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Mindset and Hard Work are Not the Only Secrets to Success

Privilege plays a bigger role in success than most are willing to admit


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Olivia Rojas

3 years ago | 6 min read

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

I grew up in Upper Arlington (typical abbreviated UA), a suburb on the northwest side of Columbus, OH that is synonymous with wealth and an incredible amount of privilege.

While the UA school district is technically “public,” in reality, there are high barriers to enter. Property taxes are upwards of $20k per year, and it’s hard to find a house for less than $300k. UA is for the wealthy.

Growing up in such an environment, explicit and implicit lessons from teachers, faculty, and parents alike taught us that struggle is a result of a personal shortcoming.

Therefore, I assumed most people’s failures were due to their inability to work hard and lacked an understanding of the systems in place in our society that support growth for some while keeping others tethered to a life of constant struggle.

I had a mother who made it a priority for us to understand how lucky we were, but even when we ventured out of the “bubble” to see how the “other half lived,” I still went to sleep with a full belly and superficial worries. Essentially, until I moved away from home, I was unaware of the opportunities handed to me that others had to fight tooth and nail to obtain.

No sense of direction

Growing up in a bubble, my peers and I didn’t worry about what areas to avoid or have the need to be constantly aware of our surroundings. As a result, most of us failed to develop a good sense of direction because of our privilege. In suburbia, our world consisted of landmarks- Thompson Park, Hastings Middle school, the Tremont Center- and we often gave directions based on these known locations.

Now, I have an unhealthy reliance on google maps, which baffles my husband, who has an impeccable sense of direction. I can ride with him to a destination several times, but when I need to drive there myself, I am always clueless about which route I should take without my phone. It’s a problem born out of privilege and one I am working to fix.

Being oblivious to the systematic racism that kept black people out of our community

Racism, particularly racism against black people, is sewed into the fabric of Upper Arlington. However, this fact never got brought up at home or school. I was aware of the microaggressions my father experienced as a dark-skinned immigrant raising mixed children in a wealthy suburb, but I had no idea how deeply anti-blackness permeated UA culture.

Upper Arlington had deed restrictions prohibiting black people from buying houses that were in effect through the 90' s-which was a loophole homeowners in Upper Arlington took full advantage of even after the Fair Housing Act made discrimination illegal.

Families interested in buying a property in UA had to gain approval from neighborhood associations, and these associations retained the first right to purchase. This meant, if they believed the applicants were “undesirable,” they could buy the home themselves. As a result, I could count on one hand the number of black students in my graduating class.

http://www.unshovelingthepast.com/2011/10/case-of-race.html

The current high school sits on top of a burial ground founded by Pleasant Litchford, a freed slave who built the cemetery for black people in the community. The district knew about this cemetery when construction for the current high school began in 1956, and state officials told the district to dig up the bodies and move them to a new location.

However, when construction for a bigger, state of the art high school located right next to the current building started in early 2020, ground-penetrating radar indicated more bodies were still present that were not “found” or disregarded when officials moved the burial ground in the 50's.

My peers and I went to school over the bodies of black people, while the majority of our school purposefully consisted of white students. Most faculty and students alike are unaware of this atrocity.

https://614now.com/2019/news/new-ua-high-school-on-the-grounds-of-african-american-cemetery-site#:~:text=When%20construction%20began%20on%20the,building%20itself%20on%20the%20site.

https://www.thisweeknews.com/news/20171011/society-spotlights-teacher-who-dug-up-ua-secret

Lack of an understanding of our privilege

Upper Arlington has many families who have lived in the community for generations, particularly in the older, southern side of the suburb.

Generational wealth is apparent, and as a result, many of my peers grew up in houses that looked more like small mansions. Even though the income gap is visible when you leave Upper Arlington, we NEVER discussed the poverty or lack of resources available to Columbus City schools.

We believed that we deserved everything that was handed to us and were never once asked to give back in any substantial way. We raised money for ourselves and directly benefited from every fundraiser put on.

Taking our education for granted

I learned how to write a proper essay in middle school. I took public speaking in high school and knew how to articulate my thoughts. My education groomed me for leadership, and it didn’t become apparent how much more ahead I was until I went to college.

Freshman year, we reviewed how to put together a works cited and how to conduct basic research. I learned these skills in middle school.

Even after leaving UA, my background played a huge role in what I was able to accomplish in college.

Privileged kids get to take unpaid internships that help them get ahead in their careers because their parents can foot the bill for their living expenses. They typically graduate with far less debt and can pay it off much faster than others who don’t come from money. This plays a huge role in their future success.

A safety net in the form of well off parents

Upper Arlington kids don’t wonder IF they are going to college but WHERE. I can remember one instance where the army came to recruit seniors, but they were not a constant presence like they are in inner-city schools where kids often have fewer choices for going to college, aside from joining the military.

None of us struggled to fill out the FAFSA because most of us had at least one college-educated parent who knew how to or at least had the time to figure out how to fill out the proper paperwork for their kid to go to college.

Growing up with privilege and stability means you have the time to think about your passions and what you want to do when you grow up. It leaves room to dream.

I know this is not the case for kids who grow up battling hunger, poverty, addiction, etc. They don’t have the emotional capacity to think about their future, and as a result, don’t know what they want to do as adults because their number one concern is survival.

My husband and I are financially independent. However, I know we have somewhat of a safety net in my parents, who have the means to help us if we ever got into financial trouble.

This has allowed us the ability to take greater risks in the form of starting a business and seeking a non-traditional life. We can deviate from 9–5 jobs with the knowledge that we are never really on our own.

I am well aware this is rare and is the reason many business owners come from money. A safety net is a hell of a reassurance when you take a financial risk.

I hate memes or public speakers who reduce success to mindset alone. I am a real estate investor, and it makes me sick to my stomach when other investors attribute their success in the industry solely to “hard work and mindset” while in the same breath complain about “landlords rights.”

These investors feel it isn’t fair that they aren’t allowed to evict people during a global pandemic. They think their hardships are more significant than their tenants who most likely are working to put food on the table and keep clothes on their children’s backs.

These people are wildly out of touch and most likely were raised with some degree of privilege. I listen for sentences that indicate a financially stable upbringing such as, “my parents were in real estate,” “my family owned X business,” or “I started getting financially educated as a teenager.”

There is no question that successful individuals often work hard, but equating their success to their abilities alone and assuming everyone is capable, indicates a lack of understanding of the experience of those far less privileged.

If you never had to worry about food on the table, care for an addicted parent or fear the police because of the color of your skin, your privilege shows. These worries never crossed my mind as a kid because of the bubble in which I grew up.

I am so thankful for a happy childhood free of these emotional strains, but I am well aware of the gift this was in terms of grooming me for success in adulthood.

We are all products of our upbringing, and those of us who were given opportunity after opportunity to succeed have it a hell of a lot easier getting ahead than those who struggled from childhood onward. Remember that the next time you see a meme or read an article about the mindset of success.

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