Preventing failure before it is an option

When I wrote an article about poverty, I wasn't sure where Brandon and Leah, the two people I shared about, would be in the next few months. I needn't have wondered. Turns out, nothing has changed. Despite receiving money from various people for rent, access to free babysitting, and bags of groceries, the last few months have been peppered with evictions, arrests, jail, and now prison. Unfortunately, I am not surprised, and you probably aren't either.

It is really easy for me to identify their stupid financial (and life!) decisions and ignore the impact that their life history has had on their future. But people don't have to have drug addicts for parents or live in poverty to struggle financially or to struggle to fulfill life's potential.

Take another friend I was talking to the other day. Barely into his thirties, Adam has a lot of things going for him: He's healthy, has no consumer debt, and a job with lots of autonomy and flexibility, even if it's not the highest paying job around.

“I feel like a failure,” he said, eyes lowered to the ground. “I'll never be anything more than a manual laborer.”

“What do you mean?” I said, probably with more bluntness than the situation called for. “You're in your thirties. Statistically, you have decades of working life ahead of you. If you don't like what you're doing, do something else.”

Slowly, he said, “It's not that easy; I don't know what to do. I am not good at anything.”

Talking with him is frustrating. Instead of offering solutions, I should just be quiet and listen — because I really don't get it. My lifetime will not be long enough to complete all my dreams and schemes. And why can't he see that he has potential to be just about anything else he wants to be? Not that there is anything wrong with manual labor at all, but apparently he's not satisfied. Argh.

I don't know all the factors that make us who we are, but the GRS editor sent me a link to an article that just might help people. Little people. Specifically, help little people become big people who tell the truth about themselves and about their future.

While you should go read this article to get the whole story, I'll share a little. The author's son's teacher believes that her impact extends beyond teaching her students about math. Because of this, she asks her students to request four fellow classmates they would like to sit with the following week. The students know their written requests may or may not be honored.

Nice, right? But so what? What the teacher does with this information is the beauty of the story.

The author, Glennon Doyle Melton, writes: “Chase's teacher is looking for lonely children. She's looking for children who are struggling to connect to other children. She's identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class's social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she's pinning down — right away — who's being bullied and who is doing the bullying.”

The teacher is looking for children who are disconnected. They connect disconnectedness to school violence in the article, but that's not the only thing that — in my opinion — is related to disconnectedness.

When she finds children who are disconnected, they just need a little help.

“It is like mining for gold — the gold being those little ones who need a little help — who need adults to step in and TEACH them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts with others.”

It makes me wonder about Brandon, Leah, and Adam. How would their life trajectories be different if someone had really paid attention to them when they were children? What if someone had poured truth into their souls, so that these three could tell themselves the truth about their past, present, and future selves? Because the lies we tell ourselves have a lasting impact, not to mention a potentially crushing impact on our financial health.

What if someone had been able to get Brandon to believe that his father's abandonment had nothing to do with him? What if someone had been able to get Leah to understand that she was priceless … and she could wait for a guy who valued her accordingly instead of settling for addicts and abusers? What if someone had taught Adam how to share his gifts with others and not be ashamed if those gifts weren't prized by society?

Who can deny that these situations have created people who make terrible (or, in the case of Adam, suboptimal) financial decisions? And in the case of Leah, in particular, her decisions have a ripple effect far beyond her personally. Taxpayers are funding her current and former stays in state prisons. Let's not forget her children in the foster care system or her use of the legal system.

My optimistic heart holds onto the hope that it's not too late for these adults to turn their lives around — but it's easier to develop good habits in kids, right?

Speaking of easier, it would have been easier to write about saving money on baby stuff. Because writing this article has left me a little uncomfortable. But if I want to improve life for someone, I might need to get uncomfortable.

I'm uncomfortable because doing what this teacher does requires a commitment, a lasting commitment. It's more than throwing money at a problem, it's taking the time to get to know a child. It's taking the time to mentor that child. And it requires patience to keep helping the child back up after he or she has failed. Clearly this is a marathon, not a sprint.

What do you think about this teacher's approach? Have you ever done anything like this?

More about...Psychology

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Beth
Beth
6 years ago

I love Chase’s teacher’s approach, but the reality is that some teachers deal with whole classrooms of at-risk students, not one or two who need some extra attention. (One or two amongst 25-30, I might add — some of whom face other challenges such as disabilities). Worse yet, children’s confidence can take a nose dive when they become teenagers — yet that’s when a teacher has less contact with them. (they might have them for one period a day, for half a year). I have a high respect for my former colleagues who specialized in working with at-risk youth. It’s… Read more »

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

“Everyone should have someone who believes in them.”
Beautiful!!

