When I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money. I’m not sure that I realized how little money we had, or how much my parents struggled to make ends meet. When I reflect, I can totally see it.
However, I do remember growing up and constantly being reminded to be neat and clean. Clothes could not be wrinkled. Your face should always be washed. You should wear lotion, clean underwear, and clean socks (if you didn’t, and you were in an accident, they wouldn’t save you). Your hair should be neatly styled.
Those were things that I’ve taken from my childhood, and into adulthood. Reflecting on it, I recognize that my parents knew that while we didn’t have much, but we still had the opportunity to make a good impression. Additionally, I never had a mindset that we were poor, or that we didn’t have as much as others. I was always taught that I could have whatever I wanted if I worked hard.
I started reflecting on these life lessons from my childhood, while observing my students over the past couple of days. Many of our students, in fact the majority of them, are from low-income families, qualifying for free or reduced lunch. While being from a low-income family definitely presents its share of challenges, there were a few moments when I wanted to grab a few of my students and shake them, and tell them, “just because you live in poverty, doesn’t mean that you have to have a poverty mindset.”
What exactly would a poverty mindset be? I’m not sure that I can easily define it. But I’ve noticed that many students are a little too comfortable using their financial situation as an excuse for why they don’t have/can’t have/don’t achieve/can’t achieve. I feel that until they have the mindset that they CAN and WILL have everything that they want to have, and are willing to put in the work required to get it, they’re going to forever be at a loss.
One of the hardest lessons to impart to teenagers is that the world doesn’t owe you ANYTHING. I’m frequently in awe at the sense of entitlement that my students express. Where does that come from? While it is good to expect and desire good things, they aren’t owed to you. You have to work smart. You have to work hard. While I can recognize and acknowledge that I have been tremendously blessed with enormous opportunities over the course of my life, I also know that I have worked exceptionally hard.
Work ethic and desire is what will make the difference. As said in Coach Carter, “just because you deserve it, doesn’t mean they’re gonna give it to you.” And when you don’t get what you feel like you deserve, you have to be able to fall back on that desire and that ability to work until you do receive it.
Just because you’re from poverty doesn’t mean that you’re destined to stay that way. Just because you’re from poverty doesn’t mean that you have to maintain this mentality of not having enough. The real truth is that God has given each of us just what we need to do what He intends for us to do.
Now, if I could only teach that to my students.
Until next time…