Where there’s a will, there’s a way
March 5, 2013
Sometimes I think the world needs to hear this a little more often.
Laura Vanderkam said “I get annoyed with the carping at successful women for reasons of privilege, etc. When Donald Trump writes a book on success, no one says “well, that’s easy for him to say because someone else is cleaning his bathrooms” or “of course he’s successful because he can afford a nanny.” People who reach the top often have interesting things to say about what it takes to reach the top. Sometimes it’s helpful to listen or read without judging, and if you decide it’s wrong for you, fine. But if a strategy is wrong for you, that doesn’t make someone who used it, ipso facto, a bad person. Yes, I’m referring to the Sheryl Sandberg backlash, but this mindset is out there a lot.”
This is the thing that underlies my frustration with the tearing down of women in specific and people in general when they’re successful. The whiny, self crippling, justifications of why we can’t possibly be “like that” because we’re not privileged.
Many kinds of privilege exists. Absolutely. And in some places, the privilege is truly crippling, I’m not disputing that.
What I am tired of is that the vast majority of people complaining tend to be at least capable, competent of mind and body, and have access to first world amenities that are potential tools. Instead, they dwell on why that won’t work for them.
It makes me think of a story …
…my dad used to tell me of the poor region where he grew up. He was one of the few privileged back then but he clearly recognized the privations that were the norm for the majority of people as recently as 30 years ago, even 15 years ago. He told us this story many, many times.
“Most of the people were so poor that they had one change of clothing a year. If they made enough money to buy fabric, and could afford a needle and thread to sew, they could make a new pair of pants for themselves. Maybe with pockets. Probably not. But, pants.
Their families didn’t have enough money for three meals a day for everyone, they could have one full meal a day. But they were hungry for education. They couldn’t afford books, paper, pens or pencils. Still, they were determined to learn. And unlike here in the U.S., education was not a right. It was a privilege.
The students were so desperate for the chance to learn that they would walk upwards of ten miles to school, and the classes were so big that the students wouldn’t fit into the classroom. So they opened the doors and windows, and the students would sit outside on the ground and listen. They couldn’t take notes, there was no paper, so they memorized the lectures. They had to review the lessons orally.
They had to study this hard because there was an annual exam to pass each grade. If you didn’t memorize everything, you were dropped out of school. And the exam covered everything that was taught through the year. With the limited resources, there was no such thing as grading on a curve, the students who failed would leave the school and have to figure out how to make a living with a grade school education, or however far they got. This was high stakes.
With no tools, with no aids, many of these students – your mother was among them – managed to learn math, science, reading, writing, language at each progressively more difficult level.
No pens, no paper, no computers. But they found a way to learn anyway. What do you need to learn and prosper?
If those people in our generation can figure out how to learn, progress and make successful lives with literally no resources but a sparing food ration, time during the day, their minds and their motivation, can you honestly say there’s anything you truly can’t do?”
No Dad, I couldn’t say that. If I don’t make something of myself, it sure won’t ever be blamed on a lack of privilege.
I was never the smartest kid around but I could damn well try to be the hardest working. With that kind of heritage, that kind of cultural past, I could hardly cop out by making excuses, could I?
I’ve written about my mom as my motivation more than once. I realized that my dad hasn’t gotten as much airtime. Where Mom was the tower of strength and capability in all things, teaching us language in her “spare time, and demonstrating work ethic alongside Dad, Dad was the storyteller in the family, the one who made the past live again for us, linking us to the family and cultural histories.
What’s your inspiration?