Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. 

Author | Speaker | Researcher | Yoga Teacher

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What Are You Doing With Your Privilege?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 13, 2016 at 3:25 AM

These days the internet is full of people who left their jobs to "follow their bliss" or "pursue their passion." They leapt, and the net appeared. They run six-figure online businesses from their living rooms (and you can too if you purchase their 5-step program for $500 per month!). Sometimes these people maintain blogs. And sometimes they write pieces about how you should leave your meaningless 9 to 5 existence to create art in Bali or surf in Hawaii.


I think three main questions run through people's heads when they read these types of blogs:


1. Is this person for real? (In other words, are they telling the truth about their "amazing" life?)


2. Is it even possible to create a life you love?


3. If it is possible, how can I do it?


I've written previous blogs about leaving the 9 to 5 grind and how to create a life you love, so I won't focus on that here. What I'd like to focus on is a series of reactions people often have when asking themselves question #1. When we ask ourselves this question we can go in one of three directions:


A) This person is NOT for real. They're making their life out to be way better than it actually is so that I'll buy their product/service. In fact, they're actually doing harm by perpetuating a myth that everyone has to leave their job. They are a privileged human being who has the luxury of doing what they love. I could never do that.


B) This person is for real, and their life makes me feel a lot of guilt and shame because I've done nothing with my life. I work at a job I hate, I'm stuck in a meaningless relationship, and I binge watch Netflix every night. I'm a worthless human being.


C) This person is for real, and the light that I see in them is my own potential being reflected back to me. I think I'll try their product/service (or read more of their work) and see if it inspires me to make changes in my life.


I recently read two blogs that focus on options A and B. In one blog, Janelle Quibuyen highlights the fact that many self-helpers are privileged, and that they fail to consider or acknowledge the fact that most people in the world don't have the option of leaving their job to follow their bliss. Many people around the world are suffering through horrific life circumstances, or are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, or are homeless. 


In a different blog, Janne Robinson shares her opinion that creating a life you love is actually very simple. You just need to stop doing things you hate. If you hate your job, leave it. If you hate your marriage, get out. Janne believes that "shit really is that simple."


In skimming through the comments on Janne's blog, I noticed people were responding to her in a way that is very familiar to me. People accused her of oversimplifying the situation and being blind to how privileged she is. 


The word privilege keeps appearing over and over again in these conversations so I've decided to address it head on.


First, let's get something out of the way.


I am privileged.


I'm a white female who was born and raised in Canada - a country that provided many opportunities and freedoms not available in other parts of the world. My family didn't have a lot of money, but I never went hungry. I didn't have to fight to receive an education. I have no first-hand experience of war or extreme violence or poverty. 


I'm not ashamed of the fact that I'm privileged. In fact, I'm extremely grateful for it. I took my privilege by the horns and worked my ass off to make the most of what was given to me. I was the first person in my family to ever attend university. I did it through a combination of student loans, part-time jobs, and scholarships awarded for academic excellence. I continuously examine my life, assess where things are and are not working, and make changes accordingly.


And in case you're wondering, my answer to question #1 above is yes, I am for real. My life isn't perfect, but it's pretty awesome. The reason it's awesome is that I'm using every last bit of my privilege to make sure I don't take what I've been given for granted.




If you tend to feel a mix of guilt/shame/anger when reading posts about other people's awesome lives (and/or post mean or hurtful comments), my question to you is: why?


If you have the luxury of reading blogs by privileged people like myself or Janne, I would argue that you are privileged, too. You have access to a computer and the internet - a luxury that many people around the world do not enjoy. You have the luxury of time - time to sit and surf the web. My guess is that your basic survival needs are probably being met - you probably have food, water, and shelter, and your life is not in immediate danger - otherwise you probably wouldn't be taking the time to read this blog.


Sure, I bet you've had your struggles, and some of them have probably been excruciatingly difficult. You might be a member of a minority group, or you might have experienced prejudice or discrimination, or sexual violence, or abuse. You might sometimes struggle to make ends meet. You might have an addiction or mental illness. You might have had a very hard life.


But if you're reading this blog right now, you have a heck of a lot more privilege than many people in the world.


So the most important question becomes: what are you doing with your privilege?


Because here's the thing. When people like myself or Janne Robinson write blogs encouraging you to create a life you love, we're not doing it to make you feel guilty or ashamed about your current situation. And, perhaps most importantly, I would argue that we aren't addressing our blogs at  people who are barely getting their survival needs met. Those people probably don't have the time or interest to read our blogs anyway.


We're writing our blogs for people like you. People who have the time and luxury, and I would argue privilege, of reading them. We write these blogs to shake you up. Expand your horizons. And to give you examples of what's possible.


Personally, I'm not advocating that everyone immediately quit their jobs and leave their former lives in the dust. You might be working three jobs to pay your bills. You might be a single parent with small children. You might be caring for a sick family member. I get it.


Here is what I'm advocating. I'm advocating that you listen to your true self - your soul - and see what it is asking of you. Then have the courage to do what it asks. Your soul might be asking you to leave your job. Or it might just be asking you to take a bubble bath. Or a deep breath. Find that light inside of you, even if it's just a flicker right now, and follow it. This doesn't mean you have to make drastic changes. It just means you need to find your way home.


Home to you.


If you're lucky enough to be privileged, use your privilege wisely.


How many of us have enough privilege to follow our true self, but are too afraid to do it?


Your privilege provides you with an opportunity to make your life - and the world - a better place. Don't be complacent. Don't settle. Make changes in baby steps or in huge sweeping strides. It's really up to you. And know that you'll inspire yourself - and others - along the way.


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2 Comments

Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
10:07 AM on July 17, 2016 
Thank-you so much, Lois-Anne! :-)
Reply lois-Anne Johns
9:01 AM on July 17, 2016 
I have to say that this is the best article I've ever read on this subject. Truer words were never spoken.