Updated on 01.12.09


Trent Hamm

scratchRecently, I wrote a review of Adam Shepard’s book Scratch Beginnings. In the book, Adam describes his attempt to “start from scratch” – employing nothing more than $25, a bag, and the clothes on his back (and not using any personal contacts or resume builders) to see how far he could go in a year.

Largely, Adam succeeded. He was able to get a steady job that paid very well, moved from a homeless shelter to an apartment, and saved thousands of dollars in a little under a year. Adam’s journey shows, quite simply, that a person can lift themselves up by their bootstraps.

But what kind of a person? The comments on that post started to really dig into that question, arguing that even though Adam did start from scratch in a material sense, he had several inherent advantages that he couldn’t just drop at will: a college education, good mental and physical health, his relatively extroverted behavior, relative youth, the fact that he’s white, and the fact that he’s male all give him some inherent advantage.

I absolutely agree. Each of those attributes helped Adam get ahead. In various ways, these attributes helped Adam make personal connections and friendships, enabled him to find work, and helped him to keep the jobs he found.

Many of the readers offered up the opinion that Adam’s inherent advantages made his story invalid. With so many inherent advantages, they argued, most people could lift themselves out of a terrible situation. And this is where our perspectives diverge.

First of all, whether Adam succeeds or not is largely irrelevant – the lessons learned along the way are much more valuable. In this story, Adam himself is relatively incidental. The real meat of the story is the game of life – how can it be played to bring someone success?

Adam’s success only makes it a better story – one with a “happy” ending instead of a “sad” ending. With either ending, though, a good reader would be able to pull out life lessons that they can use for themselves, and that’s the real benefit of a book like Scratch Beginnings – to teach us something new that we can perhaps use in life.

Second, Adam is a pretty poor litmus test for what it takes to make it in America – but so is everyone. Likely, a minority would tell a different tale than Adam. As would a woman. As would a high school dropout. As would a disabled person. Their story would vary in a number of ways – they would have very different challenges, but also different opportunities along the way.

For me, the value in Adam’s story comes not from the idea that a person can lift themselves out of despair but the tactics he used along the way. Most people are aware that it is possible for people to lift themselves up from their situation. People do it all the time. The question is how – and Adam shares those things quite openly.

His tools were simple – and most were things that anyone can do, no matter what the situation:

Practice frugality. Cut every possible corner you can, even if you consider it humiliating or beneath your station. Live in a homeless shelter if you have to, or a tiny apartment.

Use social programs. If you’re eligible for a social program, that program is in place to help you. Take advantage of all of them. Often, there are more programs available for people with inherent disadvantages.

Communicate. Do everything you can to meet others in your situation and share ideas.

Don’t blame others Sure, others have some advantages that you don’t have. That inherent advantage isn’t your fault and it isn’t their fault, either – it’s just the facts of life. Instead of stewing on it, find your own path.

The value in Adam’s story isn’t that he made it – it’s that he tries the above tactics (and many others) and talks about what actually works and what doesn’t.

No matter what your situation, you have the capacity to try something different to improve your hand, whether it’s seeking psychological help or it’s shaving some money from your spending. That’s the lesson to take home here – and that goes far beyond the off-the-cuff observation that some people have inherent advantages over others.

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  1. Sean says:

    Adam had a couple of other huge advantages–a goal and a positive attitude. He had a specific target he was aiming for (a car, a place, and $5000), and he believed he could and would reach it.

    The thing is, this is an advantage that anybody could have. And I think that’s what he was trying to show.

  2. Joyful Abode says:

    I agree with Sean (Comment 1) completely.

    Other than the “believed he could and would reach it.”… he WORKED to reach his goals.

    Believing/having faith won’t get you there. A positive attitude and a lot of hard work will.

  3. Johanna says:

    Trent, having a conversation about the advantages that some people have and other people don’t is neither “blaming others” nor “stewing on it.” And I strongly suspect that you wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss racism and sexism as “just the facts of life” if you’d ever been the victim of either.

    I like to think that someday we might live in a world where discrimination is no longer a fact of life. And I think the way to get there is by thinking and talking about the biases that we all have, and trying to change them. Not by telling the people who mention their existence to stop whining.

    I also don’t think that the fact that Adam is a white male invalidated his whole adventure. But it’s worth thinking about how other people would have different experiences if they tried to do the same thing. The problems a woman might encounter were discussed pretty thoroughly in the other thread. But I was thinking more about what would happen if Adam had brown skin and spoke English with an accent (albeit fluently).

  4. PT Money says:

    I’d say the fact that he was male and white left him disadvantaged. No social programs to prop him up.

    Everyone can make it their own way by leveraging their own advantages…IF they want it bad enough. It’s the “want to” that makes the difference.

  5. guinness416 says:

    To “use social programs” I’d add make friends and ask for help.

    Not so long ago my husband was a 16 year old illegal immigrant with no family members within 3,000 miles and spending every penny he made bussing tables in NYC on smokes and pool. Now he has a degree in mathematics, a steady career, a couple of side businesses, a nice urban home and a nice middle-class net worth. And a great wife ;) He’s an extroverted and sharp guy who would have hustled one way or the other anyway, but always says that the primary thing that got him from A to B was the many people – from chefs he worked for, to fellow bangladeshis, to community college advisors, to professional bosses – who helped him out along the way. (And all of them outwardly cynical and busy new yorkers, by the way, who often get a bad rap). Essentially, even as an inexperienced blue collar young guy still learning to speak english, “networking” was the key.

  6. plonkee says:

    It’s really, really difficult to see advantages that you have, when you have them. Or at least that’s the experience I’ve had.

    Not blaming others, and not stewing on your disadvantages is good, it’s even better if you can work to stop other people suffering because of those same disadvantages.

  7. Daniela says:

    I would just like to say a lot of people who are homeless are educated and their circumstances changed at one point and they ended up on the streets.

  8. Mike says:

    I can see by all the posts of people who want to say how better off Adam was are probably the same kind of people who just blame others and never succeed themselves.

    I am a white male, but I also dropped out of highschool. I have GED and got lucky at age 19 and landed a job through a friend making close to 62K. I was young and stupid and ran up credit cards and a lifestyle I couldn’t afford and then one day around 22 I lost that job. And couldn’t get another in that industry and had expensive rent, car payments, insurance and 6000 dollars worth of credit card debt to pay.

    I lost the car and suffered a huge drop in lifestyle, I went to making 8 bucks an hour planting palms trees.

    It took till I changed my way of thinking till I could bring myself out of this. In two years I paid down my debt, purchased a mobile home, a nice SUV and saved 1000 dollars. I don’t live paycheck to paycheck. I had to do some humbling though. I used to live in a nicer neighborhood and drove a new 01 Mustang Convertible, but now I live in a completely renovated mobile home which costs me no more than 420 a month. I have 1100sqft and the average 800sqft apartment here rents for 920 a month.

    Some people just aren’t willing to humble themselves. I plan on buying a home in another two years, but I want to move to Asheville NC first.

    BTW, right now I work for Stanely Steemer, and I have several side hustles, but unlike everyone else at work I am comfortable living on less than I earn. So I know I’ll do better when I make more.

