There’s a guilty drama at work, a sort of dark underbelly, that I see happening with anyone in the helping professions who serves the middle or upper classes. The equation works like this:
If you do healing work + the people who can primarily afford it are in the upper or middle classes = you are a bad, selfish, money-grubbing person who doesn’t really care about social justice issues or people who are poor.
Square by the root of pi.
Life coaches, for instance, feel guilty charging what they charge, so they offer low-cost sessions. Then they find themselves stuck in the conundrum of struggling to pay their own bills as they run up against the limits of time that each day brings–you can only work with so many clients, and as someone self-employed, you’re paying more in self-employement taxes, plus in the United States you’re working without employer-backed health insurance, plus you’re riding the ups and downs of financial uncertainty that typical challenge anyone who is self-employed, plus you’re needing to devote time towards marketing so as to find more clients.
Then, of course, time spent marketing means time not spent working with clients in those lower-cost sessions. The cycle continues.
This guilty drama that can arise for so many of us in the helping and healing professions (coaching, massage, energy work, creativity work, etc.) when it comes to working with people who have money and privilege–in other words, for the most part, the “middle class.” Most of us did not decide to make a living doing what you love hoping to work only with a specific income bracket of people who happen to be able to afford it. We want to help everyone.
So how do we do that, and reconcile the guilt? How do we make a living doing what we love while also serving the people who can’t pay us that living?
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I know this drama intimately. I went from working with college students, some of whom who were barely able to afford community college classes…to working with women who could afford to pay for weekly or monthly coaching sessions.
I used to feel guilty about that. So guilty, in fact, that the original written version of this post contained a detailed list of all the ways in which I had grown up without money in a poor neighborhood, so that you’d really know that I get what it’s like to have, relatively speaking, “no money.” I also wanted to litter everything with disclaimers so that everyone reading the post would really and truly know that even though we had, relatively speaking, “no money,” we were still financially better off than the people in the world who live on less than $2 a day.
In other words, it’s my sincerest intention and hope that you see my awareness of those who struggle with the intersectionality of different -isms working against them.
It’s also my sincerest intention that as you read this, you understand that feeling guilty about your own access to resources and privilege does not help anyone. Also, that your work with those who have more money or privilege does not make you a bad person.
Feeling guilty because you serve or work with those who have access to money and privilege becomes drama. It’s drama because it’s just obsessing about something without actually finding a solution, and no one is better off from the obsession. Drama, as we all know, is a waste of time, so let’s start with this basic acknowledgement:
If you really desire to help everyone from all walks of life, understand that the guilty drama about this serves no one, least of all the people who need help.
YES–be aware of your privilege.
YES–be aware of the role that you play in an institutionalized system that is not just.
And also, YES–be aware that neither feeling guilty about your access, nor shaming others who have access, is helpful.
That spinning cycle of guilt is ego and drama, fearful of what it would mean to fully step into your power and do something about the very real problems the world faces.
At the heart of the guilt over privilege is this question: What did you do to deserve these benefits?
And the answer? A painful but true: nothing. In fact, we need to question the powers that be, the pundits on Fox News and other outlets, who even introduce the concept of whether or not someone “deserves” things into the conversation.
I did nothing to “deserve” the benefits of being born into a family where I did manage to educate myself enough to start foraging a better life–any more than a woman watching her child die of dehydration or water-borne illness did anything to “deserve” having been born into poverty, without access to clean water.
“Deserving” is not the point. “Deserving” is drama and distraction from the real issue: that people, at all income levels, suffer. And people, at all income levels, need other people who desire to help them.
The woman watching her child die from a water-related illness would trade places with me in a second to get clean water for her child. Anyone would. We all desire to be released from our own particular suffering. That’s not a bad thing, whether your work in this world is helping someone access basic necessities, or helping someone get out of the mental hell of hating who they are.
Denying Your Privilege
To deny my own privilege by staying stuck in guilt and an inability to appreciate it, is an affront to the under-privileged.
To stay stuck in the drama of “Oh, but I feel so guilty!” just places you and me–the people who want to help–that much farther away from being of true service to anyone.
Furthermore, carrying that guilt becomes a limiter. Before I did my own work (and this was a dark secret that made me feel even guiltier), I didn’t really give because I felt so drained, so unable to give.
I am more giving–emotionally and financially–now that I’ve done the work to heal myself. I can love the world in a bigger way.
Resist the Backlash
It’s important to note that part of this conversation involves what to do with the people who insist on displaying their “I’m so much more into Social Justice than you” credentials.
These are the people who call doing personal growth work “entitled” or “bourgeois.”
I might not be as schooled in social justice as some of these naysayers, but from what I have gleaned, I’ve picked up that there’s something about…what was it, again? equality? seeing everyone as human? not discounting one person over another? that is at the heart of all humanitarian efforts.
The notion that being of service to people who have more money is somehow less worthy strikes me as being at odds with the heart of social justice.
If we’re really interested in healing and helping the world, that’s got to start with healing and helping our own inner landscape. You can’t draw water from an empty well.
We also can’t forget that when we work with people who have money to pay for our services, this opens the door to giving in a wider way, elsewhere. It has been my honor–dare I say, my privilege?–to be able to work with a number of people pro-bono. I’ve taken on clients for free for months at a time when they couldn’t afford to do the work any other way, and it’s been my pleasure.
Doing work with others who pay for their sessions enables me to be able to take on people for free and still support myself. (So if you’re working in a healing profession and you’re not already doing a bit of pro-bono work, try it–it’ll bust your heart right open.)
Making a living doing what you love
I fully claim my desire to make a living doing what I love, and stand behind making the choices to do it.
I support you in doing the same. Leave the guilt behind, and step straight into the love, because that’s where it’s at–you matter. The world needs your gifts.