My Upper Class Blue Collar Family: What Was It Like Growing Up?

My family is upper class. Our household income puts us squarely in the top 0.1% of Canadian families, but when you include total assets, especially those of my paternal grandparent’s, we are clearly part of the 0.01%.

You would never know this by meeting me (I’m personally not very wealthy), or if you were to run across my parents or grandparents on the street—and especially not in the Selo, where our 90’s Mercedes Benz is parked next to a road covered in lamb shit. I guess you could just say that we don’t “stunt” much. It’s just not in our genes.

We are producers. We don’t own luxury sports cars, and we definitely don’t have an indoor swimming pool. Seadoos? What are those? The last time we took an expensive vacation to Fiji or Seychelles was never, and we don’t have Country Club memberships.

I’ve never really understood why my upper class family doesn’t take part in the bougieness of upper class life (is my keyword density above 0.5% yet? upper class, upper class, upper class), but it probably has something to do with the fact that my grandparents barely escaped from Communism. Old habits never die, and they’re very Stoic. This has obviously trickled down.

Almost every member of my immediate family has started a business at some point in their lives. My uncle manufactures gun parts. I used to take my truck around town to dig ditches and build rock walls, and I made lots of cash doing that over the summers while studying at University. I recently set up a web and mobile app development agency, which I’ve been using to pay for bottles, corks and customs fees, among other things for my new olive oil startup, Selo Oils.

When I was 12 years old I learned to build websites. I made both a DragonBall Z and Warcraft 3 website using HTML and basic PHP. At 13, I co-taught a college course, “An Introduction to Web Markup”, along with my father who was a Professor of Engineering at the time. He now owns an international robotics company with clients in San Diego, Tokyo, Taipei and Shanghai.

My websites even generated some ad revenue. Unfortunately, I had to give those up because they were “interfering” with my studies. We were learning algebra in grade 8, after all. You see, my family is very business savvy, but they were never well versed in online retail marketing. This requires understanding the Consumer Mindset, which was never relevant for laser robotics or construction contracting. I still somewhat resent the fact that they pulled the plug on my #1 Goku Fansite.

Even my mother, who never really worked full-time, has multiple online side hustles, including children’s books and recipe writing; she even had a sprint of live cooking show appearances in the mid-90s. I remember seeing her on Seattle KCTS 9 Public Television when I was young. She also somehow managed to get me a gig on the The Reading Rainbow—yes, there is a long-lost VHS somewhere in our basement where I chop it up with LeVar Burton as a 6 year old. We discussed the intricacies of drawing, coloring and my short story, “Morse the Math Horse”. You can’t find any of this information online.

Selo Oils LaVar Burton Reading Rainbow

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I have never got anything that I wanted from my family for free. That BMX racing bike and dirt track membership that I wanted as a teenager? Hell no. That $1000 desktop I wanted to run Flash and Adobe Premiere at max settings so that I could become a ballin’ video editor for Ebaum’s World and Newgrounds when online video was just blowing up? Absolutely not. Not even after showing interest and commitment to those things for months on end.

Obviously, I was always very fortunate growing up. I have always had good food in my stomach. I received a world-class “education”. But I always bought my own clothing and video games, and there’s just no way you could say I was a Trust Fund brat. I was a little Seljak in Paradise. I could clearly see that we had some money, I just wasn’t allowed to touch it.

Has any of this really helped me? Is my “character” better developed as a result of having been limited in my personal hobbies growing up (at least compared to my more affluent upper class friends)? I personally kind of doubt that. Most people assume that coming from a wealthy background means getting handout after handout. This was never the case for me. But am I really stronger for it?

This is something that I think about more and more as I approach an age in which starting a family myself is no longer a distant possibility. Most of the kids who I went to high school with were absolutely spoiled to the core, but today they’re doctors, and high-powered lawyers living in New York City, making half a million dollars a year, with small families of their own. I guess everyone has a different life path.

Selo Living What I Could Have Had

As for me, I’m 27 years old and I’ve been going from software job to software job for the last 7 years. I know over 10 programming languages, and have used over 60 different frameworks for both front-end and back, for both web and mobile applications. You could almost say that my head is “in the cloud.”

