- Photo by Matija Barrett
I have lived amongst the rich, and among the poor, and among those who are in between. Here are some of the fallacies that keep the middle class from succeeding.
1. My teen needs a job so he learns the value of hard work.
Unless you are very selective, or lucky, what your teen will learn from most minimum wage jobs is how to submit to poor authority, and, unless he is shown examples of good authority in the future, he will learn by example to be poor authority as well (which will limit his opportunities for advancement).
What you teen needs are skills that he can build on and use as an adult. Many of these skills will result in income, some will not. A job should not be the ultimate goal, but instead every opportunity should be judged by what your child will learn from it. Having a job merely to have a job can be counter-productive and rob your child of time he needs to learn other things. Some jobs are valuable, others are not.
2. No matter how wealthy I am I will never hire I housekeeper and will do my own yard work.
Poor people believe that having others do jobs around your house is a sign of laziness. Wealthy people understand that time is money/productivity. If someone else can do it, then they have time to use their skills elsewhere. And this is not selfish. The person being employed is grateful for the work, and the time the wealthier person spends on the job leads to more of whatever is making him wealthy to be available to the public. For a doctor, this means more hours of healthcare available to the community. For a businessman, this means the company is more productive, which leads to higher salaries and more people employed.
3. My son needs to go to college so he can get a job.
It is nice to be employed, but it is better to be your own boss. Employees only make so much money. Owning your own business means the sky is the limit. There is nothing wrong with employment, but if you truly want to succeed, creating something new that you retain the rights to is the real goal. College is great for acquiring skills, but it is not the only path to success, and is sometimes not the most efficient one.
4. It shouldn’t matter how I look. People should judge me for who I am.
In an ideal world, this would be true, but the fact is that most people will size you up in the first few seconds and if you do not make a good impression, that is all the time you will ever spend with them. Life is busy. You need to use everything at your disposal, including your appearance, to help you succeed. So speak clearly, shake hands firmly, look people in the eye and dress for the position you wish to have. (Looking at my appearance right now, I obviously want to be home with the kids!)
True story: My son wants to run his own business one day, so he was looking for management level jobs at a young age. He was hired as a ‘house boy’ at a hotel. He dressed like he was hired for management. One of the other houseboys told him that he did not have to dress like that for work. My son (19) is now a supervisor, being groomed for management and the adult who gave him this advice is still a houseboy. Did I mention my son was labeled as special-needs in school? How you look, and act matters.
5. It’s not my job.
Some people are always on the defensive. They are worried about their ‘rights.’ They complain that people are asking too much of them, or taking advantage of them. People who advance in life are looking for learning opportunities. They know these exist at the top levels of the company and will do anything to get there. They stay late, arrive early and bring work home. They do not worry about whether, or not it is in their job description, or when their break is. They also realize that the reason someone may be giving them more responsibilities is to see how they handle things before promoting them.
True story: When my cousin graduated high school he worked in the real estate field in NYC. He worked crappy hours and was generally taken advantage of in order to learn the business. He now owns multiple companies, and gives lectures to others who want to know how to get ahead, and because of his success, he now has plenty of time to play (and is contemplating buying an airplane).
6. It takes time to find yourself and figure out what you want to do.
While your child is sitting on your couch finding himself and figuring out what he wants to do in life, other people’s children are gaining skills they will need for the future. Once you have a family, it is hard to catch up. The years between high school and marriage are the years to put the pedal to the metal and learn everything you can, before diaper changes and late night feedings take up much of your life.
7. Why am I learning this? I’m never going to use it.
Knowledge is never wasted. At the very least, everything you learn exercises your brain so you are able to learn more easily. (This is why the elderly are advised to do crossword puzzles etc.) Algebra skills may not be used in ‘real life’ but they are a part of most placement tests, including the ASVAB to get into the military. There is no such things as useless knowledge. You never know what life will bring, and every piece of information you gain is a piece of something that may come in handy later in life.
