What comes to mind when you think about those two words? Politicians use the phrase “middle class” every election cycle to drum up support for their candidacy, but have you ever noticed that none of the politicians are actually in the middle class? Musicians often write songs about every day life – about middle class life – and then thank their fans for buying their albums, which ironically keeps them hovering above the middle class.
Growing up, I lived the life of a poor kid in a middle class suburb, attending excellent schools and enjoying the fruits of my friends’ parents’ labor while just surviving in my own home. We moved eight times in 7 years, and not because my dad and I wanted to try something new. No, we were “strongly encouraged” to find a new home by the landlords and management companies we often stiffed on rent. For the first three years of high school, I slept on the couch because we could only afford a one-bedroom apartment. We ate the same 7 meals for dinner each week, which included fish sticks and french fries, meatloaf, grilled cheese and soup, as well as my dad’s original concoctions of Cream of Tuna Fish Over Toast and Texas Hot Dogs. We drove my grandma’s old Dodge Aspen until it died, often pushing it down the street when the engine gave out. I mainly wore the free camp & youth group t-shirts and practice shorts to school, which was beneficial anytime a basketball game broke out but not great for fitting in. It was an interesting existence, but I had everything I needed to look the part of a stable middle class kid, even though I knew better. We were one paycheck, one mistake, one tragedy from being in a real pinch.
Wanting to become a member of this middle class, I went to college to learn skills that would give me opportunities for work, which first came in the form of a public school teacher and a pastor. I bought a house and a used car, then got married , bought another house and another used car, and I started a family. Ten years later, I’ve successfully transitioned from being a teacher/pastor to being a sales professional, and I’ve steadily grown my income during that time. I have a mortgage on a nice house in suburbia, I own two cars, and I have a retirement account. According to most definitions, I am officially middle class…and I hate it.
It’s not that I don’t like where I live or the car I drive or any of that “stuff”. Those things are nice to use and certainly make life much easier than it was when I was a kid, that’s for sure. And it’s not that I have struggles with contentment. I’ve lived both in times of want and times of need, and also in times of plenty, and they both have their positives and negatives. And it’s not that I am afraid of or have issues with commitment. Commitment is a contract that can last one day or one lifetime, such as picking up a friend from the airport or getting married.
No, the problem I have is with complacency, which Webster defines as “a feeling of being satisfied with how things are and not wanting to try to make them better”. In short, it’s the idea of being in the same place in life for years on end without hope of getting better. Some people long for this kind of stability in life, and God bless them. I’m just not one of those people.
I want adventure in my life. I want challenges. I want to see and experience all of the amazing things this life has to offer. I want to learn and be and do all I can during my short time on this earth. I believe things can be better and I want to try to make them better. I only get one shot at this life, and as Sharpay exclaims in High School Musical 3, “I want it all!”
So this brings me back to these two little words: middle class. The more time I spend in the “middle class”, the more I realize that middle class is another way of saying mediocre life. And it’s not about how much money you have. The most important aspect to realize is that being middle class is a way of thinking, a way of seeing the world that often revolved around this idea of complacency.
It’s like starting at the base of a mountain, and when you get to a safe place a few thousand feet up, stopping there and never continuing up the mountain. Yes, it’s safe at 3,000 feet and you can breathe a lot easier, but you’ll never experience the adventure and the ecstasy of reaching the summit, witnessing the spectacular views and feeling the emotion of accomplishment without continuing the journey up the mountain. In my humble opinion, too many of us in life have stopped climbing the mountain because we’re not sure how the trip to the top is going to turn out. We’re paralyzed to take risks that might move us up in life for fear that we will lose everything in the process and no longer be in this safe, secure, stable place. We watch upper class thinkers live the adventurous lives we only dream about, all the while thanking our lucky stars to be middle class folks.
This life is calling out for people who are willing to take risks, try something new, learn another skill, become a better leader, impact another’s life, create a new business, and the best part is that there is room enough for everyone on this journey to the top, including you.