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How privilege puts out the eye of the tiger - and what we can do about it

My daughter Kylene and I were wondering if the art supplies store Michaels was started by a guy named Michael.

It was. Michael Dupey.

Which reminded me of when I taught economics and how I wanted my students to learn the origin of successful companies. I wanted them to realize that the largest, most successful businesses started small and that almost always there's a fascinating founding story.

"Learn it!" I'd insist. "Find a company you like, then do the research. Who started it? Why? How?"

I wanted them to learn that it wasn't magic. Michaels was started by Michael, and there's a Michael behind every other company "who was no smarter and no better than you."

Embedded in the lesson was that most of my students were blessed with more advantages and resources than many of the world's most iconic entrepreneurs' had when they were teenagers.

"If they could do it, there's no excuse for you not being able to do something epic, too."

Or maybe there is. An unlikely excuse.

Today, if I could teach the lesson again, I'd include a warning:

"Your privilege can work against you!"

My father tricked my three sisters, two brothers and me to believe we were better off than we were. I was under the naive illusion that we were at least semi-rich.

I know why he did it. He grew up during the depression and didn't want his children to ever feel as poor as he was. We didn't, but I wonder if him not allowing us to feel the desperation he must have felt weakened us.

Is comfort a barrier to greatness? Would I have achieved more if I had less?

From Rocky III:

Apollo Creed (to Rocky): But the truth is you didn't look hungry. Now when we fought, you had that eye of the tiger, man, the edge. Now you gotta get it back, and the way to do it is to go back to the beginning.

Rocky had the "advantage" of a hardscrabble beginning, but what if you don't?

So much of education is awareness (and acting on it). If you weren't born with the edge, beware.



Can those born into privilege develop the eye of the tiger without a rough start? If they want to reach their potential, they'll have to. They'll have to find their own motivation to strive.

What will it be?

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