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My Privilege, My Mom

A hot topic in the personal finance blogosphere right now is social mobility. Another topic that keeps popping up is privilege.  Both topics are something of a flash point in my history, so I wanted to write something about my privilege and social mobility in general.  This one will be perhaps a bit more raw than my normal writing.

Social Mobility is Alive and Well

First off let me say anyone who doesn’t believe social mobility is alive and well is not paying close enough attention.  According to the Millionaire Next Door, 80% of millionaires are first generation.  If that’s not evidence of Social Mobility I don’t know what is.  But today I’m going to give you a more personal example, my own.

Privilege Plays a Major Role in Ones Success

Now, before I excite the haters let me say, this post as noted will also bring into focus my biggest privilege.  There is no denying that no one builds themselves ahead without help and some things going in their favor that are beyond their control.  I’m going to talk about the one that most clearly stands out for me in this post, but it is by no means my only or anyone’s only.  It will however provide insight into a lot of my prior writings on this blog and also show you a path to social mobility that does not depend on your heritage.

My Success is an Outlier

I have written in the past about my family’s entrepreneurialism.  But if you read closely you’ll note most of that disappeared in the Great Depression with the last dwindling significantly successful family business disappearing in the 1960s.    I conveniently forgot to mention what happened in the 4, now 5 with my kids, generations hence.  It provides a stark dichotomy to both my current life and chosen path.

Some Outliers are Due to Differing Priorities

Now before I go any further, I am not denigrating any path chosen. I’ve been told since I was 5 that any path you choose is your choice.  Not everyone places as much emphasis on financial goals.  Some people want to be nurses, farmers, or teachers.  They just have different priorities.  I respect that, but it also is completely different from what I wanted from life.

A Family of Tradesman/Tradeswomen

That all being said, basically my entire family are in trade professions.  The men in my father’s family have been truck drivers for the last two generations. My father, his brother, and even my grandfather drive trucks.   The women have had mixed success with many of them being administrators.  None of them have a college degree.  More than a few never graduated from high school.  Even in my generation where a few of my younger cousins have college degrees the closest to the corporate world is a social worker at a prison. Nothing wrong with those careers, but also my family connections on my father’s side are not helping my career any.

Education was to Some Extent Discouraged

Before I move away from my father’s side I want to indicate to you the extent of how much this could have been a drag on my chosen path.  About 12 years ago I got my MBA from a local university.  Not long after I had dinner at my grandfather’s house.  His response was not to congratulate me for my degree, nor to comment on how it might help me on my path.  No, he told me in his own words, “Be careful how many degrees you get, or you won’t be able to talk to normal people”.  Not exactly confidence inspiring.

But Hard Work was Encouraged

Now, lest you think Grandpa was a yokel who didn’t favor success, let me tell you the man worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met including myself.  He had a 4 acre farm he built himself.  Every morning he’d be up before dawn to feed the animals, then out to drive a truck for 8 hours.  He would end the day tending to his garden.  He fed a family of 5 on that 4 acre plot.  Hard working to the day he passed, and an inspiration from that aspect, but he had a rather negative view on using education to get ahead.

My mother’s family is much the same as my father’s.  Almost all the women are nurses.  The males are plumbers or others that work with their hands.  There is nothing wrong with these careers, but none of them are even remotely related to the world I work in.   Until I was 14, not a one had a degree, then things changed.

My Privilege, My Mom

This brings me to my privilege, my privilege is my mom.  The one exception in the family who truly pushed the value of education.  How much?  Well, when I turned 14, and she turned 44, she got her first Bachelor’s degree in nursing.  Since then she has gone on to get 2 masters degrees and multiple certifications.  Most of the rest of my family see her as over-educated.  But I see it differently, and am very proud of her accomplishments.

My Mother’s Drive, the Key to My Privilege and Success

You see, her desire and push for learning rubbed off.  I came to see education as the key to that different corporate professional life I sought.   The key to change my socially defined path. I first got my Bachelors, and then my Masters.  I’m convinced if she hadn’t pushed education so hard I would not have gone to college.  Furthermore, without those degrees I am quite sure I also would be more of a trades worker than a corporate professional.  My mother’s fascination with education, and her resulting encouragement are what led me to be a corporate manager.

Being First Generation is Tough

To this day I struggle with a lack of family history in the corporate world.  There is no family member who can advise me on navigating the worlds of corporate politics.  No family contacts I can reach out to for a leg up.  That doesn’t mean I don’t benefit from contacts (privilege again), it just means I had to build them without much help from my family.   I took advantage of each opportunity as it arose.  I am a product of making the tough decisions to take advantage of my luck.

