Reading a blog recently detailing the life of a man who migrated to Australia with $7 in his pocket and within a few years had bought a house, car, and established a successful career, I began thinking about nature versus nurture when it comes to practicalities, choices and material successes in life. It struck me that this story illustrated perfectly why my belief that my capacity to plan and organise is entirely inherited is actually total rubbish. I realised that being successful, making sound choices and managing finances sensibly is a skill, a lifestyle choice in fact. What is interesting about this story is that this man adopted a child from a very poor orphanage in a third world country who in turn became very successful, investing in property at a young age and running a number of businesses. So many of the choices the son made were based on parental advice and parental demonstration of good planning and hard work. Many of the qualities I would consider to be inherited genetically were actually passed on by example to the adopted son.
It’s hard not to feel envious of the kind of success this family enjoys. But I know that any envy is counterproductive and a waste of time. These people do not envy. They get on with being successful. That is one of the secrets of their success, not wasting time and energy comparing themselves with those they compete with.
For most of my life, I’ve had the distinct impression that my lack of success financially and my inability to plan and organise is genetic. I think this belief was cemented by family members, with their actions and words. There was always an undertone of lack of control over circumstances, a helplessness and despair that infiltrated my life growing up. Ambition was encouraged (the sky’s the limit, you are talented and capable) but ultimately there was no demonstration or guidance around the practical realities of achieving goals. Something was disconnected along the line somewhere.
I think it must have been about 1960 when my great grandfather – my father’s father’s father – died suddenly. He was only about 60, fairly young, but not for our family. He actually had assets when he died – a bit of savings and a house. My dad was 11, the eldest of four at that stage. He related this story to me a few times but I really don’t remember all the details. Suffice it to say, the six of them – my grandparents and four kids – were driving in their very old heavy car up a steep hill. My grandparents were having an argument about the money my grandfather’s father had left him. My grandfather had it with him, a wad of cash. I dare say this probably had to do with my great grandfather keeping his money in the mattress in cash. He was apparently a communist and didn’t like banks. He’d had an experience during the first world war that instilled this believe in him.
As the argument came to a head, my grandfather got frustrated and stopped the car halfway up the hill, throwing the pile of money up into the air and turning his back on the car to stomp off up the hill on foot. My grandmother didn’t often lose an argument, even if in the wrong. Like me.
Unbeknownst to grandad, the car’s handbrake wasn’t on properly and the heavy, iron chassis began to roll backwards down the hill. My grandmother would have been terrified as she never learnt to drive and was always stopping her children from doing anything that might result in an accident. Grandad heard screams and turned to see the car rolling down the hill so he began sprinting back down after it. There was no way he could catch up. My dad, having been around cars and mechanics fairly often, knew what to do. He jumped into the driver’s seat and applied the brake. All were saved.
This is so typical of my family, at least on my dad’s side. We end up in these ridiculous situations and they’re always to do with cars and money! Everyone used to talk about how cursed we all were when it came to cars. What it illustrates to me, however, is this constant lack of control over life. The car running down the hill is symbolic of this. I used to have nightmares as a child of being in a car rolling down a hill, out of control. It wasn’t the fear of crashing that was most frightening, it was that sense of helplessness.
I once heard someone say it is all about attitude. Attitude to life, to success, to finances, to relationships, to yourself. What what is attitude, exactly? Is it a choice? Those that have a bad one would probably say it isn’t. But I believe it is. And I believe making the choice about one’s attitude is easier if you have the results of maintaining a positive, confident attitude demonstrated to you growing up. I don’t think I had this, and I think it did me much damage. But I will do all I can to choose a positive attitude for the sake of my son, to make good choices. Everyone takes risks in life, but there’s a massive difference between a risk based on carelessness and disregard and one based on respect for yourself and those around you. I’m choosing the latter.