Previously Disadvantaged Mind

I’ve been fortunate in life. When we were married in 2013, Trudy and I started with modest means. We lived in 1 bedroom loft apartment. Before long, we had our first child and moved into a 3-bedroom house.

We weren’t rich but we were certainly middle class. In fact, by the time we had our 3rd child in 2021, Trudy and I had a home and lifestyle that surpassed what my parents had ever been able to achieve.

As an adult, my experience has been markedly different than when I was a kid. I’ve gradually moved from poverty to middle class to upper middle class. In the physical world, I am now rich.

But inside? In my internal world? I’m still that poor kid living in the township. Foolish though it may seem, I am trapped by those thoughts and those emotions. They guide my decisions (often at an unseen level).

I still lack confidence. I still feel like I don’t deserve anything that I have. I still expect it all to vanish, to go away. I find it difficult to defer gratification. Intellectually, I understand that if I want to purchase something, I can do so any time I need to. I can wait.

Emotionally, however, I feel like I must buy things now because the opportunity may never arise again. It’s irrational, I know, but that’s how it is.

Last week, I had a conversation with a friend of mine. I was talking about how frequently Trudy and I have moved during our ten years together, most recently from Johannesburg to Durban, and about how we’re ready to stay in one place. “In retrospect,” I said, “we probably should never have sold our home in Johannesburg.

“So why did you move?” my friend asked.

“There were a couple of reasons,” I said. “We got more kids and needed more space. My wife also wanted to move closer to her parents who had retired in Durban. But if I’m being honest, I think the main reason I sold the place was because I felt like I didn’t deserve it.”

“What?” my friend said, shocked. “Didn’t deserve it?”

“I’m serious,” I said. “I’ve never really thought about this before, but it’s true. During the four years we lived there, it never felt real. It felt like a dream. It felt like the place was too good for me. I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I felt like an impostor.”

She and I then had a long discussion about coming from a poor background and how that can mess with your mind, can lead you to conflate wealth with self-worth.

“Parents, deliberately or unaware, teach their children from birth how to behave, drink, feel and perceive. Liberation from these influences is no easy matter.” – Eric Berne

You’re Doing Too Much

All this rambling was inspired by a consultation I recently had with one of my wealthy clients.  

Generally speaking, I do not begrudge people and their wealth. (I’ve never been one to envy the wealthy. I’m not an anti-billionaire, “eat the rich” kind of guy.) That said, their question triggered some deep-seated issues inside me. He asked me the following…

I was floored by this question. I’m not so much floored by the idea that a kid’s parents might pay for their entire education — I’ve seen that plenty. It was more the entirety of what’s going on here: private high school, trust funds, a university allowance.

An allowance in university? Are you kidding me? My previously disadvantage mind couldn’t fathom such a thing.

I’m serious: Even after a few days to think about this, I still can’t get over the concept. Do you know how much money my parents directly contributed to my university experience? Zero Rands and I knew that’s how it was going to be.

This is not a criticism or judgement of my parents. My father never played any meaningful role in my life. He abandoned my mother and I when I was a baby, and I hardly knew the man. I’ve never had any expectation of anything from that man.

My mother was single parent on a teacher’s salary and did the best she could. I have nothing but a deep respect and admiration for what she was able to do with so little, in raising my sister and me.

This is why I decided in high school to ensure that the funding of my tertiary education would be my responsibility, my problem to solve. It’s why I ensured I got a full bursary and why I worked several jobs concurrently to have spending money.

But it’s not just that this question from my client is far removed from my own life; it’s also that I think it’s a terrible, terrible idea and I told him so, much to his surprise and disappointment.

My own experience and my career thus far have shown me just how spoiled kids like this can get. There are also countless books, like The Millionaire Next Door, which back this up with data.

Parents spoil their children thinking they are doing them a favour by preventing them from suffering the way the parent suffered earlier in his life but in fact spoiling the child ruins his personality.

“Our actions may be impeded . . . but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle Is The Way

When a child finds that all of his demands are being met, he never bothers to develop the necessary life skills he might need later on. After all, if there is someone who always brings me what I want then why would I bother to learn to do it myself?

As a result of this parenting style spoiled children become ill equipped to face life problems and they always revert to the parent when feeling stuck.

Since a spoiled child can’t depend on himself for long he will look for a romantic partner that can act like another mother or father who can take care of him the way his original parents used to take care of him.

Parents who spoil their children are usually overprotective too and this makes the child believes that the word is an unsafe place thus he fears taking risks and he loses his self-esteem.

Alfred alder the famous psychologist said that one of the main reasons for the development of inferiority complex is the act of spoiling children by their parents. One of the fastest ways to ruin a child’s self-confidence is to prevent him from learning new life skills because of spoiling him.

This is why parents should not spoil their children.

When the parents spoil their child, the child learns how to always search for someone who can take care of him instead of learning how to solve his problems on his own. Spoiled children usually have a very low self-esteem because of their inability to do anything on their own.

When a spoiled child faces a very small obstacle, he remains helpless unless somebody removes it from his way.

Each obstacle, each impediment, each thing that seems to be blocking the path to success is itself the path to success. In other words, every obstacle, everything that seems to be standing in your way, is itself the way.

Obstacles are nothing more than an opportunity to practice some virtue: patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, reason justice, and creativity.

“We love in others what we lack ourselves and would be everything but what we are.”  – Richard H. Stoddard

Green With Envy

But then I thought, what if I’m simply being jealous? What if I’m not flabbergasted; what if I’m actually envious? Does this situation get me riled up because I wish that I’d had the same advantages? And what if I had enjoyed the same advantages?

What would I be like then? Would I have turned out spoiled too? Or would I be a better man than I am now? Is the confidence I see in wealthy people produced by being so spoiled (supported)? I don’t know.

My mental health, which was woeful during my 20’s because of the trials and tribulations I had to face, has improved considerably during my 30’s because of my marriage and career growth.

All the same, I still suffer from some of the same core problems that have plagued me my entire life: imposter syndrome, poor self-esteem, rotten impulse control.

I look at my wealthy clients and they all seem to have their shit together. They’re poised. They have direction. They act with purpose. Not me!

Is that nature or nurture?

I can’t say that growing up in the environment that I did is the sole source of my hang-ups. Part of it is definitely because of my own bad decisions along the way.

Part of the problem comes from the fact that my parents couldn’t impart certain fundamental life skills. My mother did the best she could, my father did nothing. Part of my self-esteem problems stems from being a fat kid and being bullied in my younger years.

But you know what? The older I get, the more money I make, the more I believe that many of my faulty mental models exist because I didn’t grow up rich.

This is not to say that being rich automatically leads to omniscience, but rather an argument of how being impoverished can limit your outlook in life.

I see that now with my reaction to my clients’ question. For many people, poverty is likely to be permanent. People are born into poverty, and they have very little option to get out of it. We love the stories about the child born into nothing and making a great success of themselves. But they are the exception.

Most of us end up in a pretty predictable place, based on where we were born and which family we were born into. I’m extremely lucky to have made more wealth than both my parents.

What do you think? Is my thinking flawed? Am I being a hypocrite? What’s your experience? Did you grow up poor? Middle class? Rich? How do you think your family’s financial circumstances during childhood affected who you are today?

Are you richer or poorer than your parents? To you, do there seem to be differences between the choices and actions of the wealthy and the poor?

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