•If you’re born in humble circumstances, use childhood lessons learned as guideposts when seeking opportunities to climb the success ladder
The older generation now passing were children raised during the worldwide depression. This was an era of great hardship and human suffering. Families used to the good life were suddenly without a home of their own or basic necessities of life, such as nourishing food and adequate clothing. Men took to the road looking for work or sold cheap items as itinerant salesmen to raise enough to feed their families. My Grandfather played a fiddle on street corners for a few coins from sympathetic passers by. Few people had money to give. Several families lived under one roof, as relatives without a home or means of support arrived in humiliating circumstances to beg shelter from their more fortunate relatives. Was it possible anything good could be learned from these unfortunate circumstances? Yes it was! Many built successful and prosperous careers when the depression ended. What did they learn from the depression that made their success possible?
They learned if you wanted to be successful and earn your bread for the day you had to get out of bed early, even if you didn’t feel like it, the weather was inclement, or you were just plain sick. They learned to value resources they had, look after them, and maintain them. They learned if you saved a penny a day it would add to a respectable sum in terms of money value of that era, a year after they’d commenced saving. They learned wants of a previous prosperous life were not needs, and got their priorities straight in the process. They learned, in receiving compassionate treatment themselves, to be compassionate in their dealing with others. They learned to value family, and cherish friends who’d stood by them in their difficulties. They learned things you possess are not a measure of happiness, but the things you give away are. Their plight made them acutely aware of the rights of others, and to place a value on honesty.
When the depression ended many of this generation used lessons gained in adversity to prudently manage their way back into the good life, and to improve prospects for the next generation in the process
•If you’re born in favourable circumstances, leverage your connections to guide you as you plan your future moves.
For some reason, we’ve been educated to think there’s something immoral about being affluent. We ignore the fact it’s those with ambition who accumulate wealth during their lifetime and these wealth generators are primary contributors to a national economy. Entrepreneurial spirit results in employment and consequent national prosperity. Some of the world’s richest men have been great philanthropists, and social projects they’ve supported have been of immense value to society. There’ll always be mean spirited people at all economic levels of society, and these though financially blessed care little for those less fortunate. We need to be careful not to assume those who’ve accumulated wealth lack social consciousness, and ignore contributions many of those affluent have made to the betterment of society. Casting stones at the wealthy is often the result of that very human trait called jealousy.
While it may not be our ambition to become affluent, it should be our ambition to be successful in whatever we choose to do with our lives. The affluent are obviously successful. How did they do it? What circumstances did they face in achieving their ambitions and what methods did they use to meet the challenges arising from these circumstances? Was it socially acceptable? What are the things they’d not do again if they had a chance to replay their lives? What a wealth of experience they could pass along to us if we were able to get close enough to talk with them. But if that’s not possible there are countless books dealing with success stories we can profit by reading.
If you are born into this social group, you have a golden opportunity to learn first hand from successful people. Use that advantage!
•If you’re a transplant from another culture or community, build on positive traits you’ve observed from your home and host cultures as you advance your career
One of the marks of success in a society is the ability to look back on history with an honest open mind, and identify a nation’s strengths and weaknesses. Books and documentaries have over the past few years taken a look at the years following the Second World War in Australia. Australians now soberly admit we were less than kind to those who came to join our nation in waves of immigration following that war. Migrants were uniquely responsible for the hard work that created major infrastructure improvements, such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme where rivers courses were changed to benefit the large population areas and and hydro-electric power generated. It was the migrant who introduced us to interesting food, and in a subtle way, raised the level of culture in our nation. We rewarded them by keeping them at a distance; belittling the academic qualifications they brought with them, and in the process, forced qualified professionals into menial occupations. We then blamed them for a natural human tendency to draw together in their own communities. It was in doing this they could be assured of some mutual respect. But there were good things about Australia in that era too. Not only was it the lucky country, but regardless of this lapse of kindness, underpinning beliefs of our culture tolerance and a keen sense of justice were slowly formulated. Eventually we rejected social strata prejudices of our continental heritage, and insular thinking that had overridden equality. Voices began to be raised in the community drawing attention to a better way.
Fortunately these new migrant citizens persevered and established themselves through hard work and mutual help within their communities. Their children retained positive values they’d learned within their communities, and brought these with them as they assimilated into Australian society. The second generation also grasped more positive aspects of traditional Australian culture, and the synthesis of the two is the basis of what we are as a nation today. A strong aspect of migrant culture was the work ethic, and this was responsible for their rapid upward mobility, and prosperity.
•If you have physical disadvantages, make tenacious attempts to catch up with the rest of society. Use this determined spirit to beat the odds and map a successful future for yourself.
During my sojourn overseas I had the privilege of meeting people whose inspirational lives made a positive impact on my own. One of these was a young man who completed his academic work in the field of philosophy. He attended a college where I held an administrative position and taught business. Soon after graduation he had an accident. He was doing a kind deed, helping fix the roof of an older person. He slipped on the roof, and crashed to the ground injuring his spine. That accident put him in a wheel chair for the rest of his life.
