MommaBean Admits: I’m Not Self-Made, the Myth of the Self-Made Man…

So, I came across an interesting post relating to this picture that’s been going around Facebook alot lately…  In case you haven’t seen it, here it is.

The post I found (read it here) talks about how unrealistic the entire premise of the note is.  It’s funny, I totally agree with the debunking of this letter.  While I agree with a spare few points on the letters, the majority are rather a load of hooey.  Certainly Americans (and those around the world) need to learn that we need to work to earn the things we want, not borrow to afford them with no repayment plan.

In addition, it is not possible to live on minimum wage in most of the US.  For an excellent look into this, grab a copy of Barbara Ehrenreich’s tome “Nickled and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America”.  In this engaging non-fiction work, Barbara moves to three separate areas of the US and tries to make ends meet on minimum wage.  Her conclusion in the end is that even though she had significant advantages that most long-term minimum-wage earners don’t (health insurance, computer, car, etc.), she found it impossible to make a living wage at minimum wage.

The funny thing is that the picture is trying to make a point that may resonate with many people, but isn’t particularly valid.  So, let me tell you a little about my story…

I also made decent grades in high school (actually rather better than decent).  I went to a magnet school for academically gifted students.  When I graduated, I applied to a moderately priced in-state public school.  I also applied to a high-priced private school.  One offered an okay education and one offered an excellent one.  After considering my financial means (meaning my Mom’s financial means), I received no aid at the public institution and a combination of scholarships and loans to cover most of the cost of the private school education.  Effectively, it would have cost me more to go to the public school… so I chose to pay more over time at a school giving me a better education.

Throughout this college education, I worked no less than 20 hours a week at minimum wage through the work-study program.  I also studied and managed to keep a high GPA (not a 3.8, but still).  Like the fictional “bootstrap” student above, I tried to find ways to save money.  I didn’t eat out, I ate on campus (lived there too, no affordable apartment for me, not affordable enough).  In my last 2 years (as a History major mind you) I didn’t buy books (just couldn’t afford them to be honest).  I checked them out of area libraries, borrowed them, and relied on exceptional notes and friends who took even better notes than I did.  I still graduated with student loans from more than one source (Perkins Loans, Stafford Loans, and a Kiwanis Club loan) in addition to credit card debt (you know from when I DID buy books).  So, while this mythical student may have made it, most people just couldn’t.

I wasn’t exceptional in most ways.  And you know what, although I paid for my own college education for the most part, I’m not self-made.  I went to a magnet school for academically gifted students after going to solid elementary and Junior High Schools.  In those places, I had educational opportunities and access to resources that students in other areas didn’t.  I was in the gifted program starting in 2nd grade.  It provided challenges and expansion of perspective and understanding.  But you know what, it’s more than that.  MemeBean taught me to love books.  We went to the library constantly.  And, above the library in our town was the art museum.  So, we went and looked at art.  I didn’t necessarily “get” it (still don’t if we’re being honest).  But, I was exposed to it.  I was taught things and given opportunities.

I read a fascinating article that argued that no one is actually self-made.  It’s a myth.  Everyone who is successful has someone that supports them, teaches them, or just plain believes in them.  So, the arrogance of the “bootstrapper” in calling life decisions of others “bad decisions” because they borrow money for college or just make difference choices rubs me the wrong way too.  I assume I’m part of the 99%.  After all, I’m pretty sure I don’t have one fo the top 1% incomes… I see the handling of the bail-outs as shameful and the large bank and Wall Street CEO actions as prosecutable.  But, regardless, less rhetoric and more searching for real solutions would go a long, long way.

After all, we all make life choices and equating going to college with living large is ridiculous.  I graduated from college with mountains of debt.  Within 10 years, I had paid it off.  My college degree definitely enhanced my earnings, but it did something much, much more important than that.  Attaining my college degree taught me to work hard, to live frugally, and to value opportunities.  No one gave me opportunities, I had to look, to find them, and to reach for them.  But I had a whole cast of people supporting me, helping me, guiding me, and believing in me.  And that is the most valuable gift we can give our kids.  And it behooves us to remember… not everyone has that.

Happy 99%!

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7 thoughts on “MommaBean Admits: I’m Not Self-Made, the Myth of the Self-Made Man…

  1. Not disputing the points made but college tuition has tripled and quadrupled since, and the relevance of a college degree is getting less and less important. If I had to do it all over again, I would skip college and go straight out of HS to any major Hollywood studio and get a job as janitor and work my way up as I wanted a technical education in TV & Film which my college only provided a fraction of, and that includes UCLA and USC Film Schools.