    I plan on opening my own business soon. I say people complain because I have a friend who is an engineer with two degrees and makes two times as much as me and he can’t get out of debt. Complains about being broke, yet every week on facebook posts pics of him and his girl going out some place fancy and expensive with his friends.

    Being humble helps.

    BTW, I was turned down from all kinds of AID just for being a white male. I was expected to be able to succeed unlike others who just want stuff handed to them.

  9. Mike says:

    BTW, I said I live in a mobile home park. I take very good care of my place. But everyone else around me, who is of low income, treats their homes like complete garbage. AND I am a firm believer these people CHOSE DAILY to remain broke. There are plenty of BLACK and HISPANIC and Female individuals out there who have over come. They may have had to work harder in some cases, but the point is, THEY CHOSE AND WERE DETERMINED, they didn’t just talk about all the unfair advantages.

  10. Johanna says:

    @plonkee: Exactly.

  11. Carrie says:

    My parents immigrated to the U.S. with only a few hundred dollars and limited English skills. They were smart, though, and they instilled a love of education in me. I understand that I had a lot of advantages by being born into a family that valued education. I also don’t take my natural-born intelligence and work ethic for granted. However, I also appreciate that I needed those advantages to make it in this country as a minority female working in a male-dominated industry. Not everyone has the advantages that I do to overcome the inevitable difficulties. I don’t kid myself into thinking that the work arena is a level playing field because it’s not, but I don’t focus on the unfairness either. I just work harder. The funny thing is that I’ve had some people attribute my success to being “privileged.” Um, okay, whatever makes you feel better.

  12. CPA Kevin says:

    Nice analysis Trent. I favorite saying of mine is something like “it’s not about the destination, but the journey”. Life would be pretty boring if everyone knew the ending. There will always be people that poo-poo stories like this, but they’re missing the point.

  13. tom says:

    I came to the realization that people who were homeless and now successful and they had it so much worse then me.
    I sit here living at home with parents with a roof over my head, clothes to wear and food on the table and i still make excused for not being successful

  14. Laura in Seattle says:

    “Don’t blame others. Sure, others have some advantages that you don’t have. That inherent advantage isn’t your fault and it isn’t their fault, either – it’s just the facts of life. Instead of stewing on it, find your own path.”

    Trent, this is golden advice.

    I can’t count the number of people I know who say they would be living different lives/doing different things/more successful, etc. “if it weren’t for so-and-so.” If their parents believed in them. If their teachers had been more encouraging. If their boss wasn’t such a jerk.

    For instance, when I hear anyone quote figures about how much more money men make than women, or how much more white people make than minorities, I always point out to them that a portion of that discrepancy is because women and minorities are less likely than men to lobby for raises and perks, and to negotiate salary when accepting a job offer. In other words, you could sit around complaining that so-and-so is at the same level but makes twice as much money as you. Or, you could put together some notes for your boss on recent projects you completed, the amount of money your work saves the company, or the extra hours you’ve been working, and lobby for a raise. (If the boss says the company can’t afford to give you a raise right now, ask for an extra week of vacation. Or tuition reimbursement.) Or you could go out and apply for another job that pays more. If you want money, success, or advancement, you have to go get it, regardless of what sex and color you are.

    I won’t say there is no racism or sexism in the world — I’ve seen both. But it is up to you to decide whether you let those things — and the people who perpetrate them — stop you from getting ahead in life.

    For anyone wondering: I’m female, half black, one-quarter Hispanic, one-quarter white, have some college credits but no college degree, and currently make just under $40K per year. I used to make a lot less, but I decided I needed a better-paying job, switched fields, and in less than two months I found one paying $10,000 more than the most I’d ever made at a previous job.

    Rather than blaming others, focus on what you have going for you. And I agree with guiness416 — never be afraid to ask your friends for help. There’s a lot we can all do for each other.

  15. Leslie Akins says:

    I really enjoy Simple Dollar and look forward to each post. I am a Nurse Practitioner who helped establish a healthcare clinic for the uninsured, homeless, and poor. I have seen and heard many stories of how people end up in their situation. Many times, it involves some type of poor choice (drugs, excessive spending,loss of a job due to tardiness, poor behavior). However,it often is a combination of very bad luck (ie: an illness/injury that takes away the ability to be upwardly mobile or even work) or a low-level of education combined with a lifetime of learned values that emphasize the immediate situation vs a long-range view & goals. How does someone who is poorly educated, raised with daily values of dependency, and may have physical results of poverty (poor teeth, obesity,exposure to tobacco) overcome these deeply ingrained qualities? Comparing this educated, attractive young man to those who are raised in poverty is comparing apples to oranges. You would not believe the importance of a nice smile/good teeth in achieving success out in the world. It’s hard to communicate and be well-thought of if you are missing some of your front teeth or they are decayed. Anyway, I understand your ideas and the basic message, but Adam was obviously raised with the values of self-motivation, pride, education, and a social conscience. That IS what it takes to succeed in America. Translating this to children as they grow & learn is the challenge. Teaching people to delay gratification in a world that continually “markets immediate satisfaction” is becoming a struggle for everyone. Couple this with the despair of poverty and the daily life lessons and examples that kids see, and the problem is daunting. Taking the lessons and values of The Simple Dollar to the nations’ homeless shelters, low-income housing projects & community centers seems like a good start!

  16. spaces says:

    It strikes me, how tenuous his journey was. How many things could have gone differently and derailed him, or anyone who lives so close to the bone. Not so much being in the right place at the right time, but having been fortunate enough to avoid, whether intentionally or blindly, the wrong places at the wrong times.

    There’s a significant luck component to anyone pulling themself up by their bootstraps. Just because one person, or a few folks, have succeeded, does not mean everyone will, even if they follow the same formula, do the same things, etc. Though we are not helpless, we remain always subject to forces beyond our control that can quickly and easily send us badly off course.

    For those of us who have done so, I say it is arrogant to suggest that our anecdotes somehow indicate a path anyone could follow to the good life. That’s not blaming others. Rather, it’s a suggestion that those of us to whom life has been fair have no place to sit in judgment of those to whom it has not.

  17. Laura in Seattle says:

    Mike — Congratulations on turning your situation around! And I agree that determination is the strongest thing you can have going for you — and that’s an “advantage” that ANYONE can have.

  18. sharon says:

    Trent, as you and others have said it helps to have advantages and it’s not required to succeed. Your mindset, having goals and the positive actions you take on each step of the journey are as important. Lots of people have disadvantages (skin colour, lack of education, etc.) and still succeed. Those external factors while powerful are not the sole determinants of ones destiny. I am an immigrant of colour and have not let other people’s ideas of who I am determine my life. They affect you but do not determine who you are nor your life outcomes unless you give them the power to do so.

  19. Leslie Akins says:

    p.s.–Many of the social programs you refer to are quickly being cut or severely limited. For instance, the state Medicaid plan is now only open to pregnant women, the permanently disabled, or the single parent of minor children who makes at 100% of the Federal Poverty Guideline (about $4.65/hr for a single person). That discourages people from improving their situation IF you depend upon the government for healthcare coverage of your serious illness (ie: insulin-dependent diabetes). Staying in poverty on the State Medicaid plan is often the only way people can continue to receive care. Once they get out into the private sector, Insulin-dependent diabetes is often an “uninsurable” condition and you cannot obtain coverage by yourself. Our system must be changed to ENCOURAGE people to better themselves while supporting their efforts to improve their own situation. Thanks.