These changed circumstances would have destroyed the spirit of most people, but he determined to use what was left for him to use, his education, his brain, and his hands. As an act of kindness employers gave him a back room desk with something to do, but he wasn’t content to stay in that back room. Within five years of his accident he was in a managerial position, formed a band and choir that toured India, married and fathered his first child through the marvels of medical science, and sat on company boards. Many years later I met him in the United States representing his country at a convention. Travel must have been an incredible hardship for him, but he was determined to reach his potential, and no physical disability would be allowed to stand in his way
The level playing field myth
•When you’re attempting to advance your interests there are no level playing fields. Accept this!
I have a very clear recollection of the day I graduated from college. It had been a long hard slog, and I was financially worse for wear, after having spent all accumulated savings on an education. The recruiters had been around prior to our finals and we’d been interviewed for positions; subject of course to our being cleared for graduation by college administration. Four of us were invited to join the workforce of a corporation with Australia wide interests. The recruiters knew students whose parents were already employed by the organization, so they were taken to the head office for internship. I was assigned to a small office in a remote location. To my immature mind this was not a level playing field. I could think of a thousand good reasons why I should have been placed in the head office, and some of this small group of lucky recruits placed in the backwaters. It did not help my frame of mind when they smugly rubbed in the fact their parents had campaigned to get them appointments.
I enjoyed my posting nevertheless, and resentment faded as I learned the ropes under a very understanding boss. I even found a wife in that location, a definite plus! Lessons learned at my point of duty were invaluable, and put me on fast track to a career that included 30 years working at various administrative posts abroad. I could at last see the value of starting at the bottom, and learning the ropes at all levels until I had the experience to manage large organizations. Those who I envied retired with a lot less fulfilment than I did.
•Those who end up playing in the big league start life playing in the backyard
Recently I read the life story of a famous music professional. I regret that I’ve forgotten this important person’s name or the book but there’s a chapter of the story that’s imprinted itself in my memory. According to the book a rural family were too poor to own a piano, but they determined to find a way for their child to learn. Music lessons were arranged. The teacher was intrigued with his new pupil. The child obviously had a good ear for music, but initial lessons proved to be both a delight and a puzzle to the teacher. They were a delight because the pupil had a good command of notes, and understood all the rudiments of music. They were a puzzle, because the pupil had an odd mechanical way of placing fingers over the notes. A visit to the home by the teacher solved the mystery of this unusual presentation, much to the embarrassment of the family. The child’s piano was a wooden plank with notes painted on. While the family couldn’t enjoy music the child played on her home “piano,” each note struck on that plank formed music in the mind of the child. A love for music was developed in this rudimentary way, which later proved to be a boon to the world of music.
Every famous sportsperson will confess they’ve developed their love of the game, and the basics of their sport in the backyards and streets of their suburbs. Love for what they played, and skills developed in dedicated time and practice, worked together to make them into world-class professionals.
•Tripping over stones and skinning arms and legs at an early age teaches us to avoid greater pitfalls later in life.
When we brought our first child home from the hospital we were determined to be model parents. We soon acquired quite a library of books on how to bring up children. Unfortunately much of the counsel in those books was developed from research with groups of children from another planet. We’ve never met children who reacted as they were supposed to do when approached by parents using book techniques. Apparently there are clever ways to instruct children on the dangers of burning themselves on hot things, falling out of trees, or hitting little fingers with hammers. No matter how cleverly we presented the need for caution in these things, our children had a natural curiosity to try it anyway. That caused me to reflect on my own childhood learning experiences. It was only after I’d checked out whether the hotplate would in fact hurt me if I touched it that my brain registered the command, “Don’t do this in future!” That was much more effective than Mother’s warning. Parents are not omnipresent, and there are ample opportunities for a child to learn the real lessons in life. The nail in our foot reminds us we should indeed wear our boots like Mother told us to do in this locality. The tetanus injection follow up reinforces the point. Each accident of childhood places a marker in our brain. We learn by our mistakes, and as we develop intelligence in adulthood we’re able to extend these experiences into the philosophical realm. Our success in life depends on our ability to learn from the mistakes we’ve made.
•Professionals can play anywhere, but wimps can only play on a level playing field.Communism failed because it claimed all citizens it was responsible for lived on a level playing field. Granted there were some segments of society initially better off under that political persuasion, but it didn’t take long for every citizen to understand they were living with a lie. Leaders had their dachas in the forests off limits to the general population, and they could afford the comfort of a Black Sea vacation. The average citizen struggled to find food, clothing and shelter, the basics in any hierarchy of needs. It was a noble idea that didn’t work well in practice. Human beings crave recognition and reward for their efforts, and if these are not forthcoming they’ve a tendency to lose initiative and drive. When the iron curtain came down, and the Soviets began to experiment with market reform the change of direction faltered and almost failed. The people had been conditioned to take orders, and they were frightened to take any initiative in case the regime changed and they were sent to Siberia for showing independent initiative. It took years to build a limited entrepreneurship mentality. The majority were content to live a Spartan, bleak existence hoping the government would provide for them without the annoyance of competition and professionalism. Wimps thrive in the environment of the so-called “level playing field” because it requires no effort or drive to play there.
For those serious about bettering their lives there’s nothing to hinder achieving their dreams if they’re willing to put in the hard yards. We must have a willingness to adapt and learn from others, content to start at the bottom and learn the ropes as we progress, a clear vision as to where we want to be, and the tenacity and drive to achieve our dreams. Those who can make their mistakes stepping-stones to success and hold values associated with the work ethic will achieve success they’re seeking in life and enjoy the respect of society for their successful efforts.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2012 All rights reserved”