This past March I visited the West Coast for the first time, San Francisco specifically, and had a wonderful time visiting friends, seeing the area and attending the 60th Annual American Counseling Association Conference. As a volunteer at the conference, I paid half price. As an educational ambassador of sorts from the University of Baltimore, I applied for a travel grant that paid for my airfare and shuttle costs. I stayed with a CouchSurfing.org host, which was free, and paid an extra $20 to bring a small cooler of meals for the week in my checked luggage (thank you, science, for your extended-freeze gel packs).
This kind of frugality has defined much of what I've done over the past several years, and I've had the honor of experiencing travel, cultural exchange and applied learning with little to no help from my family and very little income from part-time jobs.
Although these opportunities are out there, I often wonder how much my gender, my ethnicity and the fact that I'm well-spoken play a part in my ability to take advantage of them. I've come to the conclusion that being a little more well-dressed, using slightly better speech and demonstrating a visible passion is all that would be required for the things I've done, and I want young people of all types to know that. Of course, not all young people would be interested in the kinds of things I went for (farming, mission work, a retreat house, summer camps) but any new experiences involving diverse people, cultures and job requirements is invaluable to one's growth. These things are out there. You can get out of your town, you can explore values beyond what you've come to know thus far, you can learn to communicate with a variety of different people and, most importantly, you can mature emotionally. The underlying changes these experiences create will be palpable to prospective mentors and employers, and you will be more proud of yourself because of what you were able to achieve.
I believe that a lessened level of the above qualities, particularly self-esteem, is part of what keeps many people back in this world, the limiting force of perceptions exerting its influence from within and without. But this doesn't mean you have to go half-way across the world in order to grow. It means simply being open to new things and places. It means developing a confidence that says "I can survive no matter where I go, and I am me no matter who I interact with".
Although an idealist, I'm still a logical, realistic person at my core; I tend not to get behind things that don't make proper sense. So when I get into the Baltimore City Schools as a mental health professional (I hope!) I feel confident spreading the message that the cultural glass ceiling, in certain ways, is a lie. So is the idea that appearing rich now is more worthwhile for one's self-esteem than saving one's money and living well later (Gucci ain't Gucci, is what I'm saying). The problem is, much of today's youth recognize their opportunities intellectually and buy into the "achieve" messages until those sneaky meta-messages from friends, society or perhaps even parents creep into their emotional make-up and dictate their beliefs.
But the thing is...yes you can. Yes you can, yes you can.