Written by Yuan Barnes, a member of our Young Person’s Advisory Council and former young person in care
In just under a week I begin my summer job at an investment bank in downtown Toronto. As an artsy ‘Millennial’ (with no background in finance) who has grown up in foster care, the fact that I’ve landed a job in the finance sector has come to a surprise even to me.
I’ll be frank. My friends (including myself) who work in and live + breathe art/music are surprised by my choice in summer work because there’s a strong attraction to the notion that, unlike our parents, our lives won’t ultimately be about security and a comfortable suburban home — to the extent that we’re willing to live in poverty in our 20s and 30s in order to not live our parents’ lives.
Thus, with the assumption that those who work in investment banking are certainly not hard done by and are in fact quite comfortable in terms of financial security, it seems unfathomable that someone who wants to reject values of generations gone by would even welcome the opportunity to work in the world of both financial security and – dare I say it – of making profit.
Financial theorist William J. Bernstein recently published a pamphlet aimed specifically at Millennials, offering no-nonsense advice on how to specifically save so that we don’t retire in poverty. It’s on my to-read list for the next few days and I find it slightly embarrassing but mostly empowering to admit that I’m really excited to pore through it.
It’s so exciting to learn about finances! I say this with complete earnestness, and with what I believe is good reason:
An instagram photo from March 2014 when my fiancé Lukas and I busked the second time for our wedding rings; we made $81.90 that day.
I grew up on welfare and in extreme poverty (by Canadian standards) until the age of 9 when I went into foster care. I’ve never believed that being rich or wealthy would be possible for me, particularly in light of the fact that I have had no family to really depend on financially since I turned 18. And, as mentioned before, a desire to be wealthy certainly isn’t something that is sought after by my friends and fellow Millennials.
What I’ve come to realize, though, is that financial wealth and security are not the sole aspirations in my life but will be potential by-products of the kind of person I choose to be. Character. Who I choose to be when no one is watching. As my amazing foster mom Laura tells me: who I am is so much more important than what I do.
Will I defy my generation and not necessarily define myself by what I’m not but by who I am? Yes. Will I see this summer job at an investment bank as a learning opportunity, not only about myself but about investing and saving and long-term thinking? Yes. Will I break the cycle of poverty that has come to characterize my family so far? Yes.
This blog post is just the tip of the iceberg on this conversation. Millennials, money, the future, poverty, wealth, child welfare, generations. It’s just to get us thinking.
Let me end with a few lines from a spoken word poem that I wrote and performed in the summer of 2013 to a group of awesome young people who are growing up in foster care, and who were taking a week-long financial literacy course offered by the Children’s Aid Society in order to one day access their Ontario Child Benefit Equivalent Fund:
is what we’ve been doing for 4 days together –
eight hundred and eighty minutes so far –
so that we can become
so that we can break the cycle of poverty
and — unlike some in our family,
and the people in our lives
better than we found them.