Here's the deal: I work a full-time job, keep a full-time hustle, and just published a book -– and of course, my new “Real Talk” blog. And yet, I can't pop bottles, rock red bottoms, or splurge on Louis Vuitton at will. And more often than not, even though I don't have kids or student loans, when I crunch the numbers, the math just doesn't add up to pay my bills, contribute to my 401(k), stash a chunk away for a rainy day, and still be high-end, designered-down four days in a row, much less today.
So for most of my getaway, I've been sitting in a friend’s cabana or VIP suite, drinking X-Rated Fusion Liqueur, sparingly. And all the while, I'm calculating numbers in my head of what everything costs to live the glamorous life. Honestly, I am also wondering what I'm doing wrong. How is it that I work from sunup to sundown (literally), and I don't have the life, that fabulous life, that so many others seem to having?
“You know what I call the people in here?” asks a gentleman to my right, interrupting my thoughts. I met him in passing two days ago at a celebration for the 20th anniversary for "Boyz in the Hood." He ID'd himself as a veteran talent agent at a well-known and reputable firm. “F. A. B.,” he says, answering his own question. “Fabulous and Broke.”
He went on to explain that "fake it till you make it" is the L.A. way. And just so I don't develop a bias against his city, he wants me to know that he's also lived in D.C., NYC, and ATL in his twenty-plus-year career, and it's “the way” there, too. “The problem is, the vast majority of people don’t ever make it,” he explained. “The reality is, you make a show for people you don’t know, who don’t really care about you and you end up bankrupt by 40.”
His story reminded me of a friend from grad school who was pursuing an MBA, specializing in the entertainment business. He was convinced that to break into the game, he had to look like “the people” he wanted to represent and be at all the places attended by those who were already there. That meant designer tees at $150 a pop, custom kicks and five-day weekends at every major music festival around the country. As he flew off to four-star hotels in Miami, Vegas, and Atlanta, I'd be grinding away at an unpaid internship, then an entry-level job, wishing I could have his life.
My wake-up call came 18 months later when he called me in a panic, not knowing what to do next. He was 23, 30K in credit card debt, and still had student loans.
“That’s the reality of living the FAB life at any age,” said the veteran agent, imparting wisdom I didn't know I needed. “People with real money can pull it off, but they don't have to. Most ball, then fall.”
I looked around the party at the 200-plus well-dressed guests, wondering who was balling, and who was a check (or two) away from falling like Alicia Keys.
Demetria L. Lucas is the Relationships Editor at ESSENCE and the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: Your Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter: @abelleinbk