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You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
Thanksgiving is near, and in past years, it's been a bittersweet occasion. In fact, in every year of my adult life, with the exception of one, reflecting on what I'm thankful for has mostly consisted of "well, I guess I have a car that runs, and I cherish my friends". And with the year that was an exception, in hindsight, it wasn't much of one. This year is different. Within the last month and a half, almost every facet of my life has changed dramatically, and if the way I feel now is any indication, it's going to feel weird for a long time to come.
The song I quoted above, "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads (aka "the 'how did I get here?' song"), has always intrigued me, partly because I associate it very strongly with the movie Rockstar, a movie about a lower-middle-class kid from Pittsburgh who's suddenly catapulted into being the lead singer of a top-charting rock band in the 1980s with no lead-up. In my mind, this song has always struck me as a description of what it's like to win the lottery. I now know it doesn't take a windfall to feel that way. I currently find myself living in a beautiful luxury apartment, in a wealthy neighborhood, working a job that's as close to a dream job as I could ever hope for. I suddenly live a very urban, upscale lifestyle. I see my friends at least a couple times a week. And while I don't have as much discretionary income as people seem to think I do, I can't call myself "broke" anymore. To put it simply, in just one month, I've not only caught up to where I always hoped I'd be by my mid-twenties, I've achieved the sort of life that, at many points in my life, seemed as distant and impossible a dream as winning the lottery or joining Starfleet.
I can't help but contrast this with the recent past. One year ago, my gross annual income was a four-digit number, I lived in a large but run-down apartment in my mom's basement, 120 miles from the nearest friends, barely able to keep out of bankruptcy. And my mom is far from wealthy, so aside from free rent and utilities, and help during crises, I was mostly on my own, financially. Things started turning around just over a year ago, in December, when I started getting pretty steady work as an independant contractor, but it still wasn't great. I was able to save money, and quit the job that was making me miserable, but there was no lifestyle change associated with it. I still lived with mom, still in the middle of nowhere. Even a few months ago, while temporarily living with a dear friend, it didn't feel like much changed. That experience helped me get past the initial shock of living on my own, improved my telecommuting work ethic, and gave me what I needed to diminish my long-term depression. But I didn't truly move, I was still barely scraping by (especially when my company couldn't pay me regularly), and it felt like more of the same in a different area.
Coming back to Thanksgiving, all these changes have made me think a bit differently about the holiday. For the first time since high school, I have so much to be thankful for that thinking about it is overwhelming. It's a position I've never been in before. Even when I was a kid, I grew up in what could generously be described as a lower-middle-class household (more accurately, it was a household living way outside its means because there's simply no questioning the idea that a family should own a house in rural America), and my parents found creative ways to make us feel less poor, but throughout my entire life, we were undeniably in budgetary trouble.
I've been assured that I shouldn't feel guilty for my sudden success, but I still do, to some extent. Mostly because I know so many friends who have not been so lucky. And it really is luck. I'll admit to being talented at what I do, but it's luck that I happen to possess that particular talent, and that I happened to be able to look for work in a city where that talent is highly-paid and in high demand, and that I happened to be able to get to that city in time to start the job that was offered.
So this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that after so many years earning wages below the poverty line, if any wages at all, I was able to make a direct leap into an upper-middle-class career. I'm thankful for the job that finally allows me to make a dent in nearly a decade of accumulated debt. I'm thankful that I no longer have to stress about how I will pay for basic necessities, or worry about being unable to pay my recurring bills. I'm thankful to be able to afford a nice, quality residence in a safe neighborhood, something that really shouldn't be a luxury in America.
But above everything else, I'm thankful for the many wonderful friends in my life. I literally would not be here today without the care of those around me, many of whom are now conveniently close, who have given me so much love and support through the rough times in my life. I hesitate to use this word, but I'm truly blessed by the amount of love surrounding me, love which gives meaning to everything else that's positive about my new career and lifestyle.