I haven’t posted on this blog in over a year.
In short, it’s not necessarily been the best year of my life.
But this post has been poking its way out of my brain for the past few weeks. The topic made me think of what I actually want to do in life. Am I using my skills in the best way possible. Am I giving or only taking. Is what I’m giving actually benefitting anyone.
A lot of questions. Not a lot of answers.
But there is something that it has taken me literally years to admit and acknowledge, but that I feel a remarkably strong desire to share.
I am remarkably privileged.
I didn’t grow up in a mansion, I didn’t have a chauffeur, I didn’t spend my holidays on a yacht, but, nonetheless, I have entered the world of adulthood with a bag full of invisible gifts given to me by my parents.
For years, I was ready to vehemently deny the fact that I have any sort of privilege beyond the most basic of not being born in a country where, as a woman, I wouldn’t have the right to education, or access to clean drinking water. Other than that, I thought, I was no more privileged than anyone else in Europe.
But, gradually, I realised what a bubble I’ve grown up with. All of my friends lived in nice houses, attended after school classes, went on holiday every year, been to the theatre. Going to university was the most normal thing on the planet to us. It was just a question of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to study. That was my normal, so I thought it was the normal. That I lived a perfectly average life, and then there were the mega-rich people. And not much else.
I think it’s generally very hard to look beyond your own bubble. All of us have one. Whether you grew up working class, middle class, or part of the Manhattan’s elite (Gossip Girl, always and forever), this is what you know. This is your normal, this is what you will go through life using as your reference point. No matter how open minded you are, no matter how flexible your thinking.
Pause, step back, acknowledge your bubble. It’s there, whether you like it or not.
I spend a fair amount of time (probably too much for my own good) on Twitter. It’s a bit like a fascinating social experiment – throw together a bunch of humans from various places on the planet, with strikingly different political view (from far right to far left, and everything in between), sexists, racists, liberals, educators, doctors, writers. I could go like this into the night, but I don’t particularly fancy it.
To the point, though. On Twitter, I often see people identifying as X class complaining that people from Y class don’t understand them, don’t think about them, and don’t empathise. But, frankly, how are they meant to understand? If they’ve never lived it, never experienced it, never touched it. What do you expect from them? We’ll never have as good an understanding of another social class as we do of our own. And, whether we like it or not, England is still very much a society divided by social class of your birth. In a way, it can be easier for me as an immigrant – I just slotted myself in wherever I fancied.
A few days ago, I was asked to speak as part of a panel for a female leadership programme at my old university. I was one of four young professional women invited to speak. First of all, it was great fun, because I bloody love public speaking. But secondly, I was sitting next to women of colour, women who openly said the environments they worked in could be sexist (and all credit to them for how they’re dealing with it, because they’re doing it like absolute fucking queens), but once again I was forced to acknowledge my privilege – I’m lucky enough to work with people who see me for what I bring to the table.
Later in the evening, during the networking part of the event, myself and one of the other panelists were asked about what we think of the level of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. And I didn’t feel qualified to talk about it. Not at all. So I acknowledged my privilege – I said I don’t think it’s my place to talk. The other lady wanted to encourage me, said ‘you’re a woman, you’re Polish, of course you can talk about this!’.
And maybe that’s true, but I never felt those qualities holding me back in anything I did in life.
So here I stand before you, on the internet, where nothing ever disappears from, openly saying: yes, I’m privileged, and I’m trying to make an absolute best of it.
Is there a moral to this story?
Only that I will do my absolute, darnest best to share this privilege. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, I don’t know who with. But I think every young woman should enter the workplace with this little package of invisible gifts that I am lucky enough to have.