Huffington Post College recently ran an article by Taylor Cotter called “A Struggle of Not Struggling.” In it, Cotter defines herself as one of the few 22 year olds who already has a stable job, an apartment, car and 401K. That’s great news for English majors around the country—if you gain experience with internships, student leadership and part-time jobs during your college years like Cotter did, you’ll be successful after graduation. As a freelancer, I both envy and admire her success.
However, Cotter decides to twist quarter-life success into a quarter-life crisis:
But what about that 10-cents-a-word life that I always wanted? What about New York City? What about freelancing, penning newspaper columns and urban adventures? What about the struggles that I see on Girls and the tales of credit card debt and ramen noodle dinners? Aren’t these the things that really make you 22?
I can understand her sentiments a little bit; success can be uncomfortable around the less-fortunate.
As a kid, my family was middle-class living in a poor city. I had it better than most friends and classmates growing up, especially in grammar school. I was also a good student—I could never relate to complaints about bad grades and hard tests when I took home A’s and B’s. I was never comfortable with this and wouldn’t raise my hand enough and tried to use more slang. When I went to a private high school I adopted baggy clothes in an awkward attempt to look more “street” and further separate myself from the rich kids (which was unnecessary for reasons both cultural and financial).
Eventually I realized I was an idiot and then appreciated my gifts. I advise Cotter to do the same.
This post would end there, but I have to address Cotter’s conflicting attitude. Three paragraphs before romanticizing 10-cents-a-word articles and ramen noodles, she writes:
When I started college, I figured out that the 10-cents-a-word life wasn’t really going to pay apartment rents and student loans that were plaguing my future. I saw job prospects decline drastically over my first year of college and professors discourage students from pursuing careers in journalism. After years and years of being told it was the ultimate way to achieve my dreams, I realized that pursuing a volatile degree from private university was possibly one of the worst decisions I could have made.
Many in the Twitterverse have lashed out at Cotter, saying she’s “lamenting success” or “wants to struggle.” Cotter defends herself, tweeting “I don’t think I said I wanted to suffer – I just wanted to pursue my dream.”
The thing is, Cotter never really defines this “dream” of the hard life in her article. Just a dream of adventure, which everyone has growing up. As soon as she realized adventure didn’t pay bills, she willingly abandoned it.
Maybe Cotter is saying she never wanted to be a “suit” or “boring adult”—she wanted to be a starving artist, at least for a little while. But the fact she went to lengths to avoid this life—and lamenting over this supposed loss is rather condescending to those living in hard times, like a rich politician calling struggling factory workers “the real heroes.”
But I understand the apprehension to enter the freelance field. Writers aren’t paid well and you have to look out for those damn content farms. You find a steady, well-paying gig, you keep it.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make it. I’m happy with the direction my freelance career seems to be headed, despite the slow start.
And a personal note to Ms. Cotter, from struggling-22-year-old writer to successful-22-year-old writer, I say this: go for it. Write as much as you can when you’re not working. Early success isn’t a dead end; it’s evidence you can find achieve more.