The other day on Facebook, One of my Facebook Acquaintances shared a graphic that I found rather odd: It’s sentiment that is common, but in my opinion, misguided. Nevertheless it’s a common idea in society today.
This idea is reflected in many other similar comments. Things we’ve probably heard, like “I’m here because I worked hard!” or “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. If I can do it, so can anyone.” the general idea of all of these statements is: Work hard, make good decisions, and you can be successful! Make poor decisions and you will fail!
While I agree with those ideas at face value, I think these statements are dismissive of how much impact circumstance can have on success. With that in mind, I would like to just suggest a few ways that circumstances have led me to the point in my life that I’m at now.
A. I am lucky. I was born into a fairly affluent family. I was raised by two parents, both college graduates. My dad made more than enough money for us to live well off his income. Since both of my parents went to college, the value of education was smashed into our heads on a daily basis. Being the youngest in my family, I watched all of my siblings successfully attain a college degree. Two of my siblings attained advanced degrees. I don’t consider myself a particularly driven person. I work hard, but those that know me know I don’t like to kill myself, and I love to goof off too. If I didn’t grow up with the expectation that I would go to college, I’m not sure I ever would’ve tried. After all, I really thought college was scary.
B. I had great teachers and a diverse education. I had teachers that inspired me, because I saw how much they loved their jobs and cared for their students. I grew up in an area where teachers were well-paid, class sizes were small, and opportunities in arts, sports, etc. abounded. I took piano lessons, played various sports, enjoyed singing in school choir, and was involved in a strong church community, all of which taught me the value of hard work and dedication. Through all of those events (and, relating to point A, thanks to parents who pushed me toward those things) I learned that value of hard work, and the excitement that came when that hard work led to success.
C. I had hardworking friends all around me growing up: I remember recently listening to a high school student who I considered to be a hard working, studious person. She was complaining that she got a 17 on her ACT. I got a 29 on my ACT and I thought I was stupid. Most of my peers scored in the 30’s. granted, I didn’t sweat the 29, because I knew it was good enough. But I didn’t over-study either. I was just always a good test taker. hearing a hard-working high school student struggle really threw into light how lucky I was to be a good test-taker who never had testing anxieties. It also reflects what a good school system I was a part of
D. Also relating to point A, my parents went out of their way to show me the potential consequences of not doing well in school. As soon as I was old enough to work, my dad found me a job (and I swear, he looked for the worst job ever) I worked at a Jiffy Lube, I worked as a carpet cleaner, I had to clear out backed up sewage lines and drains, vacuum out furnaces, and work ouside in the hot summer sun. All of these “opportunities” were to show me the type of work I could end up doing for the rest of my life if I didn’t go to school
E. on a more general level, I benefit from living in America. I have good infrastructure, a car to help me get around, technology that helps me stay up to date, and public workers that keep the lights on, my health good, and my home safe. All of these things are the result of innovators that came before me and a country that decided paying taxes toward a common goal would benefit everyone (spoiler alert: even though some people think taxes = theft, you and I both benefit from the taxes everyone pays. That’s the whole point)
F. I never feared running out of money in college. I chose to work while I was in school, but I never had to. I knew if I ever ran out of money, I could call my parents and they would be there to bail me out. I was able to focus on my studies, unlike so many other college students. I finished my bachelor’s degree debt free, which left me free and confident to continue on to graduate school. Even though my parents didn’t pay for graduate school, I’m confident they would have if I’d asked.
G. I am mentally and physically capable. I’ve watched friends buckle under pressure, lose hope and give up because of depression, and run out of steam because of fatigue or illness. I’ve never had to deal with that. I’ve had struggles in my studies and my work, but at the end of the day was always confident that I would succeed. I’ve had dark times, but they’ve never been so strong to overcome my will to succeed. And I’m very lucky to be able to function well with about 3 hours of sleep when necessary.
Now, I’m not saying my decisions didn’t have a large impact on my life. But can you see how all of these circumstances helped me to make the decisions I made? And can I state further, that, even though I believe I work as hard as the person who posted that quote, I will never be as successful as him (financially speaking, at least).
You see, in large part because of those teachers that inspired me, I eventually chose to teach as well, which, in this day and age means I will work very hard for very little. (and with very little thanks, since so many people these days seem to think teachers do nothing, or that they’re glorified babysitters) I’m not complaining about those circumstances, I love my job. I’m happy about the decisions I made. I just want to illustrate a point. Just working hard and making good decisions isn’t necessarily enough to be successful.
But on that same note, though, I’ve watched circumstances dictate that many of my colleagues be laid off. They were just as hard-working as me. They were just as experienced (some more so) They cared just as much. But the powers that be decided that money was tight and they weren’t necessary anymore. Those good, hard-working people lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Circumstance. And, despite my hard work, there’s a constant fear that, through no fault of my own, I know that I could also be laid off, with the only reason being “we feel we can’t afford to pay you any more.”
Decisions are important, but sometimes decisions are no match for circumstances. I am a product of my decisions only partly, because my decisions are 100% the result of my circumstances. Anyone who tells you differently is lying to you and to themselves.
I would hope that we would realize this. Maybe if we understand that better circumstances lead to better decisions, we would make more of an effort to improve the circumstances of those who aren’t so fortunate. Maybe we could help those that didn’t have families who instilled the value of education to learn to set those long term goals. Maybe we could learn not to write off someone who appears to make the decision not to try in school. Because, after all, maybe no one taught them to understand the consequences of those decisions. Maybe we shouldn’t diminish someone who chose to take a job that paid less money, because we all benefit from those choices (how would life be if all the garbage men just up and quit, just to give one example).
The fact is, despite the individualistic rhetoric that so many people are spewing, we’re all in this together. In the long run, if we work hard and care for each other, I believe we will benefit both of our circumstances. So lets not dismiss someone who doesn’t appear as successful. Perhaps, instead, we work to learn more about their circumstances, and if necessary, help them to rise above it.