I'm fascinated by the differences between rich people and poor people. Are the differences mostly a matter of class and economic mobility? Are people born to wealth and poverty and destined to remain there? Or are there observable differences in attitude and action that tend to lead people to specific levels of affluence?
From my experience, it's some of both.
I believe that there are absolutely systemic issues that contribute to wealth and poverty. But I also believe that there are attitudes and habits that foster wealth and success. These attitudes and habits can be learned. They can be applied to our own lives, allowing us to build better futures.
I grew up in a family that had always been poor, a family that had lived for nearly 100 years in rural Oregon, barely getting by. The things we had and said and did were “lower class”, even if I didn't know it at the time.
I was raised in this trailer house:
My father was a serial entrepreneur and the primary breadwinner for the family. Occasionally his businesses did well. Mostly, they didn't. But even when our family did have a decent income, Dad spent that money on boats and airplanes and computers. He didn't save. Then when hard times came — and hard times always came — he had to sell those toys to put food on the table.
The boom times were rare though. During the 1970s and 1980s, Mom and Dad spent most of the time living paycheck to paycheck. They fought about money. When Dad's businesses weren't doing well (which, again, was the norm), he worked as a salesman for various industrial companies. Or he was out of work. He spent long stints unemployed. We had to have help from extended family and from our church. (I can't recall that we were ever on government assistance, but it's certainly possible.)
Just before he died in 1995, Dad pulled me aside to apologize for how poor we were when I was a kid. “I remember that one Christmas when we didn't have enough money for presents,” he said, “You and your brothers wrapped your existing toys and gave them to each other. I felt so ashamed. I'm sorry I couldn't give you guys a better life.”
So, I've experienced poverty. Maybe not poverty as extreme as some others, but poverty.
I've also experienced wealth.
Today, my life is very different than it was when I was growing up. I'm fortunate (and grateful) to have a solid financial foundation. I achieved that financial success through a combination of hard work and luck. (And make no mistake: There was definitely good fortune required to get me where I am today.)
My brothers too have managed to work their way to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. We have it better than our parents did. At the same time, it's clear that the three of us retain some of our old habits and attitudes. (So too, I think, do other members of our extended family who also grew up poor.)
From my experience, I believe that poor people have certain habits, attitudes, and expectations. I think that these habits, attitudes, and expectations differ from those of wealthy people. Sometimes these qualities are a result of being poor (or wealthy); sometimes these qualities lead to being poor (or wealthy). In other words, it's neither the “chicken” or the “egg” — it's both.
What do I mean? Let's take some time today to explore the types of habits that foster wealth and success.
Important note: Before we go any further, I'd like to acknowledge that this is a complex subject, one weighted with political, economic, and social issues. I don't expect for one blog post to be a definitive exploration of the topic. I do, however, hope that this article can highlight some insights from myself and others — including you. This piece is not meant as a takedown of the rich or a takedown of the poor. It's meant to highlight habits and attitudes that can improve the odds of success.