I Grew Up Poor, But I’m Privileged Anyway

I Grew Up Poor, But I'm Privileged Anyway

I have a pretty nice “rags to riches” origin story.

  • My parents were uneducated immigrants. Even after living in the US for over 30 years they’re still…working class.
  • One of my earliest memories is of a swarm of cockroaches crawling up my arm. Our apartment had an infestation problem, and as a lonely child, the roaches were my “friends.”
  • My high school guidance counselor saw where I lived once. The next day at school he pulled me aside and asked me if I needed help with money.

And while I’m not swimming in a pool of gold coins, I am now solidly upper-middle class. It’s a compelling story, isn’t it? Enough for many people to say, if she can move up in the world, can’t everybody?

We all know that age-old narrative: “Just go to school and work hard, and you can be successful, too.”

The importance of “hard work” is something I even like to plaster all over this blog. I’m a strong believer in making things happen for yourself.

Because look at me.

I do more work than most people to get the things that I want. How many people do you know would meticulously plan over a year in advance to snag a first-class reward ticket to New Zealand?

I’ve made a lot of really good choices along the way. Like choosing to go to a state school so I wouldn’t drown in student loan debt.

I’m damn resourceful so I can develop skills that companies pay for. Out of my entire department, I’m the only one who knows how to do this one crucial task. I learned it by taking the time to read the manual while others waited to be “shown.”

The truth is, I’ve worked really hard for everything I have. My net worth is all the money I’ve ever saved and invested myself.

But there’s a part of the story that seems to get brushed under the rug.

That I also had some help along the way.

That’s right:

You can have lots of disadvantages and still be privileged in lots of ways.

I’m not ashamed of my successes, and I’m not going to apologize for it. But those who think my successes are a result of just my hard work alone aren’t seeing the full story. And thinking that financial privilege is the only way to get headstarts in life is also short-sighted.

So how does one who seemingly has nothing parlay that into something?

Let’s start from the top.

First, I had to be born in the right place.

My parents came from a country where you could walk miles to school and study until your eyes bled, but you would still end up going nowhere in life. If you got out by choosing to be a prostitute, the villagers would nod their head in approval, “Good for her.”

Being born in a place where prostitution isn’t your only career option? CHECK.

The city I grew up in was working-class and predominantly white, safe enough so my sister and I could walk to and from school unsupervised and emerge unscathed.

My mom’s friends were like her: from the same country, with the same job, and earning about the same amount of money. They also had kids the same age as my sister and me, so we always had friends to walk home from school with. But those families all lived in the same neighborhood, where buildings had broken windows and ‘Beware of dog’ signs hung from fences.

Our family happened to live in another neighborhood. One where you could try to sell chocolates for a school fundraiser and people would politely decline instead of slamming the door in your face.

And my parents needed to give a damn about me.

Like a dad who embarrasses you by showing up at your friend’s house to look for you.

When it came to safety, my parents did not mess around. The one time my mom truly reamed us out was when she found out we had accepted a ride from one of her male friends. She told us we were never ever to do that again, taking a ride from someone who wasn’t family.

There was also river behind our friends’ neighborhood, which we weren’t allowed to swim in. So after school, as our friends frolicked in the water, my sister and I stood there with our backpacks, awkwardly watching. On one hot day, one of our friends drowned in the river. As we watched the girl’s mom weep over her dead body, my sister leaned over to me and whispered, “If that was our mom, she’d be way more hysterical.”

And I didn’t have a dad like my friend Tara. She was poor like me, but a different kind of poor. As a 10-year-old, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. As I grew older, I learned that she was what many would call “white trash.” I went over to her house once, and her dad was sitting in a threadbare chair wearing nothing but underwear that was once white. It looked like he hadn’t moved much from that chair all day. Then he started yelling at her for no apparent reason. I never went over to her house again.

And while no one at home was actively cheering me on, there wasn’t anyone cutting me down, telling me I’m worthless, or that I couldn’t do things.

I started out with some natural abilities.

Nobody in the house did jack-squat about enhancing my education. There was one tattered Cat in the Hat book in the house. My parents saw my sister and I leave in the morning to walk to school together and used that as a binary checklist for sufficient educational support:

Did they go to school? Check ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

No one was reading me stories to bed. Or enrolling me into enriching activities after school. Or monitoring my screen time. Despite the lack of educational involvement from my parents, it didn’t really matter.