The vast majority of my portfolio is hidden behind the veil of Big Software Licensing, most of which my former employers now solely own. I’m technically a “Senior Software Developer”, but I’ve been coding since I was a pre-teen. I have more expertise than some people in this industry who are twice my age, but this has never translated into very much money, and I have never felt compelled to save much of what I’ve earned over the years.

The big lie they don’t tell you about software engineering is that it’s much like how it was to start a Rock Band in the 80s. A million kids start out jamming in their parent’s basements from a young age, and 999,900 never leave.

I guess I figured that since my upper class family was always doing fine that I’d be much better off “investing” my disposable income to network and socialize with other rich people. One day, I’d blow the fuck up! I could always lean back if I failed.

When you’re a few degrees of separation away from Mark Zuckerburg himself, you think you’re going to become something like a Mark Zuckerburg. There’s no easy way to describe it, but it’s almost like you just expect it. This is the height of upper class arrogance.

In fact, the founder of both Flickr and Slack (a multi-billion dollar software company) actually went to my private upper class boarding school. This was one of the reasons I attempted to schmooze my way into the venture capital scene in Vancouver for my app startup nearly 5 years ago now. If you didn’t know, the Vancouver tech scene is the #1 Gateway Drug of choice for Canadians who want to get into Silicon Valley. Blockchain is buzzing in the rainy city.

So we raised USD $25,000 in a private equity round, but that project eventually failed because we over-engineered our app in the hope that we would achieve network effects through “built-in virality” (one of many buzz words in use by the tech accelerators at the time). Instead of developing our sales funnel and solving real customer problems, we went full spectrum geek.

The last thing you want to do is take advice from a mentor whose projects were funded by VCs alone, and whose exits mainly took place before their companies had paying customers. I learned that lesson the hard way.

In terms of my tech startup ambitions, that was what you would call a wrap. Afterwards, I looked abroad. I landed an admittedly far-less lucrative job in Europe, but at least it was a lifestyle change that got me out of my upper class comfort zone, and most importantly, out of North America, away from the safety of the home in which I spent most of my teenage years.

But that didn’t last long either. Last year, I returned home after two long years in both Copenhagen and Prague, to live with my upper class blue collar family once more. The salaries in Europe are truly bottom-of-barrel if you don’t want to live in either Stockholm, Brussels or Berlin. Geo-arbitrage didn’t work out as I had expected it to, but I did meet some interesting people while living abroad, and got to know my friend Kyle who ultimately helped me breach the “online retail marketing” sector of the Internet, something I’ve always wanted to figure out how to do.

So what the fuck was the point of this blog post? I don’t know. I’m just trying to get my thoughts out there at this stage. I just want people to know that at one point I was a contender for Harvard, Yale and MIT, and that I now work part-time, make $20/hr (Canadian) and live at home. If I weren’t a 6’4, 240 lb. Balkan man with a beautiful black beard and rippling muscles, one might easily mistake me for a Hikikomori—a shit-tier NEET.

Image result for Hikikomori

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? My parents helped me take out a small loan to raise the capital I needed to buy some olive oil from my village in Croatia (yeah, to buy it from my own grandmother—there is no such thing as a free lunch in the Selo), and to pay for shipping to get it over here. Let’s just say Baba Maria is Selo Oils’ chief competitor.

I now owe them a boat load of cash and you better believe me that when they say I have to pay it back myself, I have pay it back myself. Why didn’t they just give me the money for free, or take a 5-10% stake in my company? When it comes down to it, they’re just way too busy for olive oil. This is my story after all. #Tidus, #FFX.

So this is a make or break moment for me, and for Selo Oils in particular. If this thing falls apart, then it’s back to being a middling IT developer with a beer gut until I’ve paid all that money back. And the thought of being a bald 36 year old working a dead-end job in the land of fluorescent light bulbs and TPS reports forever haunts me.

No. That is not my destiny. I can see it clearly now.

A New Empire awaits.

The Selo je Budućnost.

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