Brian @ Debt Discipline
Brian @ Debt Discipline
6 years ago

I think this is a great approach. It’s sometimes difficult to identify these issues for kids, and using the approach covers the true intention of the exercise. Too many come from single parents homes and need extra help in these areas.

PB
PB
6 years ago
Danielle
Danielle
6 years ago

Fantastic article Lisa!!

imelda
imelda
6 years ago

This is a very moving, and discomfiting article, Lisa. Painfully moving to think about the ways that Brandon, Leah, and Adam hold themselves back (subconsciously or consciously). Discomfiting in that I find myself feeling exactly like Adam.

As Beth said above, a single teacher may not be enough to reinstill confidence in a child. What that teacher is doing is wonderful. It takes a lot of love and commitment to overcome negative input.

And for adults? I’m not sure what the answer is!

SlowlyGettingRich
SlowlyGettingRich
6 years ago

I come from a similar background and two teachers stick out from my childhood that give me hope. It is those times when you think you aren’t good enough that you’re reminded by memories that you are more than good enough. I started saving money to just save money but in actuality I started changing my life

I’ve been a long time reader but never left a comment but this article is close to the heart. Thank you for getting uncomfortable because you defiantly reached me in doing so.

getagrip
getagrip
6 years ago

Sometimes it’s a matter of perception. All the press telling someone to follow their “passions” can make someone depressed if they can’t really figure out what their passion is or they can’t find their calling, and no matter how successful they may never find it and feel a failure. So if the perception is that you aren’t following your destined purpose, then how can you be satisfied with what you have? Yet if you don’t know or aren’t sure of said purpose, what are you to do? Similarly, I’ve seen people who by most objective measures of success would be… Read more »

James Salmons
James Salmons
6 years ago

Thought provoking content and worth thinking about. It only takes one person sometimes to inspire a person to achieve more of their potential while others fail to try. My wife was discouraged even by her teachers in school. She was not given college aptitude tests because she was poor and they didn’t think she would have had the opportunity (thank goodness those attitudes have pretty much dissipated. But she went to a church where a Sunday School teacher encouraged her to believe in herself and ignore others. She did go to college, worked her way through, and became a teacher,… Read more »

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
6 years ago

Noble effort — personal finance encompasses so much more than math. Regrettably, I find the author’s tone a tad elitist and hence the entire post is a little off-putting for my taste. As a taxpayer, I have no more control over a citizen who has repeated state funded/subsidized visits to penal institutions than multi-millionaires who send funds overseas to evade taxes, CEOs of financial institutions who intentionally misrepresent the value of bundled mortgage backed securities which contributed to destabilizing the housing market resulting in bailouts, exorbitant perks of Congress, subsidies of the oil industry, etc. Somehow, people feel more entitled… Read more »

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  DreamChaser57

I don’t *think* I’m elitist, but I suppose no one ever thinks they are. I’ll have to take a good look in the mirror.
Anyway, with Leah’s situation, I just wanted to point out that our personal decisions may have a financial impact on others other than ourselves.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  DreamChaser57

I didn’t read this as elitist. Some of my friends teach wealthy kids in private schools — those kids struggle with many of the same issues regarding self worth. Unfortunately, things like drugs, suicide, abuse, anorexia, neglect and underachieving span multiple income brackets. I also don’t think Lisa’s approach to understand where someone is coming from is wrong. Recent research suggests that people don’t want to be cheered up. When you tell them how wonderful/lovely/thin/smart/caring they are, they see it as you dismissing their feelings or not understanding who they really are. They want to be heard, and people’s well-intentioned… Read more »

Aldo @ MDN
Aldo @ MDN
6 years ago

I think the teacher is taking a good approach. Is it the right one? who knows, but at least he’s trying something. He’s trying ways to try to help his students and that is commendable.

Janel
Janel
6 years ago

Usually posts on this website generate at least 50 comments but this one may not generate as many. You see, folks don’t want to discuss the touchy subjects. What you are highlighting is a very serious issue in the United States today. People are suffering from low self-worth, abuse and all other atrocities that can break a person’s spirit and desire to be successful. I thank you for this article because I can relate to being “poor with potential”. Yes, money was limited but love was abundant and I think the love is what was required for me to become… Read more »

Susan Raymond
Susan Raymond
6 years ago

Lisa — you’re overlooking the possibility that Adam is suffering from clinical depression. And if so then that is an illness that needs to be treated.

You wouldn’t tell someone to think better and their diabetes would go away — people whose brain chemistry is affected be depression are equally as unable to change themselves without help.

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  Susan Raymond

I didn’t write about everything Adam and I have talked about, but you’re right that clinical depression influences a person’s self-worth (and I would argue, their net-worth as well). Might be material for another article, actually…

Dianecy
Dianecy
6 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Aberle

How about writing about how difficult it is to get medical help for these type problems if you are low or even moderate income? Or if you’ve exceeded your policy limits?