  20. Rob says:

    The bottom line is, unless you are mentally challenged, or handicapped, you can, do, or be, anything you want. This is America.

  21. Sam says:

    I think the point that Johanna (Comment #3) was trying to make is that working hard/determination and discussing your disadvantages with others are not mutually exclusive.

    If everyone was aware of the disadvantages they and others face, then people would not have to overcome. The system would be one where people really can just get ahead through work and determination.

    If no one discusses these things, or as some would put it “Complain”, then nothing will get done and we will all have to overcome the imperfect system.

    You can work hard and be determined and still be capable of engaging others in meaningful discussions about the various problems we all face, just like in this forum.

    Mike mentioned that being a white male gave him disadvantages in terms of certain things, some would view that as “Complaining” as well, especially since there were no specifics involved. I’m sure he has also mentioned this to others outside of this forum, that did not stop him from being the success that he is.

  22. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    @ Rob. I think that’s a nice sentiment, but I’m not sure that’s the case. Just because he was able to get off the streets and have a steady job doesn’t mean he could do or be anything he wanted coming from that background.

    People are limited to some extent by their background. It’s the very reason that Warren Buffet isn’t leaving his money to his kids.

  23. Johanna says:

    @Laura in Seattle: “For instance, when I hear anyone quote figures about how much more money men make than women, or how much more white people make than minorities, I always point out to them that a portion of that discrepancy is because women and minorities are less likely than men to lobby for raises and perks, and to negotiate salary when accepting a job offer.”

    That’s a good point. And negotiating is a good way to take matters into your own hands. But from what I’ve read, a big part of the reason why women negotiate less than men do is that – on average, of course – we feel we deserve less. We tend to underestimate our own abilities and achievements, and men tend to overestimate theirs.

    And that’s a hard thing to overcome. How do you lobby for a raise if your gut is telling you that you don’t deserve it, even if your brain is telling you that you do? I’m still working on that one.

  24. friendlyfire says:

    I enjoy most of what you post, then you come in with this kind of statement “live in a homeless shelter if you have to”.

    That is very risky advice, esp. for a female or physically disadvantaged to defend yourself. Do you realize that there are shelters where people will NOT go, no matter how desperate, because of the potential for assault (sexual & otherwise). Some shelters are well run and refuse occupants who are drunk or high, others will admit anyone because of a kind but unrealistic philosophy.

    Also, families are often split up because the shelters have too many problems when men and women board together.

    It’s still the case that young, male, single & white makes a huge difference with decided advantages. That’s not blaming or envy. That’s reality.

  25. KoryO says:

    “How do you lobby for a raise if your gut is telling you that you don’t deserve it, even if your brain is telling you that you do?”

    Ok, this girl will bite.

    If you want, think of the absolute worst thing will happen if you ask for that raise. Are you going to get fired? (In the vast majority of cases….no.) Will it get denied due to forces beyond your control? (Maybe, in this economy, but perhaps your field is doing better.)

    You will probably be asked to justify why you deserve what you are getting plus a little extra. You *have* an answer to that question that highlights what benefits you bring to your workplace, right? (If you don’t, why are you wasting their time?)

    If you sit around and wait to be rewarded for being a good little girl, prepare to wait until, oh, 2050. If you want to get paid what the guy down the hall is getting, get off your butt, make your case and best of luck to you.

  26. George says:

    > Just because he was able to get off the streets
    > and have a steady job doesn’t mean he could do
    > or be anything he wanted coming from that
    > background.

    Sorry, but that’s a weak statement. Say I want to now be an NFL quarterback… oh, but wait, does any NFL team hire people over age 45?

    Some avenue is always closed for any one of us. The point is that you can find avenues which will work for you. Therefore I do agree with Rob.

  27. Rob says:

    There are more social services out there to help anyone, tahn any other country. Thats why the system is abused so much. Americans simply take things for granted. America, land of the lazy, free handouts, and a blame all mentallity. Now thats Obamas here the race card needs to end. Time to take accountability for ones actions. Funny how immigrants can come here ( when done so legally ) and do just fine, and excell in life.

  28. Laura in Seattle says:

    Johanna: You’re right — underestimating yourself is a hard thing to overcome. I read a great book called Secrets of Six-Figure Women by Barbara Stanny. It blew my mind and really helped me start thinking about ways to build my career. She also wrote a book called Overcoming Underearning that you might want to check out. Both came out a while back and you can probably find them at the local library.

  29. Laura in Seattle says:

    George: Yes,actually — they hire them to coach the teams, referee the games, do public relations, and give the players physical therapy.

  30. KoryO says:

    I’m not so sure that having white skin and being male is an automatic advantage nowadays.

    I know there were jobs I went for where being female was an advantage, and they weren’t bad paying jobs, either. Thirty years ago that may not have been the case, but it is the reality now.

    I also know that my sweetie has to prove himself more than most, simply because English isn’t his native language. I find his accent enchanting, but there are plenty of people who think it’s something to make fun of. They did it to my grandmother, too. Both of them were white, but it seems like the “funny accent” canceled out some of that “advantage”.

    We can all argue all day long whether or not we have advantages based on “x”, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. But one thing we all have in our control is determination and drive. (I am not saying that poor people don’t have them. They do. They may not be directing it in the most beneficial ways to get themselves somewhere better. To chalk everything up to “I’m not a white guy therefore I can’t succeed” is crazy.)

    BTW….way to go, Mike!!

  31. Scotty says:

    I once heard a speaker from a very visible minority speak about some of the community outreach work she had done in a very impoverished and ‘disadvantaged’ part of the country.

    She mentioned that one of the biggest differences between the people who make something out of themselves and those who don’t is attitude. Whenever she heard someone speak about being victimized, disadvantaged, or whatever it may be, her response was always “You can be a victim once… and then you’re a volunteer”. She mentioned that people who stayed in ruts were more often people who just say themselves as always the victim, always having the wrong hand of cards.

    I can’t speak for everyone or every part of the country/world, but where I’m from there is basically 0 unemployment and people are market is hurting for labor really bad. Hence, I naturally come of the opinion that there’s always something you can do to get yourself out of the gutter. I’m also the kind of person who’s never satisfied with mediocrity – if there’s an opportunity, I take it and make the best of it. An old CEO of mine one said ‘you’re never stay static, you’re either growing and improving and shrinking and falling off.’ That’s kind of what my mentality is.

  32. laurie says:

    As a woman working in a very predominantly male engineering field I can’t deny that I run up against both sexual discrimination and sexual harassment on occasion. (and boy I have some really disturbing stories!)

    But 10+ years in the field has taught me that while it might happen to everyone on occasion, it seems to consistently happen to women or minorities WHO WILL ACCEPT IT WITHOUT FIGHTING BACK. Bullies and jerks aren’t stupid – they pick on those least likely or able to defend themselves.

    I’ve also noticed that most of the truly appalling incidences come from single mom’s who are very dependent on their jobs to support their children. The people who take advantage should be shot! They KNOW the extent of things these mothers will put up with to keep money coming in for the kids.

