How I'm Paying My Dues And Coping With Resenting Rich Peers

I remember once attempting to answer a college friend's question, Why do you work so hard? Somehow her face expressed disbelief, admiration, and repulsion all at once. She was a top student and even she couldn't figure out my workaholic tendencies. But someone whose parents paid for four years of private college, including a semester abroad, completely unassisted, isn't likely to relate to tales of hustle.

Someone who comes from that level of wealth and privilege will have trouble grasping the hours spent on scholarship applications -- all of the research that goes into poring over database listings, writing essays, asking teachers for (another) recommendation letter, or standing in line at the post office. Someone in that position can't understand the need to work before class, after class, and on weekends. Someone in that position can't know the misery of dealing with the financial aid office. Why would she rush to register early for classes in order to receive a discount on tuition? Why would she worry about discounts at all? Her parents had no expectation that she would pay them back for her schooling, even in part, because they didn't consider the cost a burden.

Clearly, my college friend was in the minority. According to a survey from Citigroup and Seventeen magazine, nearly 80 percent of students work part-time (or more!) in college. Researchers found that the average American college student works 19 hours a week. Many work more than that; some even juggle school with a full-time job. When you work that much, it's hard not to resent the select few friends and classmates whose only responsibility is homework.

In college, I typically worked about 20 hours a week but pushed myself to do more when I could. Even with my parents' help, it was necessary -- and overwhelming. I freelanced as a writer for websites and local publications, sold my art at fairs and flea markets, and even scored regular gigs as a children's party entertainer and a model. I cobbled together these creative gigs because I knew I wanted to be a professional writer and artist when I graduated, and these little jobs were easier to schedule around classes than restaurant or bookstore shifts.

When I transferred to a public university, it was reassuring to be surrounded by classmates who woke up at 3 a.m. to work at a bakery or missed Friday night ragers because they were babysitting. But even there, I knew kids whose parents gave them credit cards and footed the bill every month. One such friend thought nothing of taunting me with her new Marc Jacobs sweater in the food court one day. I'll probably never hear the words "on sale for only $100" so much in a single conversation again. Meanwhile, I held myself to a strict $10 and under rule at the thrift shop near campus because $100 could buy a textbook.

A few years out of college, it can still be difficult for me to relate to my rich friends and acquaintances. Some of their engagement rings, weddings, and honeymoons are inconceivably expensive. The average American wedding costs more than $32,000, but if, as The Knot points out, urban weddings drive up this number, then it's definitely my peers in places like New York and D.C. who are responsible.

Even if I had the money for such a lavish affair, I can't fathom spending it all on a party -- not when our country still suffers from social ills like the Detroit water crisis or the highest incarceration rate in the world. When you learn about the hunger and poverty statistics plaguing America (not to mention the rest of the world), you're bound to get fed up hearing your acquaintance talk about not getting the overpriced engagement ring she wanted.

Complaints from rich kids whose parents pay their rent or bought them a condo are no easier to endure. When I read a real estate executive's admission to The New York Times that he got a digital watch for graduation, I laughed. He was interviewed for an article on parents who buy New York apartments for their children once they have a diploma in hand. Obviously he knows how absurd that is. More than half of Americans are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on rent. How can I possibly know 25-year-olds who complain that their parents bought them condos in "the ghetto" or "the middle of nowhere" when they live in some of the most desirable zip codes in America?

Maybe I would get less fed up with rich peers if it weren't for Facebook and Instagram. All of us -- even the most psychologically well-adjusted of us -- know the pang of jealousy and rush of disgust that only social media can deliver. We see photos of old high school friends hanging out in luxury resorts when we're stuck in the office. We see college buddies driving new cars we could never afford or enjoying drinks at a high-end bar while we're lecturing ourselves about how much we spent on groceries this month.

I know that I am responsible for my emotions, but it's hard to be virtuous. Often I do find myself grateful for what I have: a beautiful and supportive family; an exceedingly kind husband; wonderful and brilliant friends; and a few accomplishments that make me happy and proud, even fulfilled most days. Yet there are other days when the stress and uncertainty of the artist's life consume me. Those are the days that my rich peers get to me. Those are the days when I'm less than charitable with the sighs and eye rolls. And those are the days when I need to hold what I have even closer to my heart.