Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Scratch Beginnings Shows the Continuing Power of Privilege

Yesterday I wrote about Adam Shepard's experiment in Scratch Beginnings to work his way up from nothing to something by hard work and careful thrift. He succeeded, which is the main point of his book and a valuable lesson to keep testing.

Shepard also had several advantages that many of the other guys in the homeless shelter did not. He was young, healthy, and educated. He did not come into the shelter with addictions, a criminal record, or children to care for. He was a native English speaker. These are all privileges. Shepard did not ignore the advantages he had. Rather, he was making a case that attitude, work, and prudence can still produce success. He also believes, though of course could not prove with this one-case experiment, that attitude, work, and prudence could overcome the disadvantages that many of the other guys had.

Shepard bolsters his case with some valuable lessons he learned from the people he met in the shelter and on the job. Chapter 7 is entitled "Job Hunting 101 with Professor Phil Coleman." Coleman was one of the "resident nutcases at the shelter that no one paid much attention to." But he did give Shepard a valuable lesson in how to get hired:

You gotta go down to these managers and be like, 'Look here, homeboy. You need me. I'm the best worker you're gonna find, so hire me or not.'

Shepard accepted this as a solid point. He did go on to get a real job by persistently selling himself as a good worker. Shepard also knew the even more important follow-up point:

And after I had a job, it was just a matter of disciplining myself enough to keep that job and save the money that I needed to achieve my financial goals.

This second point was one that, sadly, Professor Coleman never managed to take in, which was why he had had 50 jobs but was still a regular at the homeless shelter.

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