    And I think being financially sound with a big emergency fund (so you KNOW you can leave an untenable situation) is also very important. You are far less likely to behave confidently and like you are an asset if you NEED the job more than they need you.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but every time I hear or meet a woman or minority in a situation like this it seems like financial instability is an enormous reason why they let poor behavior to them continue.

  33. Johanna says:

    @Laura in Seattle: Thanks for the book suggestions. I’ll see if I can find them.

  34. lurker carl says:

    Having been a landlord for many years, I could usually tell after getting to know the tenants which ones would be moving out to buy their own house after a few years. It was obvious in their can-do attitude AND how they cared for the property. Everyone talked the talk before signing the lease but not everyone walked the walk.

  35. Jim says:

    Rob said :”There are more social services out there to help anyone, tahn any other country.”

    Most developed European countries have more generous social programs and higher spending rates than the USA.

    Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare_state
    US spends abut 14% of GPD on social aid and European countries spend typically double that.


  36. Charlotte says:

    My life has been made more difficult by depression — and for years I didn’t even realize that I was depressed. I thought that was the way everyone felt. Depression robs one of the social skills necessary for keeping and advancing in a job. My mother’s depression (no, she didn’t realize she was depressed either) taught her — and, consequently, me — low self-esteem. Only by struggling to overcome a mental illness (with medication) and by living below my means have I managed to have a comfortable (by my standards) retirement. If you don’t have a mental illness, you are fortunate beyond measure.

  37. thisisbeth says:

    I remember a friend saying she didn’t like compliments on her beautiful hair, because she was born with it. I pointed out that she took care of the gift she was given, and that went a long way. I think it’s the same concept: some might have more initial advantages, but the important thing is how they’re used.

  38. Sarah says:

    Adam’s success only makes it a better story – one with a “happy” ending instead of a “sad” ending.

    It seems to me that this story has a “happy” ending only because he got to end it where he wanted to–i.e., when his family member got sick.

    If this had been his actual life, rather than an experiment, he would not have been able to hit the eject button then. Instead, he would have had to deal with either (a) refusing to help a close family member in need, which would probably seriously damage whatever safety net he himself might have with the rest of his family or (b) trying to absorb all the expenses of moving back home, starting over, financially supporting his family member.

    This is what people don’t seem to get–it’s one thing to be able to scramble and scrape together enough to cover your ordinary weekly expenses. It’s quite another to have a sufficient cushion to support yourself in case of either loss of income or one of the big recurring but unpredictable expenses of life. Yes, everyone should be working on an emergency fund, but if all you can save is $10/week, it’ll be nearly two years before you even have $1000–and what happens if your car dies in the meanwhile? Most of the people rambling on smugly now about how this is America and the poor here choose to be poor are literally one serious illness away from poverty themselves.

  39. Lenore says:

    It’s no accident that women and minorities feel less confident about their job skills and less deserving of equal pay. The “Good Ol’ Boys” Network still thrives and has done its duty in making white males seem more capable and valuable to society. This is why Affirmative Action has to exist, and it is the source of the Glass Ceiling.

    Those lucky enough to be born Caucasian men in this country are privileged in ways they may not even realize. They get priceless business insight from other white males, preferential or deferential treatment from many of their colleagues and an intangible, inherited high expectation from society and themselves as to their professional potential.

    Most white guys got the “you can be President someday” speech when they were kids, but how many girls or children of color were told that with any conviction? As a female child in the 1970s, I was told I COULD be President, but no woman ever had. “Girls are usually teachers or nurses or secretaries, and that way they don’t have to deal with all those problems.”

    Someday this bias will end, but for now we have centuries of oppression to overcome and acres of prejudice to uproot. Does that mean disadvantaged persons cannot succeed? Certainly not! Tips like those in the book can be helpful to just about anyone in any circumstance, and positive thinking never hurt anyone. But to suggest that the playing field is level, or that everyone could prosper if they only applied themselves, is naive, insensitive, and (for those who have to struggle harder)discouraging. We never know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, and judging or blaming accomplishes nothing.

  40. KoryO says:

    “if all you can save is $10/week, it’ll be nearly two years before you even have $1000–and what happens if your car dies in the meanwhile?”

    You’re still better off than your neighbor who ends up going to one of those payday loan places that charge people 300-500% APR for the money, or a place that will loan you cash against the title of your car, which are almost as bad. Besides pawn shops, those are pretty much the only places for the really poor person to get an emergency loan, unfortunately.

  41. Nero says:

    You missed his biggest advantage.


    He chose that life. He chose to put himself in that position. He chose his path. He was able to research what he could do to make it out of it BEFORE he hit the bottom. He knew how to use the system, where/why to use the system, and he was educated.

    His story isn’t invalid because he has inherited advantages of being college educated, white, or was in good health. His story is invalid because that isn’t how it happens in reality. A person doesn’t just choose to give up everything they own and try to claw their way back out. Typically they don’t know what they have to do to get out of the rut, and I doubt they are going to buy a $40 book to read and learn and find out.

    People reading his book don’t need his advice, they read it so they can feel better about themselves and their situations.

    Also, when did you decide to put your children back in daycare? Is writing 300 word blog posts for a living really that time consuming? Really?

  42. Valerie says:

    Not sure if this was mentioned elsewhere in the comments. (There were a lot of them). This young man also did not have a criminal record. Unfortunately they are many youth with a criminal record of some type. This can be a significant barrier to good paying future employment.

  43. Beth says:

    There are two big components to success (along with many others, obviously):

    Hard, consistent work and dependability.

    Not everyone gets all the “breaks.” We all make good and bad choices in our lives that have put us where we are today. Included in that mix can be factors such as gender or family situation that affect who we are.

    But every single person who is reasonably healthy and sound can be more successful in the long term by combining hard work and dependability. I think both of those traits are more valuable than graduate degrees, or race, or who you know.

  44. doug says:

    I do love hearing about how someone has more “advantages” than another, when most of us likely live in areas of the world with running water.

    Complain about not getting ahead because you’re a woman/have the wrong skin color/have a crooked chin . . . I don’t really see that as a problem. There are areas of the world where you are killed because you belong to the wrong tribe (Rwanda, for instance). In Sudan, the wrong religion will get you sold into slavery (sucks to be a Christian in Sudan). Turks and Greeks have an ethnic hatred that is real and disturbing.

    So, breathe a sigh of relief you live in the Western world.

    And as I said before, Henry Ford got it right: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Those who think “I’ll never get ahead because I’m female/a minority/poor/etc” will see that proof every day of their lives. Meanwhile, those of us who say “I’ll get ahead despite anything thrown my way” will also prove themselves right.

  45. imelda says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Trent. Not only does Shepard offer a lot of good advice and lessons through his story, he also is telling a tale of inspiration, a tale of something that can be done. Especially as he talks about homeless people he knew who were also digging their way out of poverty.

    I do still maintain that it is important to note that, as a commenter in your last post said, Shepard played at being *broke* for this book, not poor. The reason so many of us raised a stink over this book was because so often (see Doug’s comment, above) people use anecdotes like this to dismiss real social inequities that need to be addressed. And that is dangerous.