8. I don’t need school; I want to be a stay-at-home mom.
Even if life works out perfectly, stay-at-home moms still need to help out with the homework, occasionally do the bills, stay within a budget and other things that require an education. Further, more and more stay-at-home moms are home schooling (which is easier if you actually did well in science and took calculus in high school). In the worst-case scenario, where the husband is injured or dies, a stay-at-home mom must now support her family. It is easier and less stressful for a mom to enter the workforce with a degree and/or a solid educational background then to try to support her family on minimum wage.
9. Grades are everything.
If your goal is to own your own business, chances are no one is going to look at your GPA. Networking is as important as grades. This is why wealthy people send their children to schools that children of other wealthy people attend. While you may not be able to send your child to an Ivy League school, you should know that who you know matters. Making connections is as important as learning a skill. Mentors are invaluable; especially if your child wishes to do something you and your spouse have never done before. Good business partners, investors, customers and even future employees often are the people you meet as you travel through life. It is hard to meet them if you never exit your dorm room. Have you ever noticed that most heads of major companies, and even our presidents were rarely the straight A students, and more often are the smart, but charismatic ones?
10. Grades do not matter.
Grades are an indication of how much you have learned. While it may not be imperative to your career to have a 4.0 (though it may, if the skill-set you are pursuing requires an advanced degree), it is important that you learn the material.
11. Opera, golf and country clubs are stupid.
A person should be willing to try anything with a gracious attitude. No one likes the things they find enjoyable put down. If you cannot enjoy it, at least be nice about it. Further, many of these activities are designed for socializing, so that people can get to know you. Listening to your complaints about how stupid and useless something is does not make a good impression.
12. I am fine the way I am.
In every area of life there are expectations as to how someone is to behave. There are rules for a bowling alley and there are rules for a dinner party. Learn the rules for the situation you are in. Insisting on doing things your way will only make you unpleasant to be around.
True story: When the children were old enough to behave, but young enough to still be at home we attended lunches at the local museum where meals were served with multiple forks etc. I did not make a big deal out of it, and the children picked it up quickly. If you approach life as an opportunity, understanding that nothing is too difficult, you will learn to be at ease in many different settings. By the way: On one particular occasion the older crowd was having an unusual amount of trouble with the cheesecake that was served for desert. Numerous pieces hit the floor. As soon as an ‘accident’ occurred, the wait staff immediately replaced the desert, and then, to my children’s amusement, discretely kicked the offending piece under the long table cloth!
13. Eight years is too long to go to school after high school.
Many children decide not to go for advanced degrees merely because four more years seems like a lifetime to them. Here’s a little knowledge: Four years is nothing compared to the rest of your life, and if the difference in salary and job-satisfaction is significant, then four more years is worth it! What most people do not realize is that most advanced degrees are not four years of intense classroom time. Medical school typically contains a year and a half of rotations, which involve working at the hospital for no pay. Dental school has labs, and patient care, which increases as the years go by, and master’s and doctoral degrees involve research into subjects of your own choosing, and sometimes involve using cool things like wind tunnels, 3-D printers and explosives depending on your major. Going to school for advanced degrees is not the same as sitting in high school. Sure, there are some tough years, but it is not as bad as it seems, especially if it is a field you enjoy.
True story: I was once asked to accompany a PhD student to South America to ride mopeds through the jungle to collect monkey poop. I also worked as a teaching assistant in a gross anatomy lab dissecting human cadavers, and as a physical therapy student had a lab devoted entirely to giving and receiving massages. Some of my friends participated in earthquake research and built model buildings in order to shake them to see how long it took them to fall apart. They also built a cement canoe. (Not sure why, but they had fun.) Advanced education is not entirely books and papers…
14. Work sucks.
Work should not ‘suck.’ If work sucks you are in the wrong field; do something to change it. (If everything in life ‘sucks,’ then you probably need to change your attitude towards life, but that is a different lecture.) Find something you enjoy. This is what you are going to do well, and not mind spending lots of time and energy doing. It is also likely something you are skilled at and find easy, so there is more of an opportunity for success. Work should be something you have a hard time tearing yourself away from, not something you can’t wait to quit. Have you ever noticed that rich people tend not to retire?