Because processing information came pretty naturally to me. When I was little, people did a double-take when they saw I could read the front of a potato chip bag, and in elementary school, I was always put in the highest reading and math groups.

That’s not to say I’m a genius. Not even close. I didn’t crack 1300 on my SATs. I’ve never been the smartest person in the room. But I’m naturally smart enough. I wasn’t like that kid Jason from fifth grade who had to slink off to remedial classes when no one was looking.

I wasn’t a perfect student, but I didn’t have to be. I got an F in English one semester my junior year, because I was too lazy to do the work. But I got straight As a few times without really trying, too.

But raw intelligence isn’t everything. We all know someone who’s whip smart, but who hasn’t gone anywhere with it.

I needed the right environment to flourish.

In elementary school, the special classes took an hour a day. By the time high school rolled around, I was in mostly Honors classes, which meant I was segregated from the non-achieving kids practically my entire high school career. And when you’re spending about seven hours a day around high-achieving, well-to-do kids who are going places, guess what? The things they do start to rub off on you, too.

I was never friends with the well-to-do kids, but just by being in the same room as them, I had no choice but to observe how they did things. Through them, I learned about this thing called “asking for help.” I previously saw asking for help as a weakness. If you’re so smart, then you could do it all by yourself, right? But then I realized that those kids were doing it BECAUSE they were so smart. Smart people are always trying to improve and grow. And if I wasn’t doing it, too, then I could be left behind.

Or how about the time I heard them talking about taking college classes the summer after junior year. My ears perked up. College summer programs? What the heck were those?  So I went to the library to look them up online and I found one to apply to, too. There was only one problem: the cost. The 6-week program cost $3,500 and I was offered just $2,500 in financial aid. My mom was skeptical about kicking in the $1,000 balance, but she finally agreed. While she never made much money, she had set a habit of putting aside money from every paycheck so finding the money wasn’t a huge production.

And someone had to recognize my potential.

My junior year, my guidance counselor told me I had to go meet this woman once a week at the library. I had no idea why. Every week the woman would ask me about school, like what I was studying, and what my interests were. Later I realized that it was a program for students who showed academic promise but were from low-income families. One day, she came to our meeting with a curious stack of papers.

“These are college application waivers for you,” she explained. “You can apply to up to six colleges and not have to pay the application fee.”

I COULD APPLY TO COLLEGE FOR FREE? It felt like winning the lottery.

I had been dreading asking my mom for money for the application fees, so this was unbelievable. If it had been up to me I would have applied to just two schools because I would have felt bad about the fees.

The woman even took me to tour a school, something that my parents wouldn’t have thought to do.

I knew I had choices.

The honors classes and the special help planted a seed in my head: I was going to go to college.

I wasn’t like that kid who sat next to me in study hall and muttered, “I’m not going to college.” I wondered why he thought that. Because it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t go to college. Growing up in a cheap apartment with low-income parents wasn’t going to stop me.

Because I could see a path to where I needed to go.

All those little circumstances added up.

Since the beginning I was set up to succeed in lots of ways that I didn’t choose.

All these little circumstances added up over time, stacking on top of one another like building blocks.

Sometimes I think people forget that these boosts in life aren’t just financial, like having parents pay for college, weddings and down payments. They forget about the subtle privileges.

For me, the subtle privileges have made all the difference. And it doesn’t mean that privileges have erased any hardships or bad luck. Or that I’ve never faced discrimination. And it also doesn’t mean that my success is invalidated or diminished in any way. Because I had to make good choices, too, remember?

It simply means I’ve had a little help along the way.

I could say that my successes were the result of all of my hard work. After all, that’s all it takes, right?

I could toss out an inspiring quote you’ve heard before.

But the truth is, sometimes hard work by itself just isn’t enough. I could have worked hard until I passed out, but if I wasn’t in the right environment, I just as easily could have gone nowhere.

I fully recognize that not everybody could do what I did. I’m an anomaly. Because for me, it was the perfect vortex of natural capabilities, lucking out with loving parents, being around successful kids, working hard, and making the right choices.