    Lastly, I want to disagree with the last sentence in this post–that the lesson of change is more important than making note of disadvantages. It’s important to realize our capacity to change, but I think that only by observing the inequalities around us can we empathize with the less fortunate rather than blame them (as Doug does above) for their misfortunes. One lesson addresses how we direct ourselves, the other addresses how we treat others.

  46. PChan says:

    Mike said: “I can see by all the posts of people who want to say how better off Adam was are probably the same kind of people who just blame others and never succeed themselves.”

    Sure, Mike, that’s *exactly* what I do. Please.

    I’ve been pretty successful in my career and am doing well financially; I didn’t get this way by “blaming” other people. NOR did I get this way by ignoring the real obstacles that have been thrown in my path.

    Shephard had to sleep in the rough in the city one night. I don’t think it’s “blaming other people” to point out that a woman who did that would be at extreme risk, and that if she were assaulted and/or raped, she’d be blamed for what happened to her. I don’t think it is “blaming other people” to point out that when you have kids (and a lot of homeless women do) that you have other things you have to worry about. I don’t think it’s “blaming other people” to point out that minorities and foreigners are more likely to be targeted for assault (sometimes by the cops) and less likely to get any justice. I don’t think it’s “blaming other people” to point out that there have been very credible studies done (including at MIT) that show that Black applicants are routinely passed over in favor of White applicants with the same qualifications.

    Doug, people in this country ARE assaulted and killed for who they are. Oscar Grant was shot to death for no reason by the cops in San Francisco. Matthew Shephard was tortured and murdered for being gay.

    What’s interesting is that while we are supposedly whining and blaming others for pointing out inequities, a few White males in the other thread equated even talking about these issues with discrimination against them. So apparently, we should keep in mind people in other countries, unless we are White men and our delicate sensibilities have been offended.

    I don’t think it is at all insulting or horrible for me to remember that my White skin and middle-class upbringing are advantages in this society–I can still be proud of what I’ve done and acknowledge that I have advantages that others don’t have. Realizing that other people have advantages I don’t have doesn’t mean I’m blaming other people for my problems (my life is pretty good). It simply means that I acknowledge that the playing field isn’t level, and that I’m skeptical of the moralistic bootstrap rhetoric that often slithers its way into these discussions.

  47. doug says:

    imelda, I don’t “blame” the less fortunate for being less fortunate. There is no “blame” to assign. They are in a situation; I can’t “blame” someone for slipping on the ice, but I can blame someone for not throwing some salt down when it started freezing.

    Ultimately, YOU are the predictor of your success, good or bad. If you choose to be a victim, you will be a victim. If you choose to more forward with your life (despite roadblocks), you will emerge a victor.

    “I blame my lack of success on the fact that I am a [insert appropriate victim class here]” versus “I will succeed despite those who wish to drag me down” are the two arguments I see here. I favor the latter argument, nothing more.

    I have made no mention of how one should treat others, because that is not a final indicator of their success. Help someone all you want, I heartily encourage it. The old psychologist’s joke about changing lightbulbs comes to mind. It only takes one person to change the lightbulb, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

  48. Ken Deboy says:

    @Valerie (Comment 33)

    > This young man also did not have a criminal
    > record. Unfortunately they are many youth
    > with a criminal record of some type.

    As for those “disadvantaged” with a criminal record, wouldn’t that be due to choices they made?


  49. Tessa says:

    Nero: You must have missed the news that Trent has gotten his first book published…and is working on a couple others. I imagine time is consumed by reading many books to review and talk about. Obviously, he must do lots of research. Plus I remember reading about cooking & household chores. Really!

  50. Michael says:

    It’s so obvious to me that this story happened in a product of Europe, built up over a couple thousand years by educated white men. Here we are, thinking we should get the same results with other people who think and do differently and without their own leaders at the top to encourage them. It’s not fair to white men to take away their advantages, and it’s not fair to obsess over getting everybody else to make just as much money without also allowing them to play to their strengths in their own culture.

  51. Dave says:

    Interesting comments, it appears Trent achieved the reaction we all were looking for. Could someone explain to me the meaning of success?

  52. Sharon says:

    Not every person with a criminal record earned it. There are some — a very few — people who are wrongfully convicted, and who ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and, usually, with the wrong skin color.

  53. mia says:

    Yes, many things in life boil down to choice and attitude, and yes, many disadvantages can be overcome with a combination of hard work, positive thinking, aid and luck.

    AHAHAHAHA. Wow. thats a lot of stars having to line up in order for a poor disadvantaged person to even have an adequate chance at success.

    And of course there is the issue of emotional maturity. at 26 i am only beginning to shake the limiting beliefs instilled in me by parents who were too emotionally damaged by abuse and poverty themselves to make good choices. and i am shaking them off, slowly, with the help of a very supportive and understanding spouse. but if i didnt have him in my life? wow, i dont know. i may still have been in an abusive relationship, working two shitty jobs to support my homeless mother through her breakdown.

    dont forget the emotional aspect to this equation. it takes A LOT for someone with no positive role models to even be able to IMAGINE what they could achieve. Thats why books like this are valuable (they give you hope), but also dont tell the whole story.

    Look at street children. They made the best choices they could considering their emotional states and circumstances, and those ‘good’ choices (in their minds) were still bad choices. We do as well as we can, all of us, and as well as we know how from what we know.

  54. aphexbr says:

    Two things I always try to mention whenever this topic comes up (this this has come up on a number of occasions): upbringing and emotional wellbeing.

    This guy’s upbringing is important for one very good reason – he was taught how to handle money. The biggest problem most people have dragging themselves out of poverty is that nobody ever taught them how to handle money – financially irresponsible parents will pass their bad habits on. So, while being frugal is important if you ever find yourself in this kind of situation, it’s a long, difficult education process for many people while this guy seems to have had the skills from the beginning.

    The second part is emotional wellbeing, and that is extremely vital. When this guy found himself with just $25 in his back pocket and no fixed address, he knew it was his choice. There was no unemployment/drug addiction/divorce/bankruptcy and all the other things that can lead to unemployment and homelessness.

    Thus, there was no despair, and he was emotionally well-equipped to handle whatever came his way. This not only helped him sidestep the traps of vice, but also allowed him to present a better face to potential employers and landlords, making it more likely he’d get chosen. When hard times were faced, the fact that he had a finite time limit to his predicament would have been a very handy crutch. Not to mention the fact that he was planning to write a book and profit from his experiences anyway.

    …and yet, he still didn’t exactly achieve the American dream. Even at the end, he was one medical emergency, one car wreck, one mugging or robbery away from being back to square one with extra obstacles in his way. That’s a tenuous success at best.

    I agree that the basic lessons are there to learn. But, the claims that this guy did something truly inspiring is something that I find very questionable. To my mind, all he proved is that a confident person with no problems or dependents can make the right choices if he puts his mind to it.

  55. Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, shows how that inherent disadvantages can be used to an individual’s advantage as well. It’d be interesting to see if a blogring/forum could be created for a number of different people of different “inherent advantages” and “inherent disadvantages” could do this and compare with each other throughout the process.

  56. Anyone who says this story is invalid because of any advantages he’s had or whatever, I have one thing to say: you do it.

