I write a lot about how people need to make decisions for themselves, work extremely hard, and get off the beaten path. Inevitably, people ask about normal people or people who don't have all the advantages that I have. Let me address that.
Any struggle I've had in my life is a joke. I was born into a great family who never had to worry about putting a roof over my head or food on my plate. I felt (and feel) loved by every member of my family, from my great grandparents down to my siblings. Any danger I've ever been in in my entire life was danger that I willingly put myself into. I was in good schools, had great friends, and was supported by everyone I knew. I've taken medicine once in my life, and it was 15 years ago for strep throat. I have had it incredibly easy.
The challenges in my life have been created by me. I have the incredible privilege to pick goals, set my own timetable, and then try to reach them. I don't have to worry about food or shelter or... really anything. So although I do try to challenge myself and work extremely hard, I am always completely aware that the level of challenge and effort I put out will never reach what some people deal with on a daily basis.
I watched a documentary called Inocente last week, and it made me cry. It's about a homeless teenage girl named Inocente. She was born into a destitute illegally immigrated family with an abusive alcoholic father. Her father beat both her and her mother. They left and became homeless. Her mother was so desperate that she tried to convince Inocente to jump off a bridge and commit suicide with her. Inocente lives by herself, in the park or in shelters, and spends every last free minute she has painting. Her biggest dream in life is to get married and have a house.
Sometimes I rant about marriage and houses and how those are crappy goals. But you know what? That's for people like me who have been spoon fed success from birth. I don't have issues like violent parents and homelessness to deal with. The journey Inocente has already taken, especially in terms of self development and unraveling issues that were forced on her, is probably tougher than anything I can hope to do in my life.
Maybe that's hyperbole, but I don't mean it to be. I have no conception of what it would be like to deal with stuff like that, and although I'd like to think that I'd be strong enough to deal with it-- who really knows?
I use Inocente as an example, but there are millions of people who have really tough lives. There are single mothers who have to work three jobs just to make rent and buy food. There are kids born into neighborhoods in Chicago where violence is a way of life. Babies are born addicted to drugs that their mother used. These are all struggles that I will never have to deal with, and chances are you won't have to deal with either.
Do I think that these people should be getting off the beaten path, eating healthy, and trying to impact the world? Well.... I think that they don't have time to deal with that stuff right now. They're struggling for the basics that were dropped in my lap, and that's the first step. You have to be able to eat before you can eat healthy. You have to have firsthand knowledge of the beaten path to know it's not for you. You have to have some stability in your own life before you can systematically plan to impact the world around you.
I have all of the respect in the world for people in these situations. It's partly because of them that I feel so motivated. Everyone's entitled to their own opinions on the subject, but personally I think it would be embarassing for me to not try to work as hard as these people. Can you imagine what a struggling single mother would think of me if I sat around watching TV all day? No appreciation for what I've been given-- what an insult!
How big is the gap between where Inocente was born and where she wants to go? From being homeless in an abusive family to being in a stable relationship and owning a house-- that's huge. I'd better be setting goals that span about that range and working as hard as she is.
So when I say things like "Weekends are a joke", people like Inocente already know that. She doesn't get two days a week off to do nothing, so I figure I don't either. When I try to rally people to action, I'm directing that towards people who have won the genetic lottery as I have, and feel like they aren't doing enough with what they were given. We may not have to hustle to survive, but we can benefit by acting as though we do.
Photo is a marble statue near the entrance of the MFA in Boston.
A bunch of people e-mailed me about the Drop Out and Grow Rich article I posted yesterday. A friend of mine pointed out a few things, most importantly that I failed to give the college grad interest on his money. Fixing that (and making him pay interest if he was negative, but only after the first 4 years of college) put him very close to the high school grad with private school money. Never charging him interest for being negative got him slightly above that same person.
Then it was pointed out that the difference in earnings wasn't 900k as the college-mongers claimed. It was more like 1.3mil. I had no good data on salary increases, so I assumed the inflation rate. I guess it stands to reason that after a while job experience means more than the degree, so the gap gets smaller.
If I fudged the grad's income to equal a 900k lifetime earnings difference, the Dropout with Private School money is again the winner, but is still followed closely by the grad. If I fudge the dropout's starting income (to $29,692) to get the 900k difference, the grad still beats the dropout with public level money, but only by 300k. Also, the dropout would be beating him until age 58.
“Most days, I try desperately to forget my childhood. There are tiny, nagging things that have settled just within the back of my mind, and no matter how hard I try they will not relent. Most of it is related to my original home, the one I was raised in. I pass it quite a but, and though it is vacant more often than not it is the exterior, choked by vines, that continues to keep it where it stands. It has become part of the landscape. But for me it will simply be my former home. I don't think many people live to see their homes turn into legends, but for me there is little I have gained from this. If anything, people who know the history of the place choose to avoid me when they can. To the rest, I can at least be some semblance of normal
My father and I lived in the home nearly twenty years ago. My dad got it cheaply, shortly after my mother passed away. I was born at the local hospital, and had plenty of friends. Yet I spent most of my time in my room on the bottom floor. Even back then the vines were thick on the home, and I can recall my room being bathed in green light even during the brightest days. I would hole myself up in my room for what felt like weeks, and during the summer that was likely the case. All that time I would spend just trying to stay out of the way of my father.
I kept my door closed most of the time, but it didn't always help. Late at night I would lay awake in my bed, the streetlamps lighting up the leafs of the vines. In the other room I would hear my father talking to someone, though there was never anyone there. It was never anything clear, but it was certainly his voice with breaks in conversation for someone else to speak. This would continue late into the night, and if I was lucky I would be asleep before he started crying.
I was not ashamed of my father, and I didn't think poorly of myself for him being like that. He would still take me to movies, to plays, and would even on occasion take me out to the woods for camping. The camping trips were the thing I most looked forward to. The house seemed to have a bad influence on him, and it was only when we were outside and far away from that building that he seemed to be himself. At times like that he could talk about my mom freely, and though some might think that as morbid, it was actually comforting. I loved my father, and losing him was something I have really never worked through.
As the years passed, he continued to get worse. At dinner he would insist that I set an extra place setting. The few times I refused he sent me to bed without dinner, though he would ultimately show up later with a small plate. Often we would just have a normal dinner, but sometimes my dad would suddenly get quiet, and the conversation would stop. He would just mumble the whole time, and I would have to grab his rapidly cooling plate and put it away so he could have it for lunch the next day.