a woman selling her art on the street. She told me about her life and how before her art career she was a nurse. She said, “Right now, honestly, I lost everything. I was working; I was making sometimes $52 an hour. I lost everything to lose nothing. I was not getting time with my son, and he was bonding with the babysitter. . .There are different types of riches. . .” Her story was striking to me because she may not be able to live the life she used to, but she reinforces the idea that money isn’t always a priority.

The first time I heard I wouldn’t make much money came from a relative of mine, the second time came from my neighbor, and the third time it came from someone I had known for 10 minutes. At first, I thought I’d have to go back to square one, back to the drawing board, rewrite my future, but I refused.

How do I shake off the comments? It’s partially due to the support I have from my parents, which is a great privilege. But it’s also because I think it’s so important to put yourself first and go through life with passion, so I continue to refuse to change my plans because I know that I want a future where I invest in myself.

Grace Brenner is a student at Cape Elizabeth High School. She wrote this piece during a Raise Your Voice Workshop at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science this summer.