    You drop everything and start from scratch for a year, see how far you make it.

    “Anyone could do it”

    Go ahead and prove it then.

  57. Gail says:

    I live in Charleston and read the book. Everything in the book is true with names being changed to give privacy to the businesses and people mentioned.

    It seems to me that the Adam’s of the world will always come out on top. He is educated, nice looking, strong, young and motivated. Life has not yet beaten him down.

    Go to Crisis Ministries on King Street and you will see mostly older, weak, mentally impaired, illiterate, and otherwise challenged men.

    Even worse, the poor women with kids that just are defeated at every turn.

    I admire Adam, but I admire even more those with true limitations who manage to rise above and actually make life work for them.

  58. Tina says:

    Doesn’t the movie Pursuit of Happyness show this same thing? So I agree with it’s not the advantages that help you win. . .it’s your attitude about your situation that help you get ahead.

  59. Valerie says:


    “As for those “disadvantaged” with a criminal record, wouldn’t that be due to choices they made?”

    Yes. But if someone served their time and wants to turn their life around it can be very hard to do. I am thinking especially of those with “lesser crimes” a record is still a record to many employers.

  60. morgan says:

    Think about:

    “Life is like a gme of cards.
    The hand that is dealt you is determinism;
    the way you play it is free will”
    Jawaharlal Nehru,
    Indian politician


  61. spaces says:

    @ Dan, re criminal record — And those who did the same, similar or worse, and escaped the consequences because they were from the right neighborhood or church or economic strata, or the right sex or race, or their parent had the right job or the right role in the community … We should not ignore those who undeservedly escape the consequences of their actions.

  62. J says:

    I’d suggest “3 Cups of Tea” to many of the commenters here. It’s the story of a guy who had few resources at his disposal who has built a multi-million dollar aid organization that’s building schools in rural Pakistan and Afganistan and getting the job done.

    Sure, he had some advantages, but he also had a lot of disadvantages that he had to overcome, too.

  63. Battra92 says:

    I grow tired and lose patience with those who want to trivialize anything done by a white male.

    I’m not sorry I was born a white male. I’m also not sorry that I’m straight, became a born-again Christian or finished school. I’m also not sorry that I have a BS in Business Admin, several savings accounts, a 401K etc.

    I’m also not sorry that people don’t succeed because they let themselves be the victim they were taught to be by either their parents, the media or whomever.

    If you are saying that you need affirmitive action or something then you are giving up on yourself and selling yourself short. True genius knows no limits. History knows no limit to their number. Our Five, Ten and Fifty and 100 dollar bills show just four pictures of the millions who have done it.

  64. PChan says:

    Doug and battra, when you insist that someone is being a “victim”, yes, that’s blaming language. No one here has said that they “can’t do it because of X”. They said that he had certain advantages that others didn’t.

    You know what I’M not sorry about Battra? I’m not sorry that I acknowledge the harassment I had to put up with, and the indifference by the folks who could have done and should have something about it. I’m not sorry that I acknowledge the fact that my Black friends have been stopped and searched (and once or twice roughed up) by the cops for being in the “wrong” (i.e., White) neighborhood. I’m not sorry to point out that when a company I worked for hired people, the women were judged far more harshly on their looks than the men were, and were hired accordingly. I’m not sorry to point out that in this same company, very qualified and hard-working Black people were not hired to do any of the sales or administrative jobs.

    Some of the folks here love to bleat on about attitude and victim mentalities and blaming others. A lot of us get sick and tired of hearing about how some guy with a lot of advantages did it so we should be able to and if we don’t, it’s all our fault.

    I’ve got news for you. I DID SUCCEED. I don’t need any pats on the head from anyone, but I could also do with out the moralizing and Horatio Alger style rhetoric. And if Adam or any of you bootstrap folks had to put up with what women and minorities have to put up with, you’d change your tune pretty quickly.

  65. PChan says:

    Also, as far as negotiating pay raises goes, keep in mind that there are different standards of behavior for different groups of people.

    A woman who speaks up is an aggressive bitch–I’ve seen women who stood up for themselves get fired, get sidelined, and be pilloried for having the nerve to do what the guys do. I worked with minorities who negotiated hard and stood up for themselves and were called troublemakers and again, sidelines and/or let go.

    No, this doesn’t happen in every company. But it is a factor–we are treated differently for acting the same way as the White guys do. That’s not making excuses–some of them still ultimately succeeded–but it does mean that when someone with a lot of advantages is able to negotiate a better pay rate or get good jobs, their tactics are either not workable for certain people, or they will get a far different response when a woman or minority does it.

    That’s why it’s irritating beyond belief to hear this crap about how “He did it! I did it!! Why can’t these other lazy, whiny people?”

  66. SS says:

    I applaud this story. I think it is a great learning lessons for anyone who wants to try this. I think it would have been great to live hike on paths and write in the wilderness like John M. of Yosemite. What a journey. We all have our own. This would be hard for sure. I think this is a great story.There are those who
    are doing this now with losing their homes, their jobs, fires, flooding. Some lose everything. This is real. Hopefully God will turn it around for those who truly suffer. I like that he took a year out of his life to do this.Trent thank you
    for sharing this inspirational story on being frugal and being really on your own.The point is he had $25.00 and tried to survive on his own.

  67. Laura in Seattle says:

    PChan — You are absolutely right that there are companies that will fire a female or minority worker for using the same negotiating tactics and strategies that white men use. And since those practices are currently illegal in this country, I’m certain that you or the people who were let go for those reasons lodged complaints with the proper authorities and/or lawyers. Since you’ve already made is clear that you have seen this behavior and do not agree with it, I have no doubt that you took steps to make it clear that you thought it was wrong. Or at the very least, I expect that you left that company because of it. After all, you wouldn’t want to work at a place that treated other people like that, would you?

  68. I think it really comes down to what the people you look up to have been telling you. Being told “you can do it” and “you can do anything you put your heart to” will yield far more than any education.

  69. Battra92 says:

    PChan, you’re right. As an inferior white male (Homo neanderthalensis) I am certainly incapable of ever understanding anything. *rolls eyes*

    I think the next time you point the finger on prejudice you might want to see where the other three are pointing.

  70. Saver Queen says:

    Thanks for this follow-up, Trent. I tried to stay focused on the meaning of the post. I am a sociologist, and if this were a question of “can anyone achieve the American Dream” or an attempt to prove that the answer is yes, based on this anecdotal evidence, I would have far more to say on the issue.

    But you drove the issue back to personal finance, reminding us that these small solutions can be used in most situations towards reaching financial goals, which made the lessons from the book far more useful.

  71. Jim says:

    Pointing out that someone else has advantages is not the same as victimization mentality.
    This guy certainly had advantages that many people do not. Pointing out that this doesn’t make for the most inspiring ‘rages to riches’ story is a valid criticism. Is Donald Trumps story more or less inspiring if you know his father was a wealthy real estate developer? Pointing out that white males don’t face the same discrimination as women or minorities is not an attack against the success of a white male.


  72. Joanna says:

    Has anyone heard of Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich? General concept is similar but she set out to prove that it isn’t possible to live on minimum wage whereas Adam Shepard wanted to prove the opposite. Each proved his goal.