So the whole “just go to school and work really hard” advice? Yeah, it doesn’t fly with me.

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  • Jennifer Chan

    “You can have lots of disadvantages and still be privileged in lots of ways.” – This is my life to a T. I check lots of minority boxes, grew up in a dysfunctional family, but my parents worked hard enough to send me to a good school and spoil me with extracurricular programs. Because of that post-secondary education was a real possibility, and consequently a decent job. Privilege goes beyond just the colour of your skin, it also includes having someone invest in opportunities for you to have a bright future. – Jen (Jen On Money)

    • Hey Jen, thanks for stopping by! Yes, totally agree that there is much more to privilege than just financial help! And for those who were low-income like me, I wanted to show an example of other kinds of privileges that I think people forget about it. It would have been much harder for me to succeed if I had parents who didn’t care about my well-being, or if school was very difficult for me.

  • My family was all over the socioeconomic map when I was growing up, but one static privilege I had was access to computers from an early age, which made a huge difference. Also lots and lots of books. Without those immense privileges, I’m positive I would not have “made it.”

    • Oh man, so you were one of THOSE kids! Just kidding. I didn’t have a computer in high school so I used a typewriter or hand-wrote my papers. I remember one time my teacher docked me down an ENTIRE grade because he said my handwriting wasn’t neat enough. The nerve…I think books helped me a lot, as well. I just had to go to the library to find them! Anyway, I’m glad you’ve recognized how a seemingly small circumstance benefitted you.

  • Dr. Curious

    I recently read “The Nurture Assumption” by Judith Harris, and changed my whole outlook on why children turn out the way they do as adults. Her thesis is, essentially, that parents don’t matter much at all. About half of our adult personality is shaped by our genetics, and the other half by our social environment, but she argues that our peers are vastly more influential than parents in most of the important parts of personality development. Of course, additional factors of race, sex, and privilege are layered on top of these influences, but as kids I believe we have little control on where the current of life will ultimately lead us.

    • gracesface

      That book sounds fascinating!

    • Wait, so are you agreeing with me or arguing against me? I’m not a genius, remember? 🙂

      I think for me, parents were important when I was little. Especially for me, since my parents weren’t quite as involved as others. It was a sad day indeed when I was the only kid whose parent did not come to Thanksgiving day at school. My parents couldn’t afford to take time off like that. But at home, my mom was really warm and affectionate, and I do think that made a difference in creating self-esteem. Whenever my friends meet my mom, they’re pretty jealous!

      So that baseline of self-esteem helped so I didn’t have problems with feeling insecure about my looks, clothes, or whatever. Never needed to seek validation from others. And it’s not like I had a relationship with my parents where I told them things about my life or spent quality time with them. Quite the opposite really. That stuff was for my friends. Of course as I grew older I was influenced by my peers and friends. Thankfully, I mostly hung out with good kids so I didn’t get into too much trouble.

      • Dr. Curious

        Rereading my comment, it was a bit of a tangent, sorry about the confusion. I completely agree that one’s lot in life, including the privilege that comes with it, play a huge part in where one ends up. Sure, there are kids from underprivileged or uberprivileged backgrounds who move up or down the socioeconomic ladder, respectively, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

        I’m a huge believer that most of what people chalk up to “hard work” is really just luck and happenstance. This includes the luck of being born who you are (i.e. genetics), and where and when, and the people that were around you growing up. We have almost no control over this highly influential aspects of our lives.

        Don’t sell yourself short: you are one of the smartest bloggers I read, and that includes a lot of doctor blogs 🙂

        • Agree that luck, circumstance, personality, and raw talent play a huge role. I also find it quite curious how people react to their circumstances. For example, I didn’t know I was poor for quite some time, not until high school. Some people are really raw about being poor, and it plays out in how they handle money, etc., but I’m annoyingly resilient and well-adjusted 🙂

  • THANK YOU. The idea that privilege only exists if you’re generationally wealthy and have all the advantages just makes no sense. It reminds me of the saying: He was born on third base and thought he hit a home run.

    We were born able in America with the right tools. That’s third base right there.

