How I Escaped The Projects To Make A Six-Figure Income
I grew up parented by a single mother in a public housing projects. We weren’t “dirt poor,” in the sense that we had a floor of dirt, but we were poor enough that I remember one winter our refrigerator broke and we couldn’t fix it, so we put our food out in the snow to keep it cold.
Now I live in a town that people travel from all over the world to visit. Not only do I own my home in this town, I’m building an addition on that home. One year, I took my wife to Paris for her birthday…for a month. I may have started out poor, but now I’m rich enough that I literally gave her an April in Paris.
And climbing out of poverty wasn’t even really a struggle. Along the way, I’ve had a good life and done a lot of awesome stuff, from surgery in Desert Storm to fighting fires on a submarine, from flying in the NASA zero gravity plane to working as an underwater archeologist. I’ve started businesses from a data science software company to a cidery.
People talk about multigenerational poverty as if it’s a given, but I’m proof it doesn’t have to be this way. When I was a kid in the projects, there was a life I dreamed of living. These days, I live the kind of life I didn’t even know could exist, let alone dream about.
You can live like this, anyone can
I know you’re thinking the same thing everyone else is thinking: “How did this cat rise out of The Projects and escape to a comfortable life eating sushi in a resort town?”
Well, the answer is so simple you’re going to hate me for it. But I promise if you have this one simple thing, you can have any life you want and achieve dream you wish.
Are you ready?
The one thing you need is…
Blind. Fucking. Luck.
The truth of success
That’s what it takes: Luck. That’s what got me out of The Projects. That’s how I got my jobs, my house, my wife, and every success I’ve ever had. Looking back on all the experiences that shaped my life and added up to my amazing success, I see one unifying factor: I couldn’t do any of that shit again if I tried.
Everything that happened was lucky. It wasn’t hard work that got me on NASA’s zero gravity plane, it was my planetary geology professor’s connections. It wasn’t my hard work that let me take my wife to Paris for her birthday, it was the luck of stumbling into a job that would let me work remotely–the job itself was because of a happenstance coffee meeting at a conference.
I have succeeded entirely because of luck.
And I’ll tell you something, anyone who has succeeded enough to write a Medium essay about what you should do to succeed has done it because of luck as well. The idiotic success evangelists who’ve convinced themselves they have the key to success enough to write about it are living in an egotistical wet dream.
Success listicles are the new self help genre
If you’ve been on Medium for more than this one single page, you’ve seen them.
“Five things successful people do every morning”
“The thirteen ways to reach your potential”
“Three simple things you need to do to succeed”
“I sold the company I started in the garage while eating ramen and am a millionaire now, you can too.”
“Get up every morning and do these three simple exercises while drinking organic herbal tea (NOT COFFEE!). This worked for me, so it will work for you too.”
“The top three Medium essays to read if you want to vomit onto your computer’s keyboard.”
(Okay, that last one I made up, but the others are essentially taken straight from Medium posts that got me pretty close to throwing up on my keyboard.)
It’s not just Medium though. It’s a cultural phenomenon. Such drivel is super common in the land of entitled frat boys from Silicon Valley (even I used to believe it, honestly, those books were my bibles) but it’s not limited to the Tech world. As a writer, I see it everywhere I look. Apparently all I need to do to be a best-selling author is write every day at the same time. I know this because some jackass in Greenwich has that habit and decided he needed to jerk off his ego about it in public.
Every field has their people who will tell you the specific list of things you need to succeed. And it’s all bullshit. “These are the traits you need” is bullshit. Apple/Google/whatever starting in a garage is bullshit. “I built it all from nothing” stories are bullshit. And especially the “I knew exactly what I was doing at the time and made every minor decision mindfully” attitude is bullshit.
It’s all nothing more than a huge ego trip.
Luck is the single biggest factor in success. All the other factors are just fleas on the big ass luck elephant. Success is either luck or the luck of the parents you were born to, or the help you got from the graduate advisor you were lucky enough to have, or the job you happened to be lucky enough to have, or even just the luck of the timing itself.
Even when we know it’s luck, we won’t call it luck
Luck is the primary factor in success, but we don’t want to admit that because our American story is a hard-work mythos tree with roots buried deep in our egos.
“You can achieve anything you want if you work hard enough.”
That sentiment is canon in American culture and we don’t want to admit it’s bullshit because we all want to believe it. We don’t want to believe that multigenerational poverty is damn near guaranteed. We don’t want to believe that you can go bankrupt because of a lumpy spot of skin. And we don’t want to believe that you can be the hardest working woman in the world or a Steve Jobs level genius and get shot because you’re skin is too dark.
We all want to believe that if we just work hard enough, the barriers will fall away. But that’s a myth, and we’re watering that particular American mythological tree with the blood of our own egos. We can’t admit that, so we talk about how entitled we were to our successes and talk about them as if they’re reproducible in under ten steps.
Hell, researchers rigged a game of Monopoly and told the players it was rigged, and the winners still talked about what they did to deserve winning.
In one humorously shocking (or shockingly humorous) example, one of the advantaged players, after successfully winning the game, was heard explaining what he had done, strategically, to succeed and win. This example speaks to “how we make sense of advantage”, says Piff
Nothing about the obvious…ahem…privilege they had. No, no, it was strategy, not the fact that they were lucky enough to be the one who started out with twice the money.
If it’s a choice between admitting we were lucky or talking about our hard work, our ego will twist itself into logical knots to say we succeeded because of work. (After all, we’re ‘Merican, and if success isn’t built on hard work alone, then there might be some other shit we have to come to terms with.)
I’m done with that mission
There are a metric ton of “The secret of success” posts out there and I’m so done with them all. The only thing they have in common is a toddler–level lack of self-awareness. You either had a shitload of luck along the way, or you started out with a shitload more resources than everyone else–which is still damn lucky.
It was not the six things you do every morning, or your morning yoga routine, or your five steps to success in every endeavor. It wasn’t even all the hard work you put in. Because the corollary is that even if you did work hard, you’re an outlier. There are three million other people who worked just as hard or harder than you did. The fact that they didn’t get any farther up the socioeconomic ladder isn’t just because of work, so you can shove those bootstraps right up into where you don’t want them pulled.
All of those self-absorbed crayon holders writing the “how to win” posts are stroking their own egos. If they can’t check their ego enough to admit that their success was damn near entirely because they got lucky, then that ego is jerking off right out there in public without a damn bit of shame.
I will end with this one thought: I have found that I’m a hell of a lot luckier when I’m as nice as possible to everyone I meet, regardless of how angrily I may write.