This post was originally published as an editorial letter in the
February 7, 2014 issue of the Birmingham Business Journal.
I am confused. With all the studies and articles going on in the American Business Journals press about “income inequality”, I get the distinct impression that somehow, earning a high income is either (a) a right for all or (b) a crime. It is neither.
The words we choose are powerful. Instead of income inequality, I’d rather we focused a series on “How to Achieve a High Income”. Achieving high income is the result of many things: education, yes, but also personal ambition, discipline, smart choices, family teaching, outside mentorship, and just plain, old-fashioned willingness to work for it.
It is a privilege to live where we ALL have a chance to achieve a high income. It is not a right to get one, nor a crime if you do. The “pursuit of happiness” is in our Declaration of Independence, not happiness itself.
The online American Business Daily story “Income inequality is a problem everywhere, but especially in the South”, by G. Scott Thomas published January 31, 2014 attempts to shed light on this “problem”, but without stating exactly what the problem is. Further, the Birmingham Business Journal’s companion piece called “Solving the Inequality Equation” points out that, “The top one-fifth of Birmingham’s households control more than half the area’s total income (50.8%).” The word “control” here seems to be used in such a way as to indicate that this one-fifth holds sway over something that ought to belong to someone else; as though they are controlling an income they aren’t earning through their own hard work.
I know these articles are well-intentioned, but I’m afraid slightly off the mark.
Income inequality is a simple fact of life, not a crime.
So are weight inequality, intelligence inequality, luck inequality, beauty inequality, and ambition inequality. But with each of these so-called inequalities, the person suffering from it has the power to do something about it if they only will.
I have achieved a high income. I came from poverty, having been born into a family of eight residing in the Valley Creek Homes housing project in Selma, AL in 1959. I was one of many who did not know how poor I was until I was among others who weren’t poor. I was lucky enough to have a father who sacrificed his health and ultimately his life so that his eight children could get a college education. But it was up to each of us to choose to complete the education or not. Each chose his/her own major and followed his/her own career plan.
At some point in my high school years, when I noticed that others had better cars, traveled to more places, and had more disposable cash, I developed an intense dislike of “rich people”. I could have allowed that to fester and become a cancer in my thinking, but instead, I allowed it to become the fuel for my ambitions, and I got to work on achieving my own destiny.
This discussion could not come at a more appropriate time for me, personally. I have achieved a great income that my late father would find amazing. And now, my daughter is about a year out from graduating high school. She is very lucky to have the parents she has, but from here on out, it is up to her as to whether she has a good income – high or average or low.
She has not had the burning feeling of poverty to drive her ambition. What she has had are parents that tell her the truth: if you want happiness as well as a reasonable income, you have to become a high achiever.
Not everyone is a high achiever.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban hit the nail on the head when he pointed out on his CBS “60 Minutes” interview, “High achievers don’t like mediocre people, and mediocre people don’t like high achievers”. And he ought to know. He was born into a low income life in a West Virginia coal mining town, but instead of complaining about inequality, he worked to escape that life, and he succeeded to the point that he’s disliked by many simply because he is successful.
I do have a heart for the less fortunate, and I will help as many of them as I can. I openly share my “secrets” to success on my blog, and it is free to anyone. I champion entrepreneurship as a vehicle to bring growth – and higher incomes – to the State of Alabama. I will speak to any group who wants to listen to my message about how to create a great company that is profitable for its entire workforce.
My message to my daughter, and to any young person considering their future after high school, is simply this: you can have anything in life you really want to work for. Anything. Just not everything, and not all at once. The choice is yours.