If you are living in the United States of America, no matter your zip code, you have an opportunity that people in many other parts of the world would give anything to have. You have the ability to have ample food, clean water, and comfortable shelter. You have the ability to earn $15 per hour, $25 per hour, or even $100 per hour. You have the ability to send your children through college. You have the opportunity to retire with dignity.
It may not look that way if you are living in a housing project in a neighborhood covered in graffiti and trash, but the opportunity is there for you just as it is for an American child living in the suburbs. There is nothing institutional standing in your way. Is there racism? Sure, but most hiring managers and college admissions officers will give an advantage to minority applicants. Will it be harder for someone coming from the projects than for someone coming from the family of a CEO? Certainly, but that does not mean that the doors are closed.
The thing to understand, however, is that nothing is given to anyone (with the exception of a few children of ultra-rich parents, but there are maybe 1000 of these in the US). If you want to make $25 per hour, you need to do something that is worth $25 per hour to someone else. If you want to have a nice home, you need to earn that nice home by working hard and paying off the mortgage. If you want your children to go to college, they need to do the work to learn the material during grade school and high school so that they can graduate from college. The American Dream is about opportunity, not outcomes.
That is the difference between America and places like Vietnam and India. If you were unfortunate enough to be born in a country like India and were not born into a high caste, or were born in Vietnam and weren’t born into the home of a party member, you have no opportunity to improve your life, no matter how hard you work. In America, people can go from poverty to middle class or even poverty to wealthy and do so every day. These people work hard to provide for the needs of other people, and in doing so are rewarded with wealth. The ones who realize the American Dream are the ones who find ways to better themselves and who spend most of their time giving of their talents to other people. The ones who stay still are the ones who concentrate on their own needs and wants.
The first steps out of the housing projects and towards the American Dream are fairly simple. These few simple steps will take you to the point where you are self-sufficient, which you’ll find will bring pride into your life. These are:
1. Use your opportunities for an education wisely. People who have basic skills like reading, writing, and mathematics do better than those who do not. Use your time in school to learn. Do your homework and turn it in on time. Read all that you can.
2. Get a simple job and do it well. Show up on time, dressed neatly. Smile at the customers and be pleasant with customers and coworkers. Work efficiently and provide your employer more in value than he is paying you. Be trustworthy by doing what you say you will. Find things that need to be done and do them.
3. Get away from people who are holding you down and find people who will lift you up. There are always people who will tell you that there is no hope in a housing project. Get away from the projects and out into the real world. Find a good church and find people you admire in that church. Follow their example and maybe even ask them to mentor you.
Beyond simple self-sufficiency, there are some other steps you can take to thrive and move into the middle class. These are:
1. Improve your skills. The secret to a higher paying job is having the skills needed to do things that are worth $25-$50 per hour or more. A college education in the right fields is one way to do this. There are also a lot of trade schools that can teach you skills that result in a higher paycheck. You can also find a craftsman and ask to learn from them.
2. Learn to manage people. There is only so much you can do by yourself. If you can learn to lead a team, you can get a lot more done. This results in higher pay for you. Watch the managers around you and learn what you do. Also, many companies have management training opportunities. There are also numerous books on the soft-skills of management (people skills and organizational skills).
3. Start your own business. The ultimate opportunity is the ability to start your own business. This takes a lot of time and effort – expect to be working 100 hour weeks fairly regularly for at least the first few years, but it can be very rewarding. Once again, it is a good idea to find someone who has succeeded at starting a business to mentor your.
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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.