I remember it distinctly – shallow breathing amongst hysterical tears. In the wake of the Great Recession, my mom lost her business – built from the ground up at 23 – and with it, her hope and dignity.
We’d no longer drive new cars, dine out or even buy Toaster Strudels at the grocery store. My personal superhero fell victim to depression, knowing her employees – who had become family – were now unemployed.
Everything changed as life propelled us one step further down the chain of middle class.
When I turned 16, I unwrapped a 1992 Chevy Cavalier, cleverly canvassed in Hawaiian seat covers, shaggy, pink fur and parents who tried to convince me it was “cool.” Filling the tank with gas, they released me into the world to embark on the next chapter of life lessons: how to pay for what you want.
Less than $100 in savings, I headed to college just shy of the funds to the split electricity yet just enough for a dollar beer on karaoke night. My dad was in college, too, which meant there wasn’t much wiggle room in the budget.
This isn’t my sob story. It’s the experiences that convinced many of my generation to clutch tightly to every penny we earned, bracing ourselves for the next hardship.
With mounds of student loan debt and underpaid wages, life as a working adult wasn’t quite as freeing as we’d imagined. We traded parking passes and coin laundry for healthcare and a 401(k).
Conscious spending became the reality when hundreds of dollars auto drafted for student loans each month. We wondered if we’d ever crawl out of the hole our education so graciously dug us or whether we’d someday qualify for the home we’d always dreamed of.
How did our parents and grandparents survive the torment of colossal debt? Did anyone survive it? Why did we incur so much of it? When we asked... even they had little to offer in this new world.
Eventually, we traded time and experience for leadership and a raise. As years passed, so did our greed. Once we finally found our financial footing, we cautiously asked ourselves, “What’s my more?”
Could we offer a hand up to those who traced our footsteps? Were we willing to spare some change to change a life? Might we offer hope to a desperate souls?
While sipping an expensive latte, we wondered where our money might be better spent.
When we lifted our eyes to the world around us, we caught glimpse of a red kettle and the bells that chimed beside it. We noticed the weary veteran standing on the corner and the fear in the woman’s eyes at the store as she scavenged for cash to make the purchase.
Each time we let go of our blessings – and passed them on to others – we began to see the astounding effects... little did we know what we might feel in return.
You see, as 20-somethings, we must look for ways to pay it forward. Be it in time, kindness or the quarters we once desperately gripped ourselves, we must give to those in need. If we do, we just might unveil the inconceivable impact of selflessness, generosity and human compassion.
And we just might rewrite the story and fate for someone else.