A stretch of the former Berlin Wall, somewhere in Berlin during the 1960s from the look of the children.
Pardon the cliche, but after suffering through one more article online in the New York Times about the difficulties of, and barriers to, class mobility -- specifically access to the upper middle class -- it's hard to keep silent any longer.
First of all, let's be clear about one thing. Lots of people manage to move up the socioeconomic ladder. While not always easy, it remains entirely possible and within reach although many, it seems, prefer to think otherwise. The following will, no doubt draw the righteous indignation of many readers, who will choose to interpret it as dismissive, elitist, and arrogant. That is not the intent. Instead, what I suggest below is meant as hard advice without any rosy sugarcoating or kid glove treatment whatsoever. Ready? Here we go.
Changes to one's social standing might actually have to start with (Surprise!) the individual. It might require a change in the way one perceives and approaches the world. It might require a shift in values and habits. It might require that one quit whinging about how awful the 1%, the 20%, or the whatever are. It might require minding one's own business and getting one's own house in order. It might mean that one stop looking for handouts, free rides, quick fixes, and the easy way out. It might necessitate learning to handle one's own problems, difficulties, and challenges through normal, socially accepted, and legal channels.
Moving up the socioeconomic ladder might also require a hard, difficult look at oneself. Some deep soul-searching and reflection might be in order. Who knows? It might be time to lose the attitude. It might mean changing yourself in some ways and adapting to that part of society into which you wish to move rather than expecting that same segment of society, or indeed the rest of the world, to change and adapt to you. It might mean adopting an upwardly mobile, aspirational mindset, dirty words to many these days, who choose to see this trait as being, somehow, inauthentic or failing to keep it "real." It might also mean, if you'll permit, leaving the metaphoric village behind, together with its own set of entrenched allegiances and prejudices.
It might be time to bust your ass, even more than you have up to this point, take control of your life and situations, and do without certain luxuries, whatever those might be, for a while. It might mean that you delay that insatiable need for instant gratification that consumes so many of us in the 21st century.
Instead, make tough choices and change your mode of thought if necessary. Quit operating on the fringes of society and come to the party. Value and embrace learning and take the necessary steps to get an education. Make it a priority. Develop healthy self-respect and realize that respect from others is earned. Keep your nose clean. Get control of your life and stop self-destructive habits. Distance yourself from those who have them. Is it easy? No, but sometimes it is necessary to advance and achieve the sort of life you want for yourself.
Lack of consistency is the enemy here. Be dependable and predictable instead. Develop a routine. Hold down steady employment. We all have to keep jobs that are less than thrilling sometimes to pay the bills and put food on the table. Manual, unskilled labor? Punching a timeclock? Calloused hands? Sore back and feet for days on end? Low wages and long days? Yeah. Been there, one that. We all have to take occasional crap from above in these sorts of situations and keep our thoughts to ourselves. That's life as my grandmother used to say. Is it fair? Not necessarily. Is it real life? Damn straight.
The important thing to remember is to keep one's eyes and ears open and learn from those around you. Assuming they have personal and work habits worth emulating. Never leave a job without something better (and legal) lined up. Likewise, stabilize your relationship habits, in whatever form that might take, and limit your reproduction. This doesn't originate with me. There have been actual studies conducted, and I've read some of the resulting journal articles, which suggest that habits like those I mention in the preceding paragraphs enable people to turn their lives around. Sometimes dramatically. If not right away, then in a generation or two. Stability, in its various forms, seems to have a direct correlation to earning potential and class mobility.
I would also add that it is vital to network constantly within your work and social circles. Get involved in directing your own life. Inform yourself. Become part of a community and serve others in some way. Meet people, make connections. Contribute ideas. Ask questions. Listen to what others say in response. Look for opportunity. Be a team player, but also look for possibilities to emerge as a leader in some way. Offer to take on more responsibility once in a while and make sure you do a good job executing the tasks at hand. Work long hours occasionally. Realize that you are a walking advertisement for yourself by how you come across to others through your skills and abilities, your performance, your appearance, your speech, and your behavior. Develop your hard and soft skills if necessary. In a nutshell, increased awareness and self-improvement are vital in turning things around and moving onward and upward in life.
There are plenty of opportunities out there for climbing the socioeconomic ladder. Contrary to what seems to be a prevailing and entitled attitude these days, life ain't easy, and it ain't always a rose garden boys and girls. There are no guarantees. Nevertheless, it remains possible to pull oneself out from under whatever life has dropped in your lap. And before anyone throws out the "privileged" label, I too have experienced my own setbacks and stumbling blocks, many due to my own uninformed, poor decisions at the time plus just damn bad luck at different points during my adult life so far.
The point is, quit talking endlessly about how bad you have it. No more harping on all of the obstacles placed in your way by "the man" solely for the express purpose of keeping you down, out, and disenfranchised. If you are not happy with the hand you have been dealt, do something (legal) about it. Get up off your duff, dust off your hands, pull up your pants, tighten your belt, broaden your horizons, elevate yourself, and get on with things. Develop some personal agency. Take some responsibility. Don't give up after one or two attempts. Seize the day, take charge of your own destiny, and embrace the challenges and opportunities life throws your way. Or, to use yet another cliche, if life gives you a bunch of lemons, figure out how to make lemonade.