I am just fascinated by people. What they look like, how they choose to present themselves. What they choose to share about themselves. Especially when what they share about themselves blows my preconceived notions about them all to hell on a fast train.
Take a guy I've known casually for three or four years now. Looks and dresses like your standard East Coast preppy WASP. He's a successful broker, drives a BMW. His wife drives a Porsche and spends all her free time at the tennis club. They have two boys who always wear collared shirts and like to play golf. Despite the obnoxious picture I'm sure that my words are drawing of this couple, they are lovely people. I just hadn't spent much time talking to either of them beyond the superficial and would have bet dollars to doughnuts that both of them were raised in privilege.
Then, one recent hot sunny afternoon, I found myself sitting next to the guy for a couple of hours. Turns out he's 110% self-made. Child of divorce, dad is a plumber, stepdad is an electrician, mother is a real piece of work. All kinds of tension with siblings and mother to this day. He grew up in a ritzy area but on the wrong side of the tracks. Nobody in his family had been to college, nobody cared about his grades, sure as hell nobody was expecting him to go to college or would have had the first clue how to help him get in even if they'd cared. He worked afternoons as a landscaper in high school, nights cleaning up at a club. Worked his way up to the DJ booth and helping to manage the club because he always showed up for work. Took some classes at the local community college (paid for this himself, of course) and did well after a rough start. Prof told him he was in way over his head, though. Didn't sit well with him; he put a chip on his shoulder and that was it.
After two years, he transferred to a four-year school. He watched all the kids whose parents were driving them to school and helping them move in and swore that if he ever had kids, he'd be that kind of parent. He'd driven himself to school alone. Somewhere along the line, he met another student who was a business major. Asked what kind of jobs that would get you. Liked the answer, asked the kid what classes he needed to take and then took them.
Graduated from college, started out on the bottom rung. 100% commission sales job. He was married by then, wife (from not too different a background) was working retail. They scrimped and save to buy their first house. When they finally did, and he proudly told his parents, his mom asked him who the hell he thought he was.
Both of my parents are college graduates. They put themselves through school, and wanted my brother and me to have it easier than they did. There was never any question of whether we were going to college, and they paid for it. They deal was that we had to take it seriously and work hard. That was it.
I did work hard, and I did succeed. But success was mine to lose from the start. Life set him up to fail, and the fact that he ended up succeeding anyway makes for one hell of a story. And this, my friends, is why I like it when people talk to me. You never know what you'll learn.
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