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Three Tips for (almost) Guaranteed Success!

February 8, 2008

I consider myself reasonably successful, and I hope to continue down the road to success as I get older. Trent over at the The Simple Dollar recently wrote an interesting post in which he shares some tips to improve your life. In light of this, I want to share with you exactly how I got to where I am today, and outline how you can do even better than I did! Here are the main things I did right to get where I am today:

Luck: I was born in the USA, lucky me! I think that is the single most important thing to my success (though other first world countries could have been acceptable).

Family: We were not in poverty, though there were some money issues at times. That helps a heck of a lot when trying to get through life. I was well fed and even went to a private high school. Most of all, there was a ton of emotional support. My dad in particular placed high priority on education, as he did not finish college himself. We were encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities, and my parents shelled out for a lot of lessons, sports and extra classes. I used to go to summer school for fun to take extra classes in math, English, art, or whatever else.  My parents also provided some minor monetary support in college, and allowed me to stay at home rent free while for a couple semesters.

Natural ability: Not everyone can get through the hard science coursework with good grades. I’m not meaning to be arrogant–there are a ton of things that I stink at. However, my ability to understand math is genetic–I did nothing special to earn it.

Hard work: I have spent many many hours investing in my education and myself. It isn’t always fun, but it is rewarding.  (This also could be attributed to other blessings:  ambition and motivation.)

To a lesser degree, the following two things helped:

Federal Support: I received scholarships and financial aid to attend college. Without it, I’d be at least 20k more in student loan debt. For a state school!

Social connections: I got the interview for my current job because my boyfriend was going to a top grad school, met someone who worked here, and passed on my resume. Most people who work here are from big name schools. Not I! Other than that, I haven’t got a lot of advantages from social connections yet. My parents don’t have powerful friends, nor did I go to a prestigious school. However, this can be a huge factor.

Based in my successes, I have three surefire tips for success. You may have to combine these with hard work to guarantee success. Still, with just a little work, you’ll have a good shot at a successful life if you do these three things:

  1. Be born in a good country. Even better, pick a good neighborhood, and maybe consider avoiding being a minority group. You could even consider being male, though I wasn’t and don’t want to be!
  2. Have a good family. The more money the easier it will be for you, but even more importantly, they have to care about you. Not only that, they must have the time and knowledge to invest in your future, as well as the ability to lead you along in your early years (and maybe in your young adult years too, if you are lucky).
  3. Be gifted. Intelligence is a good gift to have, or perhaps extreme artistic talent. Both would be great, but there are some other options I’m sure. Have some charisma and a go-getter personality.  Be super talented at sports (and also highly disciplined).  While you are at it, make sure you are healthy and it wouldn’t hurt to be attractive too.

What, you don’t like my advice? Okay, okay… Then I suggest you read Trent’s good advice that can actually be followed, no matter what has happened with my three tips!

All joking aside, hard work is very important and can help a lot of people. What about “working smart”? Personally, that term gets on my nerves. I think it is overused and largely meaningless. However, if you think you can find a way to “work smart”, go for it. If you don’t really understand what “work smart” means in your life (I don’t!) just work hard while you are contemplating it.

My point is, you do have to play your cards right, but it is silly to pretend we all got a similar hand.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrew Stevens permalink
    February 10, 2008 4:43 pm

    Nobody, including Trent, argues that we all got a similar hand. Trent was writing about how to improve your life, assuming you’re an American.

    We can probably all agree that white men have it easier in America than other minority groups. It is human nature to prefer people who are similar to yourself. At my workplace, the Asians tend to hang out together and the whites tend to hang out together. There isn’t any animosity between the two groups (that I know of); people are just more comfortable with other people from similar cultures. Thus, being a member of the majority group is almost certainly going to be an advantage.

    However, and speaking of Asians, the average Asian male earns more per year in the U.S. than the average white male. The average Jewish male earns more per year than the average white male. The average black male of Caribbean descent earns more than the average white male. (In my department at work, we have one Jew and one black of Caribbean birth. They hang out with the whites, perhaps because whites are the majority, perhaps because our culture is more similar to theirs than it is to Asian culture.)

    Maybe it’s the case that Asians, Jews, and blacks of Caribbean descent have better families, or perhaps they even have better genetic natural ability or a genetic propensity to work harder. I couldn’t actually tell you the reason for this phenomenon. I will say this: it is certainly the case that blacks of Caribbean descent face every bit as much prejudice as blacks who are not of Caribbean descent. Very simply, it’s not possible to tell them apart by sight. (Did you know that Colin Powell is the son of Jamaican immigrants? He is.)

