The importance of positive role models

August 11, 2010 · 13 comments

Today’s post comes from my homegirl Sandy. She blog’s at She loves reading about personal finance and frugal living. Her frugal side comes from her immigrant mom who definitely falls into the camp of the frugal extreme.  She currently goes by Sandy L in my blog comments. Here’s her post….

I have two children now, so I’m often thinking about how not to screw their lives up.  I’m also wondering what they will be missing out on by not having things as tough as I did growing up.

Looking back, I bet my mother was wondering the same thing.  She grew up during WW2 in Poland and was often malnourished, hungry and cold.  She did have a roof over her head but had no electricity, no running water, limited education, and limited heat in the winter.  I often complain to my husband about how our electric bill is 3x what my mom’s is. He quickly retorts: “It’s not fair comparing ourselves to someone who grew up without electricity.”

So, the question is again, what’s more powerful, a positive role model or a negative one, or do you need both?  I see people who have positive role models who turn out a mess and vice versa…so in the end does anything you do really matter or is it all genetics?

For years, I had little empathy with the people in the hood who would cry their sob stories about how bad their lives are and how they’ll never get ahead, etc, etc.  It just sounded like my dad..and I knew he had opportunities.  He just chose not to pursue them. I also knew there were 8 million scholarships out there for poor people because I got lots of them.   I always thought: I was poor and I got out.  It’s your own fault that you are still destitute.

My perspective all changed when I did grand jury.  They ushered in a young teenage boy for drug dealing.  I soon learned that his entire family had a record.  Everyone he lived with was a convicted drug dealer. His parents, uncle, cousins, siblings, grandfather.  No one in his family ever worked a real job. How the heck are you supposed to know there is something else in life that is meant for you when you have no perspective?  How do you make a future for yourself when you have a record before you even get out of high school?  How do you get off welfare when that’s how everyone else you know gets by?

That’s really when I realized that all people need a lifeline, a ray of hope, a success story to cling onto.   For me, the main one was my mom. For all intensive purposes she was the breadwinner of the family. We lived in an almost condemned apartment building that my parents paid for in cash and fixed up as they got money.  They sent me to private school, I went to college, I always had a roof over my head, I was never hungry. When my mom got laid off about 15 years ago, her gross income was ~$15K/year.  She maintained a lush garden, sewed a lot of my clothes, worked 40-60 hours a week, cooked, cleaned, and did laundry. My mom was very sleep deprived.   I knew that hard work and creativity could at least get me fed and housed.   By most American standards we were poor, but to her, we lived in a house with running water and electricity. It was a giant step up from where she had come from.

I remember when I graduated from college and my job included relo. The woman who lived downstairs from my mom saw the guys packing my stuff and told me I was “so lucky.”   LUCK??  I call it 5 years of sleep deprivation by going to engineering school and working 30 hrs/week. For her, it was easier to look past the hard work and zero straight to the result.

So what did I get from positive role models?  I got a lot of hope and a little bit of an instruction manual.

  • Hard Work, not Luck is what makes you get ahead.
  • Don’t look to others to make your life better, look inward to yourself
  • If you see someone’s success, don’t forget about the steps it took for someone to get there.
  • Always keep Goals
  • Save part of your paycheck
  • Don’t buy anything you can’t pay for with cash.
  • Sacrifice is required to make big gains in any situation.
  • There are no get rich quick schemes. Most wealthy people I knew spent a lifetime to get to where they are today.  (Now perhaps I would think differently if I knew many young entrepreneurs).

I’m curious to hear who your positive role models have been. Do tell!