Privilege Comes in Many Forms, Regardless Drive Can Often Overcome

So I guess what I’m saying here is privilege does determine your success to some degree, but there are many types of privilege.  Each and every one of us has different ones.  Your family financial and working privilege, or lack there of, does not need to define your future.  Social mobility is alive and well since we do not live in a caste society.   Some will have an easier path than others.  Some will have it harder, many far harder than my own.  But the only thing you can do, since privilege is something by definition that is out of your control, is make the best with what you are given.  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade and sell it to the neighbors.

Do you believe social mobility is alive and well?

Happy Early Mothers day to my mom, thanks for everything you did for me.


  1. Doc G
    Doc G May 9, 2018

    I , like you, am indebted to my mom for much of my success. Great post.

  2. Steveark
    Steveark May 9, 2018

    I do not think not having family corporate experience is much of a thing at all. Navigating corporate politics is simply a matter of having good manners and being nice and trustworthy. The exact same thing that makes a good plumber makes a good VP. Treating everyone with equal respect and doing an exceedingly good job at every task you undertake works regardless of your job description. I was the first corporate guy in my family and never saw a single instance of where that was an impediment to my success. But I agree having a good mom, or two great parents in my case, that teach you how to treat others well, that’s the key privilege to succeed in life.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance May 9, 2018

      Hi Steve,
      From my side I think its more about advice in certain situations and the lack of someone to ask (except for the mentors I’ve picked up along the way). For example one I struggled with: how would stepping out of management and then back in later impact my career? I sought out and received advice from some mentors that helped me take the right steps forward before taking that action, family was not one of them.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts.

  3. Dan
    Dan May 11, 2018

    Most colleges frame their mission statement with terms like “journey of intellectual exploration.” They assiduously avoid linking their mission to jobs or salary levels. Of course, that is BS (and I don’t mean Bachelor of Science).

    It seems as though your grandfather equated higher education with elitism which it may have been once upon a time. Even in your grandfather’s lifetime, state colleges and teaching universities brought higher education to the masses and their main draw was higher lifetime earnings.

    I think you have a biased opinion of your grandfather. If some stranger had come up to you on the street and said the best way to get ahead in life is to own a small farm & work 2 jobs for a total of 16 hours per day until the day you die…and choose to never go to college despite higher earnings potential, you would call that person a crackpot and tell him to go to hell.

    I look upon old people (maybe I’m one of them now) as nowhere near perfect so you should take their advice with a grain of salt. They are not oracles to be revered but flawed humans (just like us) that grew up in a different era. There was a generation of Americans who grew up racist. Even if they weren’t out lynching African Americans, they practiced and engaged in more acceptable forms of racism that would be unthinkable today. People who survived the Great Depression didn’t trust banks or the stock market so they stuffed their mattresses with cash. How ignorant is that?

    Before my father died, he told me that he wanted me to take the inheritance he was going to leave me and invest it in money market funds backed by US government bonds which were paying about 0.02% APY at the time. I told him 1) I’m going to use the inheritance as I see fit, 2) I’m sure as hell not going to put the entirety in an instrument earning 0.02% and 3) he was scared old man and shouldn’t expect me to act like him. I essentially told him that I wasn’t beholden to his ignorance.

    It was one of those moments where the torch passes from generation to generation. The old man was unnecessarily conservative in his investments, his mind was being consumed with Alzheimer’s Disease and he was more stubborn than ever. He was a little taken aback that I was so blunt with him. If his mind had been sharper, I’m sure it would have provoked an intense argument

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance May 11, 2018

      I was a bit more diplomatic about it but I agree with your sentiment. Although as a product of a family where most of my extended family did not value education, my point is the impediment to doing so was real. Unfortunately my grandfather was not an outlier as I hear the same murmurings about my mother’s education from others in my family. Without her I believe there was a very real possibility I might have listened as an impressionable youth.

      • Dan
        Dan May 11, 2018

        That is the cycle of poverty and ignorance. If one generation does not value education, the next generation will most likely not value education and pretty soon you have multiple generation of poverty and an embedded culture of devaluing education. Didn’t Bill Cosby (prior to his conviction) speak out against the African American community for this mindset? You can point to many subcultures in the US with this attitude and all of them are mired in poverty. Education equals prosperity; I thought that was a universal truth but obviously not.

  4. Jane Doe
    Jane Doe February 19, 2019

    I don’t have an family in the corporate either and thank god for that, else they’ll be all over me telling what to do there as well. Lol…

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance February 20, 2019

      So very true. There are two sides to every family interaction.

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