Dear Prudence

Help! My Brother Did Everything the Wrong Way, and Now He’s Thriving and a Millionaire.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

A man jumping for joy with cash in both hands and a female doctor holding her head, looking down.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Prostock-Studio/Getty Images Plus and Nebojsa93/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every Thursday on Twitter, @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence, asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

Growing up, my parents pushed me hard to achieve. It worked. I went to a letter school, qualified as a doctor, got a job in a busy hospital, and have worked throughout the crisis. Today, I’m pushing 30, more than half a million dollars in debt, exhausted, and stuck in a misogynistic working environment where people treat me like dirt on a daily basis. By comparison, my brother ignored my parents completely, dropped out of school at 16, and is basically your classic stoner. He also started trading sneakers online when he was 12, graduated to Bitcoin, and is now a millionaire many times over in his mid-20s.

I know it’s wrong but I feel so resentful and jealous of him, and so angry with my parents for driving my career and life choices so hard. How do I get over this?

—Burned-Out Achiever

Dear Burned Out,

Dilemmas that involve feeling a way that you don’t want to feel are especially hard; you can’t just decide to stop being jealous of your brother and resentful of your parents. It also doesn’t matter that you’re probably doing pretty well compared with most people, or that setting a kid up to have a successful (if stressful) career doesn’t rank high on the list of terrible things parents can do to their children. I have to admit, at a time when many people are unemployed or have lost parents and siblings during the pandemic, your situation didn’t seem unusually tough to me—so I had to pull myself out of an “oppression Olympics” state of mind to respond. I turned to Twitter and got some helpful ideas.

Several people advised to reframe your brother’s success and see it not as fodder for jealousy, but as an opportunity for you to get out of the miserable work situation you’re in. They said you should simply ask your brother for enough money to pay off your loans and give yourself more freedom to find a career that would make you happy.

“Hit up the bro for the $500k—that’s small change to him—and then go live their best life. They’re only in their 20s? They’ve got decades ahead of them, it’s not too late.” —@sirosenbaum

“Probably in the minority here but the stoner brother should help his sister pay off her student loan debts (are they loan debts?)” —@sara_bee

I am always using this column to tell people they aren’t entitled to their parents’ or siblings’ bank accounts, so I hesitated to include this advice (also, I think if he wanted to give you money, he would have), but he is a millionaire many times over and the amount that you would need would probably be nothing to him. So I suppose it would be OK to ask nicely and accept a no gracefully if that’s the answer you get.

But more broadly, I agree with @MashaKrupenkin, who said, “I think the brother is a red herring here. The big question is whether the LW finds value and meaning in their career, moreso than how the brother is doing. If LW is genuinely unhappy, I think taking steps to improve their life in the long run will solve the brother issue.”

This will involve a change in your focus. I guarantee you aren’t the only doctor who is drowning in debt and miserable. And I guarantee many people who have been where you are have found a solution, either through seeking out a more supportive work environment, doing something different and more meaningful with their medical degrees, or switching careers entirely. This all depends on whether you really have a love for medicine and want to use it to help people, or have a totally unrelated passion. I know that as a former miserable lawyer who made a career change, I get calls all the time from people who would like to do something similar and want advice. Whatever you see for yourself, someone else has likely achieved it. Start to look for inspiration and seek out mentors who can guide you and give you much-needed pep talks. You’re going to have to do some soul-searching about how much money you need to make, how much it matters to you to have your parents’ approval, and how you want to feel when you wake up and get to work every day. A therapist would be wonderful for helping you through this, because it’s a lot to process.

And your goal doesn’t have to be erasing your jealousy and resentment completely. As @NotAnyUse said, if your negative feelings about how you got here motivate you, don’t be afraid to use them to your advantage: “Why get over it? Stay angry, stay resentful. Consider doing for spite what you wouldn’t do otherwise: Change your job, move away, set a series of fires, and see what’s left. Spite has brought me better days than hard work, passion, love, or principle.”

No matter what you do, I assume you’d rather have a good relationship with your brother. A couple of people gave what I thought was some really insightful advice about spending some quality time with him, to see him as a whole person rather than a symbol of unfairness, and to get a better sense of what his life is actually like.

“I’m the eldest child who was an ‘overachiever’ and then had burnout, and my brother had a more experimental approach career-wise. Time with brother would be good because BOA might just be seeing the good side, not the full story.” —@ebbandflowph

“I agree! And in addition to that, there may be some healing to be found in spending time with her brother, making herself vulnerable and hearing how he feels being the black sheep made good. Lots of times I’ve found the antidote to envy is intimacy.” —@anya1anya

You might find yourself saying, “Never mind, I wouldn’t have wanted to make those choices” or you might start to see some of his bravery and independence in yourself. And he—especially as someone who understands the way you were raised like no one else—could end up being a wonderful cheerleader when it comes to creating a life that makes you happy. After all, he managed to do this many years ago despite facing the same pressure you did.

Finally, try to remember that 30 is very young and there is plenty of time to shape the life you want. @jimmyfriday13 offered a nice reminder: “I went through a 1/3-life crisis as well. Life has yet to begin for a lot of people (in so many ways: professional, relationships, etc.). Someone else’s path is not your path. Fate did not get you to where you are just to leave you there. Keep grindin’…”

This is what you should be spending most of your time thinking about—not what other people did or what happened in the past, but what you want for your future.

Classic Prudie

My husband and I have been married for five years. We have no children because I have been unable to get pregnant, even with the help of fertility treatments. Now that my husband’s sister-in-law just had a baby, he’s more desperate than ever to start our family. He has recently told me that he is “embarrassed” by the fact that we are almost 35 and childless, and he places the blame squarely on me being “unable to produce a child.” The truth is, while I have been diagnosed with a hormonal disorder, it hasn’t been proven to be the reason why we haven’t gotten pregnant. Nonetheless, I feel ashamed and hurt by these comments. I fear I may lose my husband over this. What should I do?