    • Joe, I definitely think that industry plays a key role. Actually what they are finding with more traditional white collar jobs is that Master’s Degrees are becoming the new Bachelor’s degree. My college’s tuition tripled between my first and last years there ;). And I think they are becoming more and more prohibitively expensive. However, that doesn’t mean that choosing to attend one is a poor life decision, now does it?

  2. So, you went to an academically gifted students school. No wonder you can write a novel of 50,000 words in a month.
    As mentioned in the post you referred to there are many variables and questions about this claim. For the past five years, my university is increasing the tuition every year. Working 30+ hours a week means working for about 6 hours a day. Unless, this person is a superman I can hardly imagine someone can attend classes, work on his tons of homework, exams and projects then go to work for 6 hours and still can receive 3.8 GPA.
    Now, yes there are 1% of people who control the major wealth but also many of the 99% are in debt because their extravagant style of living. In Jordan, beside the business related loans the majority of people get loans to buy two things only, a house or a car. In the US, beside the car and house mortgage people use credit cards to buy groceries, clothes, electronics and gifts.
    Jordanians believe that Americans are very rich because every family has at least two cars, and every child has his own room with a TV but in fact the majority of those families are in debt. I once read that more than 80% of Americans are in debt.
    It is very important for people all over the world (including myself of course) to learn to live within their means. It is our urge to have bigger, newer and more things that helped the 1% to increase their wealth in astronomic numbers.

    • Jaraad, you crack me up. Actually, if it makes you feel better, I was one of the worst students in my gifted program ;). But, really, anyone can write 50,000 words of drivel (1712 at a time). No one said my novel was any good ;). I agree that working 30 hours a week and making a 3.8 is improbable unless you are superman or going to an exceptionally easy school.

      For your next point, many of the 99% are in debt because of poor life choices. I agree wholeheartedly on that one. But it isn’t why they are part of the 99% nor is it why the gap is getting bigger. When we went to get a house loan in the US, the bank approved us for a loan much bigger than what we knew we’d be able to afford. We bought within our means and when job loss came (which it did, thanks George W.), we were able to manage. Definitely folks in the US needed the wake-up call. But then again, so does the financial industry and corporate world as a whole. If they can’t sell to the 99%, where are those profits going to come from? We need each other.

      And yes, Jordanians don;t have a realistic picture of AMerican life in many, many ways. They think that a huge salary in the US means people are rich not understanding that huge expenses go with that ;). But, as to 80% of Americans being in debt, if you include house loans, car loans, and student loans, I would buy the number. But I wouldn’t call that “in debt” as we’re discussing. In Jordan, more than many places, I have never seen a truly self-made person ;). But it doesn’t really exist anywhere… Thanks for your exuberant comment!

      • No need to be so humble. Believe me if I were you I will brag about both the school and the novel like there is no tomorrow 🙂
        I agree with your point that it is not only the poor life choices that get the 99% where they are now.
        About the “truly self-made person” as you may know and anyone who lives in Jordan knows the children of janitors, maids, sanitary workers can never be one day the CEO or manager of a company, ministers, member of the parliament, TV announcers or reporters, etc. If you heard of a story that debunk this assumption then I would like to know this person. It is very unfortunate reality.
        In the US, the situation is different for so many reasons. It is very easy to list some successful people who came from broken homes, orphanage centers, or in the case of Tim Russert who his father was a sanitation worker.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Russert

      • Jaraad, even without money, in the US you have public institutions that are free. So while Tim Russert’s dad may have been a garbage man, I expect he raised Tim with support, love, and experiences. Even folks from orphanages typically point to a specific person who has helped guide them and push them.

        And the truly brilliant have no need to brag right? Teehee, just kidding. You know, it’s not about being humble. Anyone can write a book, if they think they can and spend the time. And the school, well, you have to be there. I was among bright people who really applied themselves. I may be bright, but I neither loved studying nor had someone to sit and push me at home to force me to do it;). It was what it was and it was a wonderful chance.

  3. I think I have drifted from the main topic, the self-made myth. I totally agree. And it is truer in some countries more than others. In Jordan, connections and the father’s status has a lot to do with the future of son or daughter.

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