15. I’m smart, so I should go into something to do with math or science.
If you enjoy math and science, then go for it, but there are many, many fields to choose from, and smart people do well in them too. Top chefs, interior decorators, event planners, etc are all smart people who have a passion for something society typically does not view as a career choice for those who do well in school. But if it is your passion, your braininess will only enhance your career.
True story: My daughter came home and stated that she should probably think about a career in science because she was ‘smart.’ She has always wanted to be an event planner (wedding planner/ party planner). She is smart, and a total geek who is currently watching her way through the entire Dr. Who series. But she is also a very social child, who once took out the sewing machine in the RV to sew herself a new pair of pajama pants before bed because she did not like the way the ones she had on fit. (Yes, I had a sewing machine and fabric in the RV. These are necessities if you are raising a child like this!) She also made a rice-filled back pillow for a man we met whose back was hurting… She can be a scientist if she wants, but the way she cares about people combined with her creative streak will likely make her a very successful event planner as well, and smoothly run scientific conferences and international events also contribute to the good of society.
16. If I make a lot of money I’m going to give it all away.
You can, but chances are you won’t. Why? Because by the time you have made a lot of money you will realize what money can do. Money, when properly invested, makes more money. This does not mean that you will not be charitable, but it does mean that you will not be giving money away haphazardly. You will take care of your family in such a way that your children will have the best chances to succeed, then you will likely invest in whatever it is that you did well in the first place, knowing that this creates jobs and resources other people find valuable (or they would not have invested in it in the first place and you would not be rich). You also realize that helping people achieve is more of a solution to poverty than any other form of charity we have, so most of your efforts will be to find people who want to work and then investing time and money into making their efforts worthwhile. This will not look like charity since you will gain a useful employee in the process. If the new employee is successful however, you may have also trained your next competitor as well! You will also realize that you having authority over your money means that you control how it is used, and you can make sure it is not wasted. Giving money to ‘good causes’ often means that money goes to line the heads of these organization’s pockets, or goes to efforts that sound good, but do not work. People who have worked hard and succeeded rarely like to see the fruits of their labor wasted. Further people who are wealthy do not enjoy hearing how generous you would be if you were in their place. Their thoughts: You won’t use your time to make money, so why would I believe you would use your money, if you had any, any differently? (Ouch!) They are also likely giving more to charities they believe in than you know.
17. Being ‘rich’ involves having lots of money.
While the focus here has been on making money, money is not the key to having a ‘rich’ life. Many poor people have more disposable income than people making much more than them, and they are living much happier lives. Why? Because they live below their means. Their house, car and other payments do not leave them broke at the end of the day. The extra money means they can afford to go on vacations, have a few extras and spend time with the people they love. Many upper middle class people have nice houses, nice cars and no money to do the things they want. This is no way to live, and it makes life stressful. Whenever you can, budget in such a way that all your expenses are met with a decent amount left over to invest, be generous with and enjoy.
True story: When my husband was an intern we lived in a trailer park. (Our neighbors loved telling people about the doctor who lived next door to them!) Many of our neighbors had enough money to buy a house, but chose not to. Why? Because the trailer park was a nice place to live, and the money they saved enabled them to have big screen TVs, RVs, four-wheelers and other toys. Quality of life was more important to them than the quality of their house. We had a lot of fun there.
Another man we knew lived in a small, one room apartment he built off his shop. He could afford more, but would rather spend his money traveling the world.
Life is an adventure, but it is helpful to do it in ways that do not limit your success. Examine everything you do and ask yourself why you are doing it. Every choice comes with baggage. Make the choices that will best enhance your (or your child’s) life.