How Growing Up Poor Can Take You Further In Life

No trust fund? No problem. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Baltimore that’s not exactly famous for producing go-getters, success stories, or CEO’s. We envied the people on the block that had the end of group townhouses because they had a slightly bigger yard and only one neighbor screaming through the walls at two o’clock in the morning. My childhood was fairly lawless. My parents really only cared about partying and themselves, which left me to figure out life on my own. I remember asking my then divorced parents about college and I got a strong chuckle and a response like “Good luck with that, only rich kids go to college.”

Somehow I knew this was BS. Even though college is not the end-all goal for everyone, or even me, I knew that mentality was wrong and that America was built on rags-to-riches stories. Being fairly successful now, and living in a much better neighborhood and more financially well-off social scene, I still think about the days of working to buy my own school lunch and what that means to me. A lot of people I know now come from family money…old money…the type that seems never-ending. Even though growing up privileged would have been great, there are so many things I wouldn’t trade from growing up poor.

Street Smarts

You had to learn to survive with little to nothing. Your neighborhood was rough and full of people looking to scam or take advantage of you. These experiences have made you better. You scan your environment, have your guard up at the right times, and learn to trust your gut. No one is pulling the wool over your eyes. A Harvard education is an amazing thing, but there is a whole other side of the brain that you have learned to think with that many have never had to use. Even though you’re not using it in the same capacity now, street smarts will give you the edge over book smarts any day.


You’re a Dreamer

When you have nothing, your dreams fill the void. You envision success, money, power, happiness, etc. You grew up watching rich people on TV and wanting be like them. These dreams lead to passion, vision, goals, and achievement. Even if you never make millions, you fulfill your dreams by doing better than your parents did, giving your kids a better life, and going further in you career than most in your neighborhood would could only hope for. Every successful business or product started as a dream, and there’s no reason the next can’t be yours.

Work Ethic

My first car cost $200. It was brown on the outside, brown on the inside, and 3rd gear didn’t work. I still felt like a rock star when I bought it though, because I bought it with the money I earned working at a sub shop after school. From a very young age, I had to learn to budget for gas, food, weekend money, and clothes. I moved out of the house when I was 17 and still in high school, and still managed to juggle it all. Because you’ve had to work harder for everything in life, you appreciate it more and it has taught you that work ethic is usually not a natural, but a learned thing. It’s hard to teach. When the privileged ones quit for the day, you didn’t, because for you, there was no fall back plan or safety net. At the end of the day, you’ll do what it takes to survive.


That’s right. If you didn’t get $50,000 as a graduation present or your first house paid for as a wedding gift, you’re probably going to have to hustle to get ahead in life. I’ve learned that most millionaires have multiple streams of income. That’s why I work a day job, write, do consulting and leadership training, sell restaurant equipment, and trade stocks. Going back to the days of working multiple jobs during the summer as a kid, I have adopted the mentality that rarely will anyone pay you exactly what you want to make, so you have to make up the income elsewhere. See, hustle is something the financially blessed haven’t had to worry about, so they aren’t looking for the opportunities that are out there for you to take advantage of. Start a side business, turn a hobby into a cash cow, or put the skills you learned over the years to good use and make some extra money.

It may not seem fair. It may suck at times. But embrace the fact that there is no rich uncle leaving you a ton of dough and go out there and get it on your own. You, more than most, have what it takes. Show ‘em what you learned at the school of hard knocks.

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One thought on “How Growing Up Poor Can Take You Further In Life

  1. Ryan, those are good points, and ones I’ve struggle to get my children of privilege to recognize. Regrettably, only experience can open one’s eyes to much of this. It’s sad that in providing much to my children that my wife and I lacked, we inadvertently created challenges for them neither of us anticipated.