CS: So let’s get practical. Make a list of the things you want to do. The three you’ve cited in your letter are: move to a different part of the country, work a different job, and get an education, so let’s start there. Beneath each item on your list, make another list composed of the steps you need to take to achieve that thing. To get a new job you have to apply for one, for example. Be as specific as you can be with each item on your list and then start doing them, one by one. Some steps may require money, but others won’t. Perhaps one item beneath “get an education” is to study for college entrance exams. To do that, you can check out books from your local library. Another might be “research schools and financial aid.” That can be done online. You don’t have to do everything at once. You need only do one thing at a time. But the point is you have to do them, Broke. Each thing you do will bring you closer to the things you seek.
SA: Taking one step at a time is vital, because our popular culture is lousy with fairy tales of overnight transformation: paupers who ascend to the penthouse in the space of one Hollywood montage. This is our designated mythos, as Americans: that all you need to claim your destiny is a little pluck and luck. But more than anything, what you need is patience and humility and self-forgiveness. If you don’t have these attributes, you’re going to get discouraged. And then you’re going to get stuck. Because real change is rarely quick, and even more rarely glamorous. It resides in the small steps Cheryl speaks of, in the daily work of converting anguish into action. Fate did not deal you a hand of privilege. You have very real obstacles to overcome — of class, gender, and opportunity. Most of all, Broke, you have to be able to outlast your doubt.
CS: One of the most valuable lessons of my life has been to understand that one truth does not cross out another, contradictory truth. We have the capacity to hold opposing truths in one hand. There is no question that it will be more difficult for you to travel, attend college, and find more compelling employment than it is for those who have more economic privilege than you, Broke. But it’s also true that you can do all of those things. Your situation is one I know intimately. I was in it. The way I got out of it was to decide I could and I would. The barriers were real. So was my determination to climb over them. You have that determination too — it’s what moved you to write to us. Keep moving.