    I will say one thing these groups have in common, culturally: they do not assume that they can’t get ahead. It is quite possible that the system is stacked against them, but they don’t dwell on that, concentrating instead on what they can do. Trent’s message is even more important for those people who weren’t as lucky as you are. Don’t get me wrong. The message won’t penetrate to those people who most need it. “The system is rigged against me” is usually a rationalization, an excuse for people who don’t want to work hard. As for “working smart,” an obvious example would be the person who works hard at a factory with no promotion possibilities versus someone who works hard taking college courses part-time in order to escape the factory.

    In fact, while you recognize the good lessons that your cultural privileges conferred upon you, and even know that that’s where they came from, you seem to be somewhat blind to the fact that those cultural lessons can be learned by anyone and it’s never too late. The value of education and hard work and how important these are to success – the most important luck you had in your life was having a family and peer group which already knew these things and you grew up just assuming they were true. Despite claims about white privilege, not every white person in America is so lucky, never mind blacks, Hispanics, and other minority groups.

    Believe me when I tell you that there are lots of people who don’t believe that they can be more successful if they worked hard to educate themselves and worked hard at their occupations. They think the system is stacked against them and they’d have spent money on an education which won’t help them at all. Many of them believe they just lost the genetic lottery, they were born “stupid” and think of themselves as uneducable. They think successful people are just people who got lucky in their social connections or their natural ability or just got lucky in the stock market.

    These people don’t need to hear your comments. They know those already. They need to hear Trent’s.

  2. SJean permalink
    February 10, 2008 5:54 pm

    Woah. Well, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    I didn’t mean to say his advice wasn’t valuable, it was good. But I do think he could have more explicitly stated what (i think) he meant and at least acknowledge that life may not have gave you the best hand. But you can do something to improve your situation. ALWAYS.

    This article isn’t geared at those who may actually need his advice (most probably aren’t surfing pf blogs anyway). It was just to remind those of us who got really great hands to be thankful for the part luck/grace/gifts had to do with it, and not be too proud about our own success.

    I’m very lucky, and very grateful.

  3. Andrew Stevens permalink
    February 10, 2008 7:41 pm

    There is Minimum Wage, who comments on virtually every personal finance blog there is. Assuming he’s not a lying troll (which he might be), then I have to think that he represents more than just himself.

    However, I do agree with a lot of what you say. I find that people who grew up very well-to-do don’t tend to brag about that (which is obviously just a matter of luck), but they do often brag about the education (often Ivy League) that their parents’ wealth bought them and how hard they had to work in order to get into their elite colleges. Most of the time, it seems that they are indeed blissfully unaware that it doesn’t have anything to do with their hard work and not even a whole lot to do with their natural ability either (which I also agree people boast about as if there were some sort of virtue in being born smart).

    My point was that there’s nothing wrong with your part of the truth and it probably should be emphasized to those people who are already successful. But Trent’s part of the truth is much more needed by those people who aren’t successful and weren’t lucky enough to be born into a successful family and peer group and those are the people Trent was writing for. Trent, who was born into a poor family himself and did not have a private education, probably has a different view of who might be in his audience than you do. I don’t actually know which of you is right (though I suspect you are, frankly).

    By the by, contrary to your comments on Trent’s post, the poor aren’t getting poorer. The rich are getting richer at a faster rate than the poor are getting richer, increasing inequality, but that’s not the same thing.

  4. SJean permalink
    February 10, 2008 8:06 pm

    It is very safe to say that Trent’s blog has a much much much wider audience than mine, so his part of the truth is surely getting emphasized. 🙂 I did provide links to it, so if someone here is looking for real advice, they have somewhere to go…

    I was a bit frustrated with Trent’s attitude and some of the comments “I work 60 hours a week and those poor people…. blah blah blah” This is just my view on why it isn’t quite so simple as that. I wasn’t hoping to give a reason NOT to improve your situation if you were less lucky, but a reason to be humble/grateful if you have been blessed.

    I assume you are right about the poor not getting poorer, only the inequality increasing… I never thought of it that way. The gap is getting bigger, but not in the way I had thought. Thanks for the insight.

  5. Johanna permalink
    February 11, 2008 8:04 am

    Brilliant post, SJean. I also like your comments on Trent’s site.

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