WWYD: My Talented, Capable, Struggling Friend
Today on “WWYD,” watching your friend struggle and feeling guilty about your own success:
I’ve got it really good at the moment: I found a job I love in a competitive creative field six months out of school, I have a healthy savings account, no debt, good insurance, and the support of my parents should any of that fall through. Meanwhile, a close friend of mine is having the opposite postgrad experience: can’t find a job in an equally (if not more) competitive/subjective creative field, savings run out, bills she’s struggling to pay, mounting credit card debt, and no chance of help from her family.
On the one hand, I feel guilty for my success, because she is just as talented and capable as I am, and yet can’t seem to get even a basic service job to pay for food. But on the other, I did do a lot of hard work to get where I am (networking, internships, “extracurricular” creative stuff and random initiative-taking), and she never really tried to get experience in her industry before graduating, striking out for a new city alone, and trying to break in cold. I want to help somehow, but I am so stumped by what to do—I’ve (privilege alert!) never known anyone who literally can’t afford groceries. While I believe in my friend like crazy and wish her nothing but success, I don’t want to start something uncomfortable or unsustainable by giving her a loan. But I also don’t know who else can help her! Is this just a thing that happens once we all become Grown-Ups? I’m lost. — B.
I can understand where the guilt about your success and achievements stems from. To use a Titanic reference, you are standing on the bow of a ship with your arms outstretched and shouting that you are the “king of the world!”—but then you look into the ocean, and see a friend bobbing in the water, desperately grasping for a life vest. Oh no.
Can you be the ruler of the world while the people you care about are having trouble finding solid ground? Yes. Is it okay to feel guilty? Yes. Should you feel guilty? No. You worked hard to get to where you are, and you should feel proud of that. Your success should not be in conflict with your friend’s struggles. I’m sure your friend would not want you feeling guilty about your accomplishments.
I’m going to go ahead and say that in general, loaning your friend money is not a great idea because money is one of those things that can tear a relationship apart. That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t—I’ve loaned out money before to friends and family, but it’s never been more than a few hundred dollars, and I’ve always been prepared to not get that money back. If you are going to loan out money, you have to make sure you are only loaning out money you can afford to lose. Because things happen, and you might not see that money again. See how complicated this gets? That’s why lending out money isn’t that great of an idea.
If you believe that your friend is just as talented and capable as you are, you have to believe that your friend will find her way to success too. In the meantime, the thing you can do is what you’re doing now: offer support—the “if things go to hell and you need a place to stay, you can stay on my couch” kind of support. The kind of support that helps your friend network and take initiatives that will help her find the same success that you did (this kind of support can come from starting a career group).
I can tell you that when my group of friends were young and starting out, success didn’t come immediately. We all had very dark days where we fell into dark pits of despair, cobbling together whatever we could to make our rent and student loan payments because, like your friend, we didn’t have the kind of parents who could bail us out, either. I fell into this pit of despair when I lost my job when the recession hit in 2007. Those were some dark days! But I recovered from that, and am in a good place today, thanks much in part to the support of friends who kept their eyes peeled for job listings and were always available to talk things out. That was all wonderful, but ultimately, I had to figure out a way to pull myself out of that pit on my own. Your friend will have to figure out a way to pull herself out of her own pit, too.