    That’s the strongest argument I see for the fact that your attitude can determine your outcome, although I’m certain that some will point out her gender.

    Very interesting debate. I think the one thing we must be careful of is assuming that some people *cannot* make it because of their geneder/race, etc. That attitude, while it may stem from good intentions, can be the very mentality that tells women and minorities that they are *not* able to “make it” in this society.

    Also, someone earlier commented that folks with disabilities had a legitimate reason for “not making it”. Read Touch the Top of the World by Erik Weihenmayer. He’s the only blind man to have summited Everest (as well as the other 6 of the 7 Summits). Fascinating story of determination and someone who is constantly told that he can’t and that he’s a fool and dangerous for trying, but who believes his inner voice rather than the critics.

    Thanks for the attempt to keep the discussion on track, Trent. ;-)

  73. CPA Kevin says:

    PChan – if you asked for a raise and were “sidelined”, pilloried, or whatever else why would you want to work for that company in the first place? If you got the raise and were treated like that wouldn’t that kind of be selling out?

  74. Sharon says:

    Laura: Proving illegal behavior in a court of law is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. The ability to convince a lawyer to take the case, a judge to not throw it out on summary judgement, and then a jury is an overwhelming burden. Look at Lilly Ledbetter! She proved that she was underpaid by Goodyear for decades, and then was told by the SUPREME COURT that she is screwed because she didn’t protest the very first disriminatory paycheck!

    And if she quits in protest, what kind of reference do you think the previous employer is gong to provide?

    The rest of us live in the real world, and reality is, the deck is often stacked against us.

  75. Sharon says:

    Laura: Proving illegal behavior in a court of law is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. The ability to convince a lawyer to take the case, a judge to not throw it out on summary judgement, and then a jury is an overwhelming burden. Look at Lilly Ledbetter! She proved that she was underpaid by Goodyear for decades, and then was told by the SUPREME COURT that she is screwed because she didn’t protest the very first discriminatory paycheck!

    And if anyone quits in protest over discriminatory treatment, what kind of reference do you think the previous employer is going to provide? Where do you think they will find another job?

    The rest of us live in the real world, and reality is, the deck is often stacked against us. And yes, it makes financial success much more difficult.

  76. PChan says:

    First off, I left the company with the discriminatory hiring practices. As far as the “proper authorities” go–sure, yeah, that helped. Not. That went into a file somewhere. Nothing came of it. Filing a lawsuit? That takes money and time, and gets you branded as a troublemaker (as well as, um, a “victim” who blames other people for their problems).

    Second, the negotiating backlash happened with friends and family in a variety of fields and companies. Not every company does it, but that doesn’t mean that is just one or two bad apples. Often you leave to find the same attitudes elsewhere. Many times, people aren’t even aware that they’ve got a bias, but when you point it out, well–take a look at the comments here for the defensiveness. Yeah, that’ll go over well in a company. The behavior double-standard is illegal, but it can also be VERY difficult to prove.

    Third, the one thing that we’re often told is that bringing a lawsuit or notifying the “proper” authorities will come back to haunt the person who complains. These folks are seen as troublemakers. Word gets around and they get blackballed. Just suck it up, stop being a victim, and move on. And if you do file a lawsuit, expect serious backlash. See: Dov Charney at American Apparel, Lilly Ledbetter, etc. As Sharon pointed out, lawsuits aren’t exactly easy to file or see through, and discrimination lawsuits, contrary to popular belief, are rarely successful.

    And here’s the thing: given that this DOES happen to women, minorities, gays, and the disabled far more than it does to heterosexual White men, it’s a bit silly for people to ignore this sort of thing and wag their fingers at us for supposedly being lazy and for victim-tripping. Given the fact that this is far less likely to happen to White men, it’s disingenuous to act as though the playing field is level and that any mention of this sort of thing is just so much whining. Why is it such a horrible crime to point out that the playing field is not level?

    @Joanna–no one here is saying that you cannot make it if you’re female or a minority. You should reread what we’ve written. We have been saying that there are obstacles that a White man does not have to contend with. Also, I worked with a man who was blind and quite successful in his field–but he would be the first to tell you that there are serious hurdles for the blind in employment. Pointing that out does not mean he thinks that blind people cannot make it, just that they have more burdens to shoulder than those who can see.

    @Battra–Seriously? I should just take you and Doug’s assertions as gospel truth. You obviously know so much more about our experiences than we do, despite many of us on this thread having lived what we’re talking about.

  77. doug says:

    PChan, if you put yourself in the “oh woe is me” category, you have taken a victim stance. There is nothing I can do or not do to put you there. Does discrimination happen? Sure. I discriminate against people who are lazy, no matter their sex, sexual orientation, race. Your choice to not do a job is your choice. To then say I fired you because you were a woman puts you firmly in the victim category, without any input from me. No, I discriminated against you because you were lazy and wouldn’t do any work.

    One can suffer discrimination and muscle through it. This would be a person who chooses not to see herself as a victim. “That guy’s a jerk, guess I’ll just have to figure another way through this situation.”

    Your own examples show that people will overcome hurdles if they choose to overcome them. The person who falls down and refuses to get back up, who claims “discrimination” and then thinks the world owes him/her something has chosen his/her path, and will get exactly what what they have earned. Similarly, the blind man who is successful in spite of his blindness has earned his place.

    As for what one should do in a discriminatory situation, I say dust off the resume, find another job, and leave as soon as you have that job. When your exit interviewer asks why you left, you can calmly explain that your contributions will be more appreciated at the other company. Sorry you don’t like the fact that employers see you as a “troublemaker.” Perhaps you should funnel your energy into your own business where you can hire people you want. But, I suspect you’ll soon run into the same problem your employer had.

    Life’s full of these fun little ironic moments.

  78. PChan says:

    Indeed, Doug, life IS full of those ironic little moments. Like when some guy on the internet insists that I’m claiming “woe is me” while acknowledging that yes, I may have indeed run into discrimination but that it doesn’t really matter since the woe-isme victim tripper proved through her experience that you can muscle through it. Such wonderful wisdom from someone who has not lived it.

    “Sorry you don’t like the fact that employers see you as a ‘troublemaker.'”

    Here is what I actually said–and please note, reading is fundamental, Doug–“Third, the one thing that we’re often told is that bringing a lawsuit or notifying the ‘proper’ authorities will come back to haunt the person who complains. These folks are seen as troublemakers. Word gets around and they get blackballed. Just suck it up, stop being a victim, and move on.”

    “Your own examples show that people will overcome hurdles if they choose to overcome them. The person who falls down and refuses to get back up, who claims ‘discrimination’ and then thinks the world owes him/her something has chosen his/her path, and will get exactly what what they have earned.”

    And this is incredibly arrogant and condescending to everyone who has posted on this thread. What makes you think that people who acknowledge that some people have advantages others do not just give up trying? And seriously? The scare quotes around discrimination like it doesn’t actually exist? Get real. People aren’t discriminated against because they’re lazy (more blaming language there), and you come off as ignorant and smug to say so.