    • 100%! Too many people think that because they didn’t get a down payment from their parents that they have no privilege. Um, yes, you are! And it doesn’t mean your achievements are diminished in any way.

  • Adventure Rich

    Thank you for sharing this, Luxe… such an important and relevant topic today. It is sad, but someone in the same circumstances could choose to say “I can’t” or “I don’t have x”. Instead, you chose to work hard, acknowledge the benefits of your circumstances and be grateful for what has helped you to move forward. Keep the thoughtful posts coming, I love reading your blog 🙂

    ~Mrs. Adventure Rich

    • Well, I don’t know about “working hard.” Although sometimes it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if I did have more educational support and guidance from my parents. I just had to try things and see what happened because I didn’t have a frame of reference as to what to do in most cases.

      I’ll say that I was also encouraged to believe I could do things because of being in special classes. Then other kids would tell me I’m “smart”, and you know, you start to believe it once you’ve heard it a couple times. So for me, I guess I found ways to be validated by people other than my parents.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  • Yaaaas! All of this and those bag of potato chips you were reading as a tiny tot. Privilege is real and relative. By recognizing, you more fully can recognize your strengths and limitations and then crush those limitations.

    -Heather @ bizewife

    • They were Lay’s potato chips, haha! Oh yes, I totally agree that privilege is very relative. For example, I didn’t really know how to play with other kids when I was little, and um, no one did anything about that problem. So as an adult I I was definitely left behind a lot in terms of social skills. Something I still have to work on today!

  • Jane

    My father’s story is very similar to yours…in 1958 he went to a private university on a music scholarship. He talks about his clarinet teacher taking the bus to his house and begging him not to quit when he was 13 and wanted to “be cool.” Growing up, my family straddled the white-and blue-collar worlds and I learned a lot of valuable lessons. I struggle to pass them on to my daughter, who is growing up in a solidly upper middle class environment. At age 49 I’m likely one of your oldest readers, but I really enjoy your blog.

  • Molly

    I come from an upper middle class background, and in my adult life have always been aware of the privileges it has afforded me. But I always thought of them in terms of financial privileges. I haven’t really considered all the additional “subtle privileges” as you term them. Privilege is a complex and many-layered thing, isn’t it? Thanks for giving me something more to think about!

    • Hey Molly,

      I actually think lots of people feel like privilege is purely financial, so I wanted to offer a more nuanced interpretation. The same way that subtle privileges helped me, they also held me back, too! Like in college, I didn’t know I was supposed to dress up to go on job interviews and stuff. I was also an extremely introverted child, and that was left totally unchecked, and I know for sure that social skills have held me back as an adult.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Eddie

    Hey Luxe! Lovely post, thanks for sharing !

    • Hey Eddie! Thanks, and nice festive avatar pic!

      • Eddie

        Thanks ! I figured Eddie Munster was fitting Haha

  • It’s so tempting to claim that we are self-made men and/or women and that our success is a direct result of all our hard work. It isn’t easy to admit that who we are and what we’ve become is so heavily influenced by chance, privilege and other factors that are out of our control. Thanks for the reminder that we are all privileged in one way or another and that we shouldn’t take those blessings for granted!

    • Yeah, the whole ‘self-made’ thing is something people in our PF realm are pretty guilty of. We all want to think we did it all by ourselves, but of course, that’s not true. If my mom didn’t happen to be a bright person, I’m not sure if I would have been able to succeed without some sort of major academic help, you know?

  • Lisa

    I think it’s interesting and makes sense in terms of being grateful for our blessings. But I think the reasons that the “go to school and work hard” narrative doesn’t work for many reasons besides privilege. Lots of people do well in life who did terribly in school. (It’s probably better to be good at school but I think one good thing about America is that you have a lot more options than school). And there are lots of challenges to people who do well in school – like student debt, lack of well-paying jobs, high costs of living, a glut in higher ed grads, stress and health issues, etc. So even if you were super privileged in education and even hard working, you could end up completely screwed. To some extent, it’s all just a crapshoot (or maybe that was your point?)

