Life, Love, Lower Learning

by Jackie Sanders

The other day my 15-year-old daughter and I were discussing her top choices for colleges, and she breezily mentioned that she didn’t want to make the mistake of ending up like her poor uneducated parents.

Wait, what?

This comment thrown out so casually shook me. And, mind you, spoken from our hilltop home with the vast ocean view. Rented, yes, but we do live here, thank you very much.

But let me start at the beginning. I wasn’t university material. My teachers told me I’d do great if I just applied myself, but I didn’t have the patience or drive to seriously consider college. The vague marketing and business majors that many of my friends chose didn’t mean a lot to them, and we all knew they were just trying figure out what they wanted to be when they grew up. When we were young, my husband and I made the choice to go in a different direction. We wanted to travel, and worked a variety of jobs to finance our wanderlust. At the suggestion of his sister-in-law, he took a position with the airlines, working the ramp, loading bags and cleaning planes. I took an equally unglamorous job as a surgery scheduler for vascular surgeons, which paid well enough and allowed lots of time off for our endeavors.

We spent our twenties and early thirties working hard and saving, and because of our flight benefits, traveling the world. We hitchhiked through the English countryside, danced in Sydney discos, hung out with the famous folks on the French Riviera, sunned ourselves on Caribbean, Mexican, and Hawaii beaches, watched thunder and lightening storms on a remote island in Thailand. And once, after a particularly delightful meal at a Greek restaurant in Vancouver, we talked about selling everything we owned to take a month-long trip to the Greek Islands. So we did.

We were never ashamed of our lack of higher education and simple lifestyle until the 25-year-old millionaires starting buying up the houses on our street. This was during the late ’90s in Silicon Valley, and these kids’ stock options made them arrogant and smug. By renting our house and driving a Jetta, we were on par with the crack addicts at the apartment complex down the road. Soon we were doubting our choices, and for the first time worried that we’d made a mistake by not going to college and trying aggressively to get our piece of the pie. My husband was told he should be “working smart, not hard,” but at this point, working hard was all he knew. He was also proud of putting in a good day’s work, getting overtime, and providing for his family. But, sadly, his blue collar wages couldn’t match our rising rent, and we were unable to afford to stay in our sweet California neighborhood.

Along with our young daughter, we moved to Oregon and bought our own home. It had stung to feel that we weren’t successful, so maybe we had something to prove. Or maybe Portland was just a tad bit cheaper than San Jose, and normal people like us could actually afford it. Whatever it was, we continued to travel and keep it simple, only this time with a reasonable mortgage. But alas, after 9/11, my husband’s airline station in Portland closed, and we were transferred back to California.

When we returned, things had changed. Apparently some bubbles had burst and those stock options weren’t quite as attractive as they once were. Suddenly, it seemed we were the smart ones. Renting was now acceptable, even preferable, to trying to hang on to the crazy house payments that were driving people into foreclosure. So along with our flight benefits and my new cool job at a surf camp, we moved to Carmel and rented that jewel on the hilltop with the crazy ocean view. And with that address, our daughter has been lucky enough to go to an amazing public school that provides her with a top-notch education.

So here’s why I bristled at her comment: Who’s still telling her that what she has isn’t enough or that who we are isn’t enough? Why aren’t love and rich experiences the measure of our worth, rather than how much we own?

What should our great accomplishments in life be? Everyone has a different goal, but I think we all want our lives to be meaningful. We want to look back and feel like we did what we set out to do, whether it’s travel, education, career, philanthropy, family, or wealth. Or maybe all of it. All I know is that I do have enough, I am enough, and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s a good life.

Previously: “Once I copped to that ugly little insecurity, I could finally let the past go”

Jackie Sanders is the Director of Guest Services for Las Olas Surf Safaris for Women, and lives in Carmel, California, with her husband and 15-year-old daughter. When not busy arranging surf trips for women, she enjoys hiking in Big Sur, tennis, writing, reading, and traveling.