    It is possible to acknowledge the uneven playing field and still not give up. Including the blind man who “earned his place,” in your words–the same man who would point out this uneven playing field when it comes to opportunity and access for blind people. But I guess that makes him a woe-is-me victim who is lazy and cries discrimination, expecting the world to hand him something.

    My point still stands–those obstacles are faced overwhelmingly by women and minorities. White men don’t have to use their energy to figure out another way to deal with institutional discrimination. They don’t have to deal with that crap on top of everything else. Pointing this out does not make those of us who acknowledge it lazy, or woe-is-me victims.

    And those of us who are successful can take pride in our achievements and recognize the achievements of others while also recognizing that the playing field is uneven.

  79. Sharon says:

    Well stated, PChan!

  80. Johanna says:

    There used to be a frequent commenter on this site who called himself Minimum Wage. Every one of his comments was about how hopeless his situation was, how he could not ever get ahead, how all the doors in life were shut to him. Many of us tried time and time again to offer suggestions for him, but no matter what strategy we offered, he always had an excuse for why it wouldn’t work. He was too old, he was too sick, he was too broke, he was too fat. It eventually became clear that he wasn’t actually interested in improving his life – he must have wanted either for us to feel sorry for him or (more likely) to convince himself that he was right and that his situation really WAS hopeless.

    And THAT is what the woe-is-me, can’t-do attitude is. And it bugged me just as much as it bugged everybody else. But that’s not what I’m seeing here. What I’m seeing here is people who already know how to succeed, because they’ve already achieved some measure of success, but they realize that due to circumstances out of their control, they’ve had to work harder to get where they are. See the difference?

  81. doug says:

    PChan, you have one thing right. Since I don’t believe “instituational racism” exists to the extent you do, my views about how life works are considerably different.

    Maybe that’s because I’ve worked for women, minorities, and one gay man. I work with a lesbian black female who puts at least two of my white male coworkers to shame, and she is rewarded for it.

    Your own lens of victimhood would say such a woman wouldn’t have made her own way in the world due to “institutional racism” or “discrimination.”

    You can sit and dwell on whether or not you were discriminated against, but it really doesn’t help you move forward with life and end up successful.

    Again, “whether you believe you can or can’t, you’re right.” Maybe I just choose to associate myself with those who believe they can, instead of hanging around those who can’t. That difference alone will level out that playing field. Unless you’re one who “can’t.” In that case, the field becomes rocky and mountainous through no fault of your birth.

  82. Duane says:

    Adam’s message is one of hope and encouragement, and we could all use more of this message. Some prefer to focus on the zone of things they can’t control, such as gender, race and age. Those who focus on what they can control are more likely to succeed. This distinction perturbs people in the former camp.

    I’ve lived in large cities and I noticed something interesting. I’ve never met a homeless person with a foreign accent. A fellow with dark skin and poor English arrives on the shores of America and amazingly embraces whatever opportunity presents itself and recognized the relative improvement over where they left.

  83. Sharon says:

    I sure wish I lived in Doug’s utopian, wonderful world! Of course, the difference between acknowledging reality and working with it and succeeding despite the very real barriers that Doug insists don’t exist and “victimhood” mentality is a subtlety that apparently he is unable to grasp.

    Doug, try rolling in in a wheelchair to your next job interview and tell me there is no institutional discrimination! You might also want to acknowledge the reality that YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. You haven’t experienced the reality of other people, and in your arrogance, you decide that because you, personally, haven’t experienced it, clearly the rest of us are lying, over-sensitive, and whining.

    And with that, troll, I’m done.

  84. Sharon says:

    I sure wish I lived in Doug’s utopian, wonderful world! Of course, the difference between acknowledging reality and working with it and succeeding despite the very real barriers that Doug insists don’t exist and “victimhood” mentality is a subtlety that apparently he is unable to grasp.

    Doug, try rolling in in a wheelchair to your next job interview and tell me there is no institutional discrimination! You might also want to acknowledge the reality that YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. You haven’t experienced the reality of other people, and in your arrogance, you decide that because you, personally, haven’t experienced it, clearly the rest of us are lying, over-sensitive, and whining.

    Now, THAT, Doug, is an attitude problem that you really need to deal with to get further in life.

  85. doug says:

    Sharon, I have never assumed this world to be utopian. I am a bit confused where you believe I said that it was.

    And you’re right. I don’t know everything. Particle physics is beyond me. As is the psychological reason someone would watch “American Idol.”

    I didn’t describe you as lying, over-sensitive, and whining. You did. I’ll leave it to the psychologists to determine the meaning behind that behavior.

    Despite any discrimination you may or may not have experienced, it is up to YOU to make your way in life. If you believe you can, you will. If you believe you can’t, you won’t. If you believe that, because you’re a woman, you will never be the CEO of a major company, you’re right. If you believe that, because of your multiple sclerosis and being bound to a wheelchair, you will never get that dream job as Oprah’s hairstylist, you won’t.

    If you instead believe that you can do those things DESPITE your disadvantages, you are miles ahead of the person who wallows in their victimhood.

    Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.

  86. Jennifer Thompson says:

    OK, I’ll weigh in here. I found it insulting to suggest that disabled people will experience “advantages” from their condition. I have a serious, chronic disability — I’m bipolar — and I’m still waiting for these advantages to accrue. I have succeeded in life in many ways — excellent job, loving sweetheart, an elite education — but I retain a lively awareness that I have these things, not just through my own hard work and resiliency, but through the support and help I’ve received from people and programs, including Medicaid. What separates me from a bipolar inmate or raving schizophrenic homeless woman is not just hard work, but good luck. Both are necessary but not sufficient conditions to make it in a country without universal health care.

    Love to all,


  87. deRuiter says:

    Being a white male or an Asian male isn’t always an advantage, especially in our politically correct culture where a company of any size HAS to hire a certain percentage of “protected minorities”. Companies of medium to giant size, medical schools, engineering schools, all HAVE to take a certain number of females and “disadvantaged” minorities in order not to be hounded and sued out of business by the Federal Government. Medical schools have to turn down qualified white and Asian male applicants who score higher on admissions criteria in order to take a quota of minorities. Given a choice, I select doctors who are white or Asian because only the cream of the crop of those groups gets into medical school. Prejudice? Maybe, but I want the best doctor to treat me. There’s a case in Connecticut where a bunch of firefighters took a test for a promotion. Because the quota of minorities didn’t pass the test, the government decided not to award any promotions. Yet if a man wants to play professional football or basketball, white skin or Asian genes won’t help, you need actual skills and certain physical characteristics (size, speed, athletic ability, NOT skin color!) in order to be hired. Too bad the ability to choose the best regardless of ehtnicity, skin color, gender, isn’t the same for American medical schools and businesses! THE US GOVERNMENT HAS MANDATED OPPORTUNITIES FOR MINORITIES, AND THE MINORITIES HAVE TO GET UP AND TAKE THEM. Anyone can succeed in America, but you have to get up off your chair, stop whining, and work! In case your’re curious, excessive tattoos, nose rings other odd ball piercings, funny clothing, unkempt looks, inability to express yourself in reasonable English, dropping out of school, getting pregnant as a teen, doing drugs, smoking, excessive drinking, screwing off at work, being habitually late, not doing a bit extra at your job, are all reasons you may not succeed.

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