    • Hey Lisa,

      Oh, the whole “go to school” thing is a terrible example and that’s on me! I couldn’t find a more generic quote online to use. Anyway, I added it to the end of the post, so I can see how you fixated on it. What I MEANT was that our successes aren’t necessarily the result of just our hard work alone. And yeah, I wasn’t necessarily the hardest working student, but I could still get by anyway, just based off of other factors. I didn’t have to try nearly as hard as other kids to get the same/similar result. But the point is, in many cases it’s not enough to simply just work hard. Usually there are factors of privilege and circumstances to help boost us up.

  • Thank you for sharing this! I think that considering seemingly “small” privileges like this and how they add up is important, and something you don’t see enough of in personal finance writing (or the world in general).

    • Hey Rachel,

      Thanks for the comment! Yeah, I felt like most people focused on financial privilege, and I wanted to shine a light on other types of privilege as well. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Those subtle privileges you mentioned is something lots of people can take for granted and don’t take advantage of it. When most see the word privileged, they think entitled, comes from high income parents and has everything handed to them. But if you dig deeper, you have to earn the right and be surrounded by good, influential people to be into the position. For you, you earned to be in honors classes throughout high school and now surrounded by students that have high expectations. You earned that privilege!! And you took advantage of it by taking college programs in HS like them. That seemed like a great environment to be in during HS.
    And also for you to go to apply for college for free and not worry about application fees, that’s just too cool. You took advantage of that privilege as well because of your academic potential and coming from a low-income home.

    • I think for me since I did not have the “standard” upbringing, there are lots of things I consider to be privilege that maybe others don’t. For example, in college I told my friend I didn’t know how to swim, and she said, “Oh, didn’t you have swim lessons when you were a kid??” Little things like that. To me, that her parents even paid for ONE extracurricular activity is a big privilege! But not everyone has parents who understand the American culture enough to think to do those things.

      Re: honors classes, I don’t know if I really deserved it. I wasn’t a disciplined student at all. Just kind of skated by because I could process information well enough. And there were kids who worked MUCH harder than me, and were not in honors classes…

      Yeah, the application fee was pretty cool! It surprised me so much I had to think really hard about extra schools to apply to. Previously I only picked like, two. And I got to apply to a reach school just because, and was so surprised I actually got in! But I thought it was such a long shot I didn’t bother applying for financial aid to the school, so the cost was a no-go from the start.

  • GYM

    Thank you for writing this 🙂 we all have different privileges and these compounded with life situations and opportunities help shape what our lives end up looking like. As Warren Buffett says he felt like he won the Ovarian Lottery, and although he had natural ability he also had family support.

    • Yeah, I felt like people underplay the natural ability thing. Combine that with a natural desire to achieve, and then financial help kind of seems trivial in comparison. Although I won’t lie: living in NYC, sometimes it seems like financial help is the ONLY way I’ve seen people be able to afford a home.

      I don’t think any successful person can truly say they lifted themselves up by the bootstraps. Everyone has received some form of help or circumstance. We just have to realize it!

  • PalePinkBeauty

    Love your blog! It’s definitely healing to take a step back and look at how many things that we can be grateful for, have a wonderful week 🙂

    • Hey, and thanks! I agree that looking at things we’re grateful for is a lot more productive than being mad about things we don’t have. There are so many things I could be negative about, especially when it comes to privilege, but being negative isn’t going to get me any closer to my goals now, is it?

      Hope to see you around here more often 🙂

  • Hi Jane,

    Thanks for your comment! And there’s no age limit to reading and enjoying blogs, so please, don’t worry about that 🙂

    You bring up a great point about each generation have more than the former. How do you make sure they aren’t spoiled? Do you just make up “obstacles” for them to teach them lessons? I always felt if I had a kid then I would be very hard on him/her to be an independent self-starter. My mom taught me that I didn’t need toys because I’d get tired of them. So when I wanted something I tried to make my own toy using materials around the house. Of course, my attitude on child-rearing stems from how I was raised myself, and what my plan is versus what I will actually do are two different things.

  • Love it! It reminds me of the bits and pieces of my life except 1. cool counselor 2. you’re successful (mines questionable luck 😂). This post is super grounded, I swear personal finance writers are the most down to earth rich people I’ve ever met. Is this where everyone’s hiding!

