Acknowledging Privilege

Sunday night my daughter was moaning and rocking back and forth in her chair wrestling with a question staring back at her on the computer screen. “What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your life?” the college application pointedly inquired. As her dad, I had some ideas. But her? She was stumped. 

As her dad, I was torn between being terrified that I’d sheltered her from character defining trials and grateful that I’d been able to provide her a fairly carefree childhood. We ultimately uncovered something real and meaningful for her to write about. But in a world of possible trials and obstacles it was clear she has been living a highly privileged life.

That acknowledgement has caused some real reflection for me too.

For years I’ve told myself a story. It starts with no one ever handing me anything and ends with me in the position am today.

I didn’t come from a notable family, I never asked my parents for anything after I married at 22 yrs old. The opportunities that I’ve experienced and exploited to bring me to today were a result of hustle, or something like that.

When I graduated college I started a company. As a young married family with one kid, and another on the way, we scraped by on $1,000 a month while we got this new business off the ground. 

Taking that risk and coming out the other side better for having done so laid the groundwork for all other professional risks I’ve taken since. And look at where I am now ;-).

But, I’ve revisited that narrative a lot over the recent years and months and there are holes in that story that deserve acknowledgement.

I was raised in an an upper middle class family. I never wanted for food or much of anything. My family owned a boat. 

The only jobs I worked as a kid were given to me by family or friends of family. And they paid me much better than my friends working summer jobs in fast food or at the Motel 6.

I worked full time through undergrad and was able, with the help from my parents on tuition, to graduate with a degree from a well heeled university with no student debt. When I married, we got a couple old hand me down cars from our parents. And when I left a cushy job to go start a new company right out of school, you know that one paid me $1,000 a month, my parents offered to pay my rent for that first year.

I could not have taken those risks, or reaped the subsequent rewards, were it not for my family’s financial support. 

So, that story that I’ve been telling myself all these years has holes that need filling. Safety nets that require recognition. And privilege that deserves to be acknowledgement.  

For those of us who firmly believe that anyone can do anything with hard work and pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, we need to recognize that there were other hands helping us do the pulling. And resources available to us that may not be available to those we’re heaping our pearls of wisdom upon.

This imbalance deserves to be countered. But before we start with the grandstanding, it’s been a worthwhile experience to embark on some soul searching. 

In acknowledging the privilege many of us have had, we can fill the holes in our own stories and move forward with an honest and more impactful playbook than the conventional wisdom that anyone, anywhere can follow their dreams.