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3 Strategies to Overcome Adversity and Achieve Upward Social Mobility

What type of value one possesses delineates the vista one beholds. Such is the poignant yet veritable underpinning of our society. In the throes of weakness, one is besieged by the specters of indifference, apathy, and disdain. Being ensconced at society’s nadir, one finds oneself bereft of the allure that others seek, with emotions and sentiments relegated to the periphery of concern. Yet, upon attaining strength, one acquires assets and allure that are tradable, thereby eliciting altered treatment from others. Solicitations for aid are met with smiles and deference as a matter of course.

Hence, the rudimentary and coarse deduction is that to envisage a loftier realm, one must extricate oneself from the depths and augment one’s worth. Only then does one merit glimpsing the desired domain.

Should one tarry excessively in the abyss, obsolescence looms.

1. The nadir often lacks “incipient ideation.”

“The culmination of our life-long toils merely serves as the genesis for others.” This adage, with its veneer of omniscience, is familiar to many. Beneath its facade, however, lies a pervasive sense of fatalism, insinuating, “It is not a lack of diligence but rather the futility of endeavor…” Yet, herein lies the salient disparity between the resilient and the feeble in life.

Initially, many entertain thoughts of altering their destinies through personal exertion. However, after years of toil, some find their aspirations unrealized, caught in a cycle of stagnation, if not regression, and resign themselves to fate. They perceive themselves as ‘transparent’, envisioning life’s denouement prematurely, thereby relinquishing the impetus for continued endeavor. Thus, they acquiesce to an ostensibly predetermined reality, yielding to the allure of inertia and abandoning their aspirations for transformative change.

Are these individuals truly ‘transparent’, capable of discerning life’s ‘denouement’? No, they merely employ ‘end-point ideation’ to rationalize and enervate themselves. The truly intrepid, instead, contemplate not the terminus but the inception. While an individual’s accomplishments are inevitably influenced by familial background, innate talent, fortune, and opportunity, this does not render one’s persistent and purposeful endeavors futile. Rather, embracing life with a mindset of ‘beginning with the end in mind’ may yield unforeseen serendipity.

The author, too, once languished as a penniless outsider, dwelling in communal lodgings for nearly a year. Subsequently excelling in his profession, he ascended the ranks, securing promotions and commensurate remuneration, culminating in the acquisition of a modest abode. Yet, he discerned that homeownership was but a milestone in his sojourn in Shanghai, aspiring to proprietorship of a more substantial estate. Thus, he redoubled his professional commitment, honing his skills, acquainting himself with managerial acumen, and engaging in erstwhile aversive social endeavors.

Gradually, he traversed the trajectory from frontline coder to supervisor, director, and eventually, CTO, concurrently accruing company equity. His ambition of Shanghai homeownership was thereby realized organically. Yet, ‘homeownership’ and ‘executive status’ constituted not termini but new genesis points. Faced with the imperative of charting his professional arc henceforth, he resolved to establish an entrepreneurial enterprise, thereby forestalling passivity in his twilight years. Driven by this resolve, he embarked on a journey of self-education in media creation, founding a consulting firm with commendable success. Nevertheless, he demurs from asserting mastery over life’s ‘denouement’, eschewing contemplation of the so-called ‘end’, and instead persists in assiduous endeavor, perpetual improvement, and embracing life’s vicissitudes with equanimity.

The author proffers these reflections not as boastful proclamations but as admonitions against embracing life’s ‘denouement’ prematurely, and eschewing an early onset of cognitive closure. In confronting professional and vocational exigencies, we are ensconced in our prime, distant from life’s terminus. The crux lies in eschewing ‘end-point ideation’ and refraining from precipitously demarcating ‘finale’. Absent the requisite acumen and foresight, one risks capitulating to inertia.

2. Succumbing to the quagmire of ‘indigence and toil’

Tian Beichen, scion of a distinguished Hong Kong lineage, once partook in the reality television series ‘The Rich and the Poor’. Hailing from opulent origins, Tian Beichen, a Harvard alumnus, founded a publicly traded corporation, a testament to his mettle. Convinced of his capacity to engender miracles from humble beginnings, he braved assignment as a custodian by the show’s producers, eager to witness his purported ascent from the dregs.