    • Oh, I was so skeptical of the counselor. I was like, why does she want to help ME? I didn’t get it. I think it’s just important to recognize that none of us have achieved what we have totally by ourselves. And you’ve played such a pivotal role in managing your and Jared’s money. Don’t shortchange yourself!

  • I loved reading this. It’s so important to recognize areas in our life that have given us that extra boost to push us towards the things we chose to work hard for. Your story is so inspirational…in terms of being goal worthy-you’re totally that for me.

    I haven’t touched on this topic on my blog but even being able to stop working and focus on my passion is an immense privilege. I often feel ashamed but I suppose there’s nothing I can do about it besides being aware and recognizing that there’s a bigger goal in mind for what I am doing right now.

    If what I am doing right now with my life is telling me anything, it’s that hard work + school = not enough. For me, at least I found myself following a very straight and narrow path, and yet here I am.

    Thanks for always being so inspiring.

    • Hi Sophie,

      You’ve touched on an interesting point. I don’t really read any fashion blogs anymore, because I felt like everything was so unattainable, and yet, so unexplained. I guess nobody owes readers an explanation about how they get money to buy expensive things, but something about it just seems like a big hidden secret that no one can talk about. And of course, when people would ask them how the fashion bloggers afford stuff, they’d be like, “Oh, just work really hard and persist.” Anyway, I don’t think being able to afford not working is something to be ashamed about! I actually think ppl would be interested to hear about the decision behind that, etc.

      Thanks for reading and for always posting thoughtful comments, Sophie!

  • D. Broussard

    Wow this really hit home for me as my high school path was in many ways similar to yours. Honors and AP classes, application waivers, etc. I have had such a rough time finishing college that I believe that I’ve take note for granted some of the things that worked well for me and forgot to stick to them. Instead I ended up following the Joneses and now am struggling to dig out of the hole I’ve made for myself. Thank you for sharing and inspiring!

    • Oh, you bring up a great point about “forgetting” where you came from. Sometimes I feel like as time goes on I lose more and more touch of what it was like to be lower-middle class. It’s important for that not to happen so we don’t lose our empathy for those with less. I’m glad you figured out that you had to course correct and are making positive changes!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • donnafreedman

    Thanks for this! People — ESPECIALLY white people — cannot stand to hear the P word. “I worked my way up, why can’t THOSE PEOPLE do the same?”

    They really don’t understand that the playing field is a lot less level from where they glimpse it there on the finish line.

    As I put it in one post:

    “People who do well tend to forget (if they ever recognize) the advantages they had, especially since some of those are ‘invisible’ privileges.

    “Having been raised with good manners and decent dental care, knowing how to turn on the charm, having been told how to dress appropriately to the situation – all these things can help you get a job.

    “Not having one or more of those things can KEEP you from getting a job.

    “Having that strong work ethic modeled to you is a huge advantage. After I got pregnant at age 20, I could have ended up on welfare and living in a trailer in Fairton, NJ. But I’d grown up watching both my mom and my dad bust their butts to succeed. I was determined to succeed, too.

    “But there was more to it than that. Namely: luck. … Hard work was necessary to my success, but propinquity was just as important as perseverance.”

    If it’s kosher to share links, here’s the rest of the piece:

  • BrooklynBread

    OMG I just recently made the same observation on Freedom is Groovy’s post about Asian bloggers! But you have laid it how here so beautifully and personally (and methodically) and I agree 100% with every word. Honestly, I am starting to think that anyone who does not have abusive parents is “privileged.” THIS is the real difference maker in life. Not money. What money does is help kids who are screwed up by wealthy abusive or neglectful parents escape some consequences. Great post!

    • I just read your beautiful comment and agree with you 1000%! Actually, like your aunts, I honestly did not know I was poor until my guidance counselor asked me if I needed money. I didn’t know my experience was different–I thought I was middle class like my friends! One time I was driving around with my friends and pointed out a house for sale that I liked that cost $90k. A girl in our group asked another friend behind my back, “How can her family afford that?” Perception is funny like that.

      I totally agree with you that simply having quality parents gives you a big boost in life. Quality parents can happen when you’re poor and you can have bad parents when you’re rich, too. And I’ve seen with my own eyes people with the same amount of money, but some with a lot of privilege and chance circumstances (like me), and some with very few (like my friend Tara).

