My childhood home, in Detroit, is currently abandoned, as it’s been for many years now.
I know this because my oldest sister recently visited the house just to see what’s become of the place where we spent our early years together.
She took some pictures as she toured the place, with one of them being the kitchen. You can see what that looks like in the picture I’ve attached.
The only difference between what it looks like now and what it looked like when I last saw it in 1993 is, it used to have a sink and appliances. And the counter top was always stacked with old, dirty dishes and rotten food, from the counter top to the ceiling. Also, cockroaches used to have a comfortable abode among those dishes.
(Now that I’m an investor and businessman, I’ve realized those roaches were getting away without paying a dime of rent.)
Indeed, I grew up extremely poor.
I’ve talked a lot about what that experience was like, so I won’t get into that too much today.
Instead, I’ll just give two major reasons why I’m so grateful that I grew up so poor.
I Never Got Used To Luxury
As a kid, a luxury for me was a cheeseburger from McDonald’s. Seriously. I remember an extended family member once taking me to McDonald’s and allowing me to order whatever I wanted. I ordered five cheeseburgers. And I ate them all.
Stainless steel refrigerators don’t really mean much to you when you have no food to put in one anyway.
And having a big house never meant anything to me, as I was more concerned with getting out of the house and away from my drug-addled mother (when she was actually home at all). All I wanted was a bicycle, a little food to quell the hunger pangs, and a few quarters to play arcade games down at the local party store.
Growing up as poor as I did gave me a different worldview than what I think a lot of my peers have.
I never desired great luxury in my life because I never experienced it. Moreover, my expectations were lowered so much, it takes very little for me feel satisfied and happy. And so I don’t feel like I’m “missing out” on anything now that very little luxury exists in my life.
When the bar is set very low, one doesn’t have to jump very high. And when one doesn’t have to expend so much energy jumping high for no real reason at all, there’s a lot of energy left over to pursue more meaningful pursuits in life, such as philanthropy and love.
I guess I realized early on that things don’t buy me happiness because I’ve been pretty happy with very little stuff in my life.
It was the ultimate experiment, although certainly not one I would have chosen for myself at the outset. Nonetheless, the experience has been invaluable.
Knowing that I could end up so happy and successful in life with very little luxury or stuff means I spent very little time trying to chase after things. Other than wasting an inheritance at 21 years old partly because of a temporarily warped frame of mind and partly because of curiosity, I’ve largely eschewed true luxury in my life.
If I had grown up used to luxury, things might be different. I might feel like I’m giving something up, as if my life is somehow less complete without these things surrounding me. It’s like a security blanket that one creates out of thin air. Luxury might not actually do much for personal happiness and fulfillment, but my viewpoint might be different if it’s all I had known.
Thankfully, in a strange way, the extremely poor conditions I was exposed to in childhood showed me that it doesn’t take much money to be happy. My optimism was far more powerful than a check could have ever been back then.
And my living conditions today are significantly better than they were back then, even if they’re perhaps not up to par for what most people my age are used to. Whereas other people might be bummed out if they were to suddenly be forced to live like me, I’m quite grateful.
I’ve Had A Chip On My Shoulder
Seeing my mother deteriorate fairly rapidly right in front of me provided me incredible motivation to never end up like her, which is something that I believe has constantly pushed me to become a better and happier version of myself. It’s something I retrospectively thank her for.
Moreover, and as a consequence, I developed a chip on my shoulder at a young age.
I’ve been so determined to not be the poor kid from Detroit that never escaped that vacuum. It’s turned into this burning desire in my stomach ever since to prove everyone I grew up with wrong.
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Well, I wanted to be so far from the orchard that I now live 1,200 miles away from those humble beginnings.
And it’s possibly due to this secret fear inside of me that some of the genetic code that my mother and father imprinted on me could eventually lead me down some dark and disastrous path, I’ve been so self-aware and cognizant of everything I’ve been doing. While I’m glad that I’ve been able to take some of my mom’s more twisted views on life and contort and shape them for my own good, it’s a fine line to walk.
There’s this constant sense of proving my value and worth. I feel like I had to tell myself so many times as a child that “I’m not my mother” and “I’m not my father”, this voice still exists somewhere deep down inside of me.
And it’s that inner fighter that propels me forward all the time. It keeps me motivated and inspired to strive toward a better me, because I know that moving closer to the light is one step further away from the darkness. Every single improvement I make to myself is just one more brick in the castle of proof that I’m not anything like my parents.
Everything I’ve built shows that their failures are my successes, that their giving up is my fighting spirit, that their acceptance of despair is my disdain for it.
It’s almost like being in such a deep hole that they dug and forced me into motivated me to climb the tallest mountains in the world.
And that inner 10-year-old kid screaming to the world that I’m so much more keeps screaming, with this chip on my shoulder never quite disappearing. It’s really the gift that keeps on giving, even though unfortunate circumstances generated its existence in the first place.
Growing up in a crack house in Detroit might permanently impair some people. There are some that might never be able to escape humble beginnings. And I’m certainly fortunate that certain events (like my mother giving us up for adoption) coalesced the way they did, as my climb up out of that hole would have been otherwise more difficult.
But I think it’s really the ability to turn weaknesses into strengths and remain optimistic under all circumstances that allows certain people to become more successful in life. I try to always see drawbacks as benefits as a result. And so it’s my belief that nothing can hold me back.
Moreover, growing up devoid of modern-day luxuries means my current frugal lifestyle is all the more acceptable, as I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. If anything, I feel incredibly blessed that I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, and warm weather all year round. It truly is the simple things in life.
What about you? Did you grow up poor? If you did, do you see how it would be an advantage?
Thanks for reading.