Helping your career when you’re not middle class

I want to respond to the latest post at Employee Evolution, as I’ve done in the past here. This time, Ryan Healy writes on ways your family can help you with your career. Here’s my take:

I didn’t grow up in upper or middle class, nor did I grow up in poverty.

But a large part of my childhood was being raised in the ghetto of my town by my single mother. People are incredulous when I tell them this.

“Do you even know what the ghetto is, Rebecca?” they ask.

My babysitter acted as my second mother and the neighborhood protector. While my mother worked, my babysitter was the character standing on the corner of her lawn, yelling like a madwoman at the drug dealers to “get the f&*k away” from her street. After one such declaration, I remember thinking that they were going to shoot her. Dead. Then and there. But she was tough. The dealers were afraid of her.

My mother did end up moving us to a decidedly middle class neighborhood as soon as she could, but what I learned from my old neighborhood stuck with me.

The point being that I’m intensely proud of my background, but it wasn’t financially affluent.

So I would never say to my boss, “I live with my parents. I don’t need this job.”

Because I’ve been working from the time I was able, and trust me, I do need this job.

I understand that much of our generation grew up middle class, if not upper middle class. That’s a good thing. If you have the connections, privileges, and opportunities, you should use them. Take full advantage of the help that is available to you.

But we all need to be more grateful of what we have. And we need to realize that not all of us have parents and parent’s friends who can help finance our new company, lifestyle, or potential unemployment.

In my world, performance reviews aren’t based off of your connections or your financial stability. They’re based off of your work and your credentials. But we don’t live in my world. We live in the real world. In the real world, who you know and how much money you have are negotiating gems.

It’s good that you can get ahead by building relationships. This is something you have control of.

It’s not so good that you can get ahead with money if you don’t have any. But this is the reality. If you have the privilege of being able to leave a company that refuses to give you additional responsibility as in Ryan’s example, do so. Grow up. Stop whining. And then move out of your parent’s house.

If you can’t risk losing your job, however, but want more challenge at the workplace, pat yourself on the back. Courage should be rewarded.

Then get creative. Think about how you can take on more work even if the employer isn’t helping you do it. It’s rare that you won’t be able to find more to do.

Maybe it’s related directly to what you’re doing now. Or maybe you start a group of co-workers to green the workplace practices of your employer. Or you develop a set of best practices for your peers. Or you could develop and manage an informal mentoring program within the company. You define your success. True fulfillment isn’t created by your employer, anyway. It’s created when you push yourself.

And most importantly, be proud of your background. Realize that it actually puts you ahead of some of your prosperous peers who don’t have to worry about the rent, or the power bill, or budgeting groceries. Some of the most successful people I know are those who have experienced a large amount of adversity. This doesn’t surprise me. Because when you hit bottom, you only have two choices. Stay there or get up. And when you haven’t hit bottom, you don’t have the same appetite to succeed. Adversity is your ally.

Career backgrounder.