      I think the other piece is seeing a path to success. If you’re poor, your parents are poor, and your friends are poor, it’s hard to “dream up” another way of life out of thin air and to see the steps to get to somewhere else. A seed needs to be planted. The simple act of having some sort of role model or example is huge.

  • Our stories are oddly similar…my family wasn’t well off with money either, but I was fortunate to have two parents who always looked out for me. I think it’s easy to tout the phrase “just work hard and you can achieve whatever you want” without acknowledging that a lot of success has to do with the intangibles – the subtle factors you don’t see. Reliable parents, a safe home environment, the opportunity to grow and develop skills – all these factors make a HUGE difference. I think back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s a lot easier to work hard, hustle, and become the best version of yourself when you don’t have to worry about shelter, food, water, and your own safety. A little bit of help from your family and growing up in the right environment goes a long, long way.

    • Hey Zach,

      Thanks for dropping by, and glad you can relate. I think it’s important for people to realize that not everybody’s covered in terms of the lowest tier on Maslow’s pyramid. Those are things that many of us take for granted and assume others have, too. Totally agree that a loving home makes a big difference! More so than money in my case.

  • Thanks for sharing as always! Your writing is so inspiring because it comes from a place of truth and authenticity. You make readers think, without inspiring one-upmanship of people who ‘I had it even worse and now I’m even better off” or guilt from those who had even more privileges than that, like parents with money and intense interest in furthering educational exposure. I’ll be chewing on this for a while.

    • Hey!

      Oh, thank you for saying such nice things! Actually, I had read an article about studies done to determine how one can move up economically if they come from a low-income family. I was disappointed in the comments, because all the suggestions weren’t based off any experience (at least, not from what they shared). So I figured I’d just share my own observations and experiences on the ground. I never want to shame anyone or point fingers–just share how I see things. And I’m glad you brought up the point about one-upmanship. Which, inevitably happens whenever there’s a thread on privilege. It is NOT a contest, people.

  • Hi Donna,

    Thanks for reading! I think people tend to view ‘privilege’ as something to detract from their accomplishments. I can see how one would think that. Hopefully, I provided a more personal approach that doesn’t point fingers or privilege-shame anyone. Just simply makes them think a little.

    And I’ll definitely read your post!

    • donnafreedman

      Yes. It’s all right to acknowledge your own hard work, as long as you also understand that you might have had some help/advantages along the way that not everyone would have gotten.

      And I think that yours was a good example.

  • Nina Thomas

    As a teacher, it was so heartwarming to hear how big of an impact a good guidance counselor had on you!

    • Hi! The same guidance counselor spelled my name wrong on my college recommendation letter, but generally he was OK! And teachers have made a big difference in boosting my confidence since my parents weren’t involved in my education. I”m sure you’ve made the same kind of difference for the kids in your life 🙂

      • Nina Thomas

        ugh that sucks! It actually makes me think of the shoe 13 reasons why. Some educators and people who are supposed to help students are so overworked and overburdened that they miss out on important ways they should be helping their students.

  • I love this!

    “And it also doesn’t mean that my success is invalidated or diminished in any way. Because I had to make good choices, too, remember?” This really resonates with me because in just about every terrible internet discussion about privilege, you seem to hear people getting offended that someone is invalidating the work they’ve put in simply because of privilege. Hard work and privilege can absolutely be side by side factors for success!

    That’s why I think all of our stories are worthy of being told. We shouldn’t be ashamed of how our privileges shaped our successes! But we also don’t need to shame anyone for not being able to accomplish what we have on the assumption they just haven’t worked hard enough. We just can’t see all the factors at play. And we can only support those with less than us from this point forward.

    • 100% about the terribly internet conversations about privilege. The worst is when people try to one-up one another. Privilege by itself isn’t going to propel someone to success. Like you said, there are so many other factors at play.

      And I agree about recognizing our privileges and using to help others. I remember when I was 10, and I was bossing around this kid in my class. My teacher yelled at me and said I had no right to boss around a kid just because he didn’t have the same skills I had. So from an early age, I learned that not everyone can do all the things you can!