Liz Murray was in the news again the other day. She’s the “from homeless to Harvard” girl that had a movie made about her unbelievable story and that recently released her first book “Breaking Night.” The book is her memoir of growing up with her drug-addicted parents in New York City…about being on the streets of New York after losing her mom to AIDS at the age of 15 and ultimately making it into Harvard…and graduating. Today, she’s an international speaker, among other things.
It’s the ultimate success story. She’s been honored left and right by the likes of Oprah and, oh well, the White House.
Yet…I was wondering something.
What is harder?
Turning your life around when you seem to have nothing going for you and you’ve hit rock bottom (like Liz), or making drastic changes in your life when your situation is neither dire nor great?
The obvious answer seems to be that a person in Liz’s situation would have the toughest time making something of their life. Right?
But here’s what I’m thinking:
When you’ve hit rock bottom, you have nothing to lose. The only way is up. Clearly, you have a lot to gain. And your desperation can be a big motivator to get – and keep – going.
When you’re living in mediocrity, you still have plenty to gain, but also to lose. You may be discontent, but not desperate enough to make big changes in your life.
So I got thinking about the millions of single families in the U.S., struggling to get by. Some of the single moms and dads go on to pursue higher education and realize their career dreams, ultimately providing a better life for their families.
Others barely manage to hold on to their jobs and be there for their kids.
Yet their efforts and achievements aren’t dismal.
You’ll hardly ever hear about them…there’s no big media story in it…no huge contrast such as going from homeless to Harvard. Yet they make sacrifices every day, push themselves beyond what they thought was possible, and keep their families together.
Maybe they put in just as much – or more – effort into keeping their families afloat compared to what it took Liz to rise above her situation.
Then there are the folks with successful careers who seem to have it all. Many of them are unhappy in their professional life though. Yet they have lots to lose. They may have others who depend on them. Certain things are expected of them – such as hefty mortgage payments each month. They may have grown up in relative wealth, therefore not having developed the perseverance and coping skills that Liz couldn’t help but nurture out of necessity. So when it’s time to make a drastic change, these successful folks aren’t necessarily the best prepared. Which means they experience it as something very difficult.
Of course, no comparison to the difficulty of being abandoned as a child and having to fend for yourself, but remember – I’m playing devil’s advocate here.
Liz’s story is the classic American success story. We all love these stories. And clearly, the contrast in her life is enormous; could she have been much worse off as a kid?
I guess what I’m saying is: congrats to Liz – can’t help but love her – but I’m here also celebrating all the invisible “stories” of people and families that transform their lives and take big risks, but that we’ll never see on 20/20 or Oprah. I’m celebrating the efforts of millions of people who weren’t exactly born with a silver spoon in their mouth either but who, against the odds, made something of themselves, no matter how basic.
Last but not least, I love Liz’s “it’s unlikely, but possible” statement. This is what she told herself when she entered a writing contest that ultimately got her into Harvard. It was unlikely that she’d win the competition, but possible.
It’s powerful to be operating from the “possible perspective” vs. the “unlikely viewpoint.”
Where do you tell yourself that something is unlikely, or even impossible? Could you instead focus on the possibility, even if it’s small? Let’s try.
Here’s my invitation to you: If you have a story of struggle and the changes you made in your life that may not have been very visible to those around you, I’d like to hear about it!
This is your chance to share it and perhaps let it serve as inspiration to others who may be in similar situations. I’d love to hear your story!
If, on the other hand, you’re thinking of making some shifts in your professional life, or started making them but got stuck, email me at Ilona@CareerBranches.com to see how I can help you get moving towards reaching your goals.