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.