Some kids grow up and their life is a calm stream. Others, like me, had rough and tumultuous waters with opposing currents. I grew up most of my life allowing those waters to take me where they wanted me to go. I thought that was life. Growing up this way taught me to see life not as a beautiful thing full of happiness and potential, but instead as something to be wary and fearful of.
It’s hard for a child to have big ideas about the future when the extent of my horizon held questions like will my parents have rent money this month? Or how is my brother doing in jail right now? This type of childhood lead to my teen years being angry at the world. I felt there was as system in place to keep the poor working class families like mine, in a cycle of poverty.
These families work hard but end up just spinning their wheels and never moving forward. Stuck in low paying jobs. Dependent on alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Getting themselves into debt, not because they wanted to buy something expensive but because they might have been sick and missed a few days of work. These types of jobs don’t pay you if you don’t show up and clock in. Financially, missing a few days of work can be life changing for people like this.
My parents were good people, why did we have this kind of life? They were allowing the current to push them through life. A current that wasn’t designed by them. It was designed by something else. Some other system entirely. To keep the poor working class right where they belong. Downstream.
For my dad, downstream was working a blue collar job for 40 years, unable to save anything for retirement, and barely living paycheck to paycheck most of my life. For my brother, it was never graduating high school and spending more than 50% of his adult life in prison. For most in my family, it was an addiction to alcohol, tobacco, and in the case of my brother, drugs.
For me, when I was 21 years old, I was an overweight smoker, depressed, and working as a janitor for $6 an hour. With $10,000 in debt and a baby on the way. I had solidified my place downstream and had firmly positioned myself to pass the cycle of poverty on to my children. Eventually, these waters would pull me under and drown me. Until the day I taught myself to swim. To guide my own life and destiny.
I learned that no person or system can take me out of that cycle other than myself. Because when you pull yourself out on your own, there is a mental growth that happens during that process. A change to your psyche. The purge of your previous mindset and beliefs. A change that only people like me, who did it on their own can understand.
If you really want to change your life, you can’t be a victim. You have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make the change for yourself. Learn to swim. No matter what hand you were dealt in life, you can always change it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it or you aren’t good enough. Your childhood does not need to define your adult life.