Insightful Words: Tidbits of Wisdom from Sugar

I regularly follow a columnist named Sugar. She is like a feisty, raw and R-rated version of Dear Abby, and I am in love with her writing. Today, I decided to do an Insightful Words post sharing excerpts from her column. The piece is in response to a reader’s plight on paying back college loans. It touches upon college, studying abroad, finances, and coming to terms with the cards one is dealt in life.

Many years ago, I ran into an acquaintance I’ll call Kate a few days after we both graduated college. Kate was with her parents, who’d not only paid for her entire education, but also for her junior year abroad in Spain, and her summer “educational opportunities” that included unpaid internships at places like GQ magazine and language immersions in France and fascinating archeological digs in God knows what fantastically interesting place. As we stood on the sidewalk chatting, I was informed that: a) Kate’s parents had given her a brand new car for her graduation present and b) Kate and her mother had spent the day shopping for the new wardrobe Kate would need for her first ever job.

Not that she had one, mind you. She was applying for jobs while living off of her parents’ money, of course. She was sending out her glorious resume that included the names of foreign countries and trendy magazines to places that were no doubt equally glorious and I knew without knowing something simply glorious would be the result.

It was all I could do not to sock her in the gut.

Unlike Kate, by then I’d had a job. In fact, I’d had sixteen jobs, not including the years I worked as a babysitter before I could legally be anyone’s employee. They were: janitor’s assistant (humiliatingly, at my high school), fast-food restaurant worker, laborer at a wildlife refuge, administrative assistant to a Realtor, English as a Second language tutor, lemonade cart attendant, small town newspaper reporter, canvasser for a leftie nonprofit, waitress at a Japanese restaurant, volunteer coordinator for a reproductive rights organization, berry picker on a farm, waitress at a vegetarian restaurant, “coffee girl” at an accounting firm, student-faculty conflict mediator, teacher’s assistant for a women’s studies class, and office temp at a half a dozen places that by and large did not resemble offices and did not engage me in work that struck me as remotely “officey,” but rather involved things such as standing on a concrete floor wearing a hairnet, a paper mask and gown, goggles, and plastic gloves and—with a pair of tweezers—placing two pipe-cleaners into a sterile box that came to me down a slow conveyer belt for eight excruciating hours a day.

During those years, I sometimes wept with rage. My dream was to be a writer. I wanted it so badly that it made my insides hurt. And to be a writer—I felt sure—I needed to have a big life. Which at the time meant to me amazing experiences such as the sort Kate had. I needed to experience culture and see the world. I needed to speak French and hang out with people who knew people who worked at GQ.

Instead I was forced, by accident of birth, to work one job after another in a desperate attempt to pay the bills. It was so damn unfair. Why did Kate get to study in Spain her junior year? Why did she get to write the word “France” on her resume? Why did she get her bachelor’s degree debt-free and then, on top of that, a new car? Why did she get two parents who would be her financial fall back for years to come and then—decades into a future, which has not yet come to pass—leave her an inheritance upon their deaths?

I didn’t get an inheritance! My mother died three months before I “graduated” college and all I got was her ancient, rusted-out Toyota that I quickly sold to a guy named Guy for $500.

Bloody hell.

So here’s the long and short of it: there is no why. You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding. And dear one, you and I both were granted a mighty generous hand.

What I know for sure is that freaking out about your student loan debt is useless. You’ll be okay. It’s only money. And it was money well spent. Aside from the people I love, there is little I value more than my education. As soon as I pay off my undergraduate debt, Mr. Sugar and I intend to start saving for college for the baby Sugars. My dream is that they’ll have college experiences that resemble Kate’s more than mine. I want them to be able to focus on their studies instead of cramming them in around jobs. I want them to have a junior year abroad wherever they want to go. I want them to have cool internships that they could only take with parental financial support. I want them to go on cultural exchanges and interesting archeological digs. I want to fund all that stuff I never got to do because no one was able to fund me. I can imagine all they would gain from that.

But I can also imagine what they won’t get if Mr. Sugar and I manage to give them the college experience of my dreams.

Turns out, I learned a lot from not being able to go France. Turns out, those days standing on the concrete floor wearing a hairnet, a paper mask and gown, goggles, and plastic gloves and—with a pair of tweezers—placing two pipe-cleaners into a sterile box that came to me down a slow conveyer belt for eight excruciating hours a day taught me something important I couldn’t have learned any other way. That job and the fifteen others I had before I graduated college were my own, personal “educational opportunities.” They changed my life for the better, though it took me a while to understand their worth.

They gave me faith in my own abilities. They offered me a unique view of worlds that were both exotic and familiar to me. They kept things in perspective. They pissed me off. They opened my mind to realities I didn’t know existed. They forced me to be resilient, to sacrifice, to see how little I knew, and also how much. They put me in close contact with people who could’ve funded the college educations of ten thousand kids and also with people who would’ve rightly fallen on the floor laughing had I complained to them about how unfair it was that after I got my degree I’d have this student loan I’d be paying off until I was 43.

They made my life big. They contributed to an education that money can’t buy.


Original Article:

This article deeply resonated within me. I have had the best of both worlds. I was given the opportunity to travel the world, to open my eyes and get out of my comfort zone infinite time. Simultaneously, I have had my fair share of Sugar’s frustrations. My first job was in 6th grade when I helped out with my neighbor’s in-home nursery 3 times a week. I start working part-time a month after my 14th birthday, and stayed at that startup throughout high school. After I started college, I would BART the 14 stops to Fremont and transfer 2 buses every Friday to clock in my weekly 8 hours. Until it went bankrupt 6 years and 5 days from the day I started. On the side, I’ve consistently worked 2-3 jobs on the side to support myself financially. While my parents contributed room & board in high school and   helped me out with educational expenses in college, I was financially responsible for pretty much everything else in my life.

I was dealt a good set of cards. Grants, scholarships, and loans made my exchange abroad in Hong Kong possible. My savings from my jobs supported the rest of my traveling, shopping hauls, and daily expenditures. Every day I see my bank account drop sadly since I currently have no income. But its all worth it.

Travelling and going to see all these new exotic places isn’t the biggest reward. Its the wisdom and appreciation you gain when you meet people from all walks of life and learn about their stories. When you walk outside of your bubble and look into your old life from a fresh perspective. The discipline and budgeting aptitude you gain when you are traveling on a limited budget and trying to make the most of your time. The satisfaction that you were able to pay for all of it with those long hard hours of slaving away in a cubicle…or half of one.

I will be embarking on the journey to pay back my hefty student loans soon. But every penny has been worth it, because I received a hell of an education no money can ever buy.



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