I had an idea for a book once. There was a handful of people in my realm who had all made good from quite difficult circumstances. Not quite rags-to-riches stories, but people who had gone from disadvantage and struggle to a life more of their own choosing. I thought it might be an inspirational coffee table book with some nice portraits and a few stories from the heart about resilience and recovery.
Then I started the conversations; and after hearing a few of their stories, something began to trouble me.
They all lied.
Each conversation went something like this. (I’ve heavily altered this to avoid identifying anyone in particular):
“Oh, I had to really pick myself up by the bootstraps. I had an idea, but it made no money for ages. I was determined though. I read this book on motivation and it taught me to use the power of my mind. I struggled but I I eventually overcame. People on the outside only see the overnight success but they don’t see the years of sacrifice involved; and you know what? It all just came down to me. I had no help.“
“Where were you living at this stage?”
“What was she doing?”
“Nightshifts at a distribution center.”
“So you were being supported by your girlfriend while you struggled and used the power of your mind to eventually overcome with nobody to help you?”
“Well…yeah I guess.”
Changes the story a little doesn’t it? When I abandoned the project I thought ‘there’s no way I’m writing a book about a bunch of narcissistic freaks’. But I’ve softened a little over the years. To rise above tough circumstances, you do have to dig deep and find resources that you probably didn’t realize you had. All of the stories we tell about ourselves tend to be a version of ‘The Journey of the Hero’. But nobody does it without help. Nobody.
Retelling your success story to others, omitting the part where you got help, can do a lot of harm.
People who are struggling will look to you as an example. The very first thing they should do is get help. Filling their heads with self-help tropes based on the cult of the individual will just remind them what they lack. Its like handing them an even bigger stick to beat themselves up with. They’ll see their failure as wholly due to personal shortcomings; and that’s a lie.
If I find myself in that position in the future, and someone asks me ‘how did you do it?’, the very first people I’ll mention are the parents, family and friends who reached out a hand to help. Then I’ll talk about the first bit of courage that I showed – and that was the courage to ask for help. Then I’ll talk about the rest.