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The importance of positive role models

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!



  1. […] article is about the Importance of Positive Role Models with a Babci spin.  There should be a similar one on negative role models coming out behind it […]

  2. My parents are huge role models for me. They did whatever they had to do to have their children live a good life, but not a spoiled life, and they prioritized spending time with us over providing material goods. I never went without anything and never worried about money as a kid, which makes me extremely priveleged. I know now that things were often tight, especially when my mom stayed home with us. My parents lived on a strict budget, but this was not the concern of my brother and I. We were taught to save for what we wanted, and we enjoyed having parents that could be our baseball coach or attend school trips with us.

    I think positive role models are much more effective, as it’s much more empowering to try and emulate something you want to be than to try to avoid acting like something you don’t want to be.

  3. I have to keep in mind “If you see someone’s success, don’t forget about the steps it took for someone to get there.” I get so jealous of people who seem to have jobs they absolutely adore and it takes me a few minutes to realize what they had to do to get there. Thanks for the reminder that telling someone they are lucky takes belittles the actual work they had to do.

  4. Excellent post. I too struggle with trying to make sure my children have a balance. It wasn’t easy for us growing up either but I realized at an early age…help everyone you can. Although we didn’t have much, my Mom did her best to always help others who had even less than us (in good times and bad). It was because of this and her belief in God that we were able to make it through and I and my hubby are able to provide a great life for my children.

    No it was not easy for my hubby and I either, but it is worth every sacrifice to make sure my children not only learn how to be good people, but giving and appreciative people.

    • My mom was very generous too. She tried giving one of my boyfriends $20 once to buy some shoes..his had a hole in them and he could care less, but she didn’t want to see anyone shoeless. I believe that good and bad karma does come back around.

  5. William Julius Wilson would be a great author to read if you’re interested in reading more about the cycle of poverty, etc. Your realization about others and their lack of role models is spot on with his sociological theories. Great post, it’s nice to be reminded that others “get it” like you do. Also FYI the saying is “all intents and purposes” not “intensive purposes” although it’s one of those old weird sayings that doesn’t make much literal sense anymore anyway! 😛

    • Thank you. I’m an engineer and took 0 English classes in college. I’m hoping blogging will improve my writing.

  6. I enjoyed this post. I can relate because I’m also a 1st gen American. I do disagree with the hard work vs luck idea. I do believe there is quite a bit of luck involved. Who you know is sometimes more important than what you know. There are people who are making a killing as far as salaries are concerned and I’m sure it wasn’t through hard work. In Bell, CA the ex Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo earned a $787,637 salary. Hard work? I don’t think so.

    • I tend to be like murphy where things never seem to go my way. My husband on the other hand, things always go smoothly for him. I guess people are lucky to be born to good looking, intelligent or charismatic. I still think that alone isn’t enough to get you to live a happy and prosperous life. You have to use your charisma to network and get your connections. I’ll have to look that guy up. NOw you’ve sparked my curiosity.

      • That’s probably a bad example since he is pretty much regarded as a criminal like Bernie Madoff. But I look at many CEO’s getting paid outlandishly and I cannot see how one can justify their salaries. Then again who’s to say that I’m not overpaid for what I do for a living. A matter of perspective I guess. Or that I’m jealous by nature 🙂

  7. definitely my parents! I learned everything about my work ethic and how to succeed from my parents. My dad provided for 4 kids while working and getting his MBA while my mom raised all four of us to be succesfull in school and now in our careers. i know who i will be looking to for advice once i start my own family.
    Preferred Financial Services Blog

  8. […] couple of weeks ago, I did a guest post on Punch Debt in the Face and spoke of Positive Role Models. I originally wrote the negative role model article first, and then realized positive role models […]

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