Specifically Susan, how do you expect for Adam to pay for the care you feel he needs? There’s something for all of us to think about. If you’re dirt poor, there’s some aid available. If you’re well employed you have insurance, but what about everyone in between?

Laura
Laura
6 years ago

Lisa, excellent article. You wrote: “Talking with him is frustrating. Instead of offering solutions, I should just be quiet and listen…” There is no foolproof solution to helping people change their thinking, but you are correct that this is the start. People usually don’t want to hear an outside solution. They want to be heard as people, listened to respectfully as if they are just as valid as anyone else (and yes, I phrased that deliberately), and treated as if they matter. Sometimes being validated through being listened to can break through even long-standing dysfunctions and allow someone to change… Read more »

Alice
Alice
6 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Laura, it may very well be depression that is holding many people like Brandon back but it could also be a lack of ambition. During sessions with lackluster people it becomes very clear that they have been raised to believe they cannot rise above the level of their family in means of getting ahead or making more of their lives. This type of person is exactly what JD Roth described in his article about trying to help someone who doesn’t want or is not ready to help himself. People have to have some type of ambition for themselves to be… Read more »

getagrip
getagrip
6 years ago
Reply to  Alice

I will just add that I have seen families tear down their kids, tear down their siblings, tear down their own parents, for “putting airs on” and trying to better themselves. I argued with my father until I graduated and moved out because he felt my attending college was a waste of time and I’d end up working for him like other siblings had. While dating my future spouse I watched my future FIL degrade my MIL whenever she made a mistake because she had a high school education and he didn’t, and he passed his distain for higher education… Read more »

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree
6 years ago

I wrote a post once in which I compared a get-together with a friend to a “Debtors Anonymous” meeting. I thought I was making a clever metaphor until someone commented and told me that Debtors Anonymous actually exists. I got in touch, by e-mail, with a local DA representative, and he was very generous in sharing his insights about debtors in the program – he being one of them. He said that people of all income levels are in DA, and that many of the lowest income earners have a very hard time conceiving of the possibility that they could… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

This article speaks to me in ways the typical GRS articles cannot. I know and admit that part of my financial challenges are because I rarely thought that I’m good enough to accomplish XYZ goals. The type of goals that only special, smart, connected, healthy and beautiful people achieve.

Its easier to spend that $10 that could go to savings on something to comfort yourself than to believe that you can actually be financially secure.

Financial security is more than just “discipline”.

James Salmons
James Salmons
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

And Carla, the truth is that you have all the ability you need to be super successful. Just by reading your comment I can tell that you have the mental and communication skills to do far more than you may suppose even now. One of my closest friends in high school would not even apply to college because she did not think she was smart enough even though she was second in our class. Many small business owners I have known were very successful even though I knew them to be quite mediocre in intellect and skills, but they had… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  James Salmons

James, thank you so much. I sometimes forget the gifts I do have. I love the last sentence in your post – I will have to write that that down several times a day and post it near my computer monitor until it sticks!

Kingston
Kingston
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Carla, you are one of a handful of regular commenters here whose posts I always look for. I value knowing your perspective on things. You definitely have a contribution to make — probably all sorts of contributions, some of which could bring you great financial rewards. Don’t sell yourself short!

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
6 years ago

Thank you for posting this wonderful article. I think you are right that in too many families, people grow up, adopting their self-worth from what they think others think of them.

I like the OP so much, I am sharing it with my dd’s teachers. Generally, teachers chose that profession because they want to make a difference–and what a difference they can make!

Kasia
Kasia
6 years ago

Great article. I love what the teacher was/is doing to help the kids, that one little thing could make a huge difference in a child’s life or at least in their school day which can then have a positive domino effect. I think a lot of young people these days have low self-esteem even if they have lots of potential. There’s so much pressure to succeed and with social media we see more and more success stories that can make people feel a little inferior and lost if they’re not at the same level. We’re all individuals and we all… Read more »

Robyn@The Simple Happy Life
[email protected] Simple Happy Life
6 years ago

My husband & I have had this same conversation many times about raising our kids (ages 7 & 9) many times. How do you teach fiscal responsibility and even ambition? First, obviously you model it, which we do. You also set limits and expectations. We make our kids save their money, we don’t allow them to make spontaneous purchases and we even allow them to do extra chores to donate to kid based charities (which they actually enjoy!). They also do volunteer work at times. In terms of ambition, we’ve set clear expectations, point out when someone makes a bad… Read more »

Jenny Olsson
Jenny Olsson
6 years ago

Great advice and points, thanks for sharing your insight!

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