Riches To Rags: 14 Life Lessons I've Learned From A Life Of Poverty

by Gigi Engle
Columbia Pictures Corporation

I grew up privileged. I’ll always been eternally grateful for everything I’ve had — every experience and opportunity I was lucky enough to be given.

I went to fantastic schools, traveled throughout Europe and had a wonderful childhood. I also have amazing parents who raised me to have a good head on my shoulders and who smothered me with more love than any kid deserves.

In 2008, everything changed. Suddenly, there was no more money; no one to pay for college or the credit card bills.

I’ll be the first to admit that I never realized how much I had until it was gone, which is potentially the most important thing I’ve taken away from this experience. Now, I work to mindfully appreciate everything with my whole heart.

But, you know what being poor teaches you? Here’s what I learned:

1. When you lose your money, your fake friends (and family, go figure) will run like rats.

My mother and father are really good people. They were extremely kind and giving to everyone. They housed 31 struggling families in our guesthouse throughout 20 years. They had a lot of friends… when they were rich. As soon as the money was gone, so were a lot of friends.

It turns out that being generous and kind doesn’t always come back to you in your time of need. “The fake friends” is what we call them in my family now. They fled as soon as my parents had nothing left to offer.

(Of course, there is a tiny number who stuck by them and have helped out as much as they could.)

2. Only keep people in your life who deserve to be in it.

Losing everything (well, the money, anyway) has led me to become exceptionally more selective when it comes to whom I let into my life. My relationships are based on love, not money. They are true and they are precious.

I’m incredibly close with my immediate family. We’d never emulate the vile behaviors of our extended kin who didn’t stand by our sides when we were in need. So, in a way, I’m grateful for my extended family's repulsive disloyalty. They revealed who they really are.

And when we’re on top again — which, we will be — I’ll finally be able to tell them off.

3. Working hard makes payoff twice as sweet.

Once I found my first internship, started writing, and began freelancing and nannying in New York, I felt so much freer. I was (and am) doing everything on my own and it feels great.

It feels genuine — there’s no falling back on daddy’s money — and empowering and fantastic to know that everything I have, I earned by myself.

4. Family is irreplaceable.

Just because the money is gone doesn't mean the love is, too. In fact, I’d gladly trade everything I have — and used to have — for my family. There's more love there than anywhere else in the world. We support each other's dreams, stand together and can’t be broken.

Losing everything had the potential to not only destroy our lifestyle but also our spirit. It's done the opposite — we're 100 percent in love with each other.

5. You are your greatest asset.

You have to first believe in yourself before you can give any part of yourself to someone else. If there’s one thing onto which you must hold dearly, it’s your self-worth.

6. Ambition is addicting.

Once we lost everything, I realized I am in charge of my own future and nothing will be handed to me. I’m responsible for my own success.

I went from unpaid intern to earning my place as a paid intern and now, I’ve officially been selected to be a fashion aide to an executive at a major magazine — all before graduating college.

I revel in my success. I hunger for more. I can’t wait for the next big thing. It excites me. Poverty has lit a fire inside me that I didn’t know existed. I want success and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get it, but I won't step on anyone on my way to the top.

7. You need to develop a hard shell.

Keep your level of vulnerability under control. You have to be ready for anything — including the worst. Don’t become completely devoid of emotion, but protect your heart and the ones you love.

8. Always hold onto your hope or die trying.

Though you will have a hardened outer shell, don't let your hope whither and die. In fact, cherish it and nurture it. Because without hope, what can you expect to accomplish?

Hope grows inside of me and helps me to keep moving forward. Hold onto your hope. It is delicate and it is fragile and sometimes, it's all you have.

9. Don't expect pity — don't desire it, either.

Some people think I’m self-indulgent and self-centered. I don't see it that way at all. Yes, I grew up rich. Guess what? The money's gone, so now what? I don't pity myself. In fact, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Do I hate that my house is falling apart and we’re living on social security? Yes. But, I don't want your pity. I don't want anyone's pity. I am strong.

I just simply hope that through voicing these thoughts and emotions, someone will relate and find comfort in knowing that the experience is shared.

10. Things are only things.

...But if you have style, you can look like a million bucks in budget fashion. You can buy fashion, but you can't buy style.

11. The value of a dollar.

I've become a stellar saver and very scrappy. I don’t buy lunch. I only take paid internships. I freelance. I support myself and I can stretch a dollar like a real pro.

12. Don't hold onto anything too tightly because nothing is really permanent.

Quite simply, nothing lasts forever — not wealth, possessions or even some friendships. You must be ready to give up on some people and many things. Revel in your passions and in your accomplishments.

13. It's really okay to be proud of your accomplishments.

When we lost everything we had, my Godmother said to me, "Baby, you can sink or swim."

I've fought tooth and nail for everything I've earned, and I've become better for it. I've developed an insatiable hunger for success and I feel like nothing can stop me from accomplishing my goals.

I've always been a go-getter and a fighter, but this time, I'm doing it all on my own. There's no one to catch me if I fall, so I’m growing some wings.

14. I've stopped waiting for Prince Charming.

I don't plan to settle for anyone less than I deserve. I need a partner, not a free loader who, in all likeliness, will eventually leave me for someone younger.

I need someone who will be there for me, have the same goals — both educational and financial — and support me in everything I do.

Photo via Global Cool