Yet, reality belied Tian Beichen’s expectations. His meager custodial wages, depleted by rent, sustenance, and sundry expenses, scarcely sufficed to amass the ‘seed capital’ he envisioned. Compelled by parsimony, he settled in a remote locale, sparingly. Though he eked out modest savings, the exigencies of a protracted commute consumed four daily hours, enfeebling him physically and mentally. His circumstances precluded contemplation of entrepreneurship or networking. All energies were sapped by the exigencies of subsistence.

Ultimately, Tian Beichen conceded defeat, relinquishing the program after a scant few days. Queried on his experiences, he confessed, “I find it surreal. My thoughts are consumed by sustenance. Hope eludes me; my aspirations are eclipsed by the pursuit of sustenance… For denizens of the lower echelons, sustenance supersedes all. Prospects of self-actualization are a luxury unattainable amid penury.”

Coincidentally, American pundit Barbara Ehrenreich underwent a parallel ordeal. Embarking on a nomadic sojourn across six cities, she eschewed her credentials, relying solely on a meager stipend to navigate life’s nadir.

Initially buoyed by a belief in her abilities to transcend her circumstances, reality dealt her a harsh rebuke. Juggling myriad menial occupations—vending, custodial duties, waitressing—she found herself ensnared in a Sisyphean struggle for survival. Her narrative mirrored Tian Beichen’s, trapped in a cycle of penury, isolation, and stymied advancement.

To consign an individual to oblivion, burden them such that they lack respite for introspection. Tian Beichen and Barbara Ehrenreich epitomize the aphorism: ‘the poorer one gets, the busier one becomes, and the busier one becomes, the poorer’. Elites such as these falter irretrievably when ensnared in this inexorable spiral, let alone those of middling talents, credentials, and erudition.

3. ‘Learned helplessness’: The harbinger of resignation

In 1967, American psychologist Seligman conducted a seminal experiment, confining dogs to cages wherein escape from electric shocks proved futile. Subsequently, the mere tolling of a buzzer elicited a paralyzing fear, a learned helplessness manifesting in despondency and resignation.

This psychological phenomenon extrapolates to human comportment in the face of successive setbacks and failures. When individuals attribute insurmountable adversity to their own inadequacies, they succumb to despondency and lethargy. Self-worth diminishes, motivation wanes, and the will to persevere withers, culminating in abject resignation.

Denizens of the lower strata do not lack diligence or endurance but are ensnared by the intractable vicissitudes of life. Each endeavor, fraught with unforeseen obstacles, devolves into a futile exertion. Hopes of advancement or personal betterment are dashed by the caprices of circumstance. Earnings and aspirations are undercut by exigencies beyond their control, plunging them into the abyss of ‘learned helplessness’. Gradually, dreams of professional ascension or personal transcendence are supplanted by resignation and despair.

02 How to Ascend from the Depths and Achieve Social Mobility?

1. Devote yourself to a craft and refine a skill that can sustain you through life’s trials.

In “The Moat of Life,” a renowned author delineates life’s business models into four archetypes: the first involves selling time without leverage, wherein each unit of time can be sold but once and to a sole individual; the second entails selling time with leverage, allowing for multiple sales within a single unit of time and to numerous individuals. The volume of sales and clientele is correlated with the leverage ratio, predominantly governed by one’s personal brand; the third avenue involves leveraging money to purchase time, accruing profit through the utilization of “other people’s time and other people’s money”; the fourth entails procuring the time of “influential individuals” through monetary means (essentially akin to the third).

A discerning comparison reveals that the initial model corresponds to our rudimentary “bricklayers,” toiling a full eight hours daily (excluding overtime) and receiving remuneration monthly. There’s no need for a calculator to tally annual or decadal earnings; the second model resembles renowned personalities and intellectual properties with considerable influence. Their authored works, artistic creations, and instructional sessions can be vended to anyone at any time, affording the benefits of compounding time and passive income; the third and fourth models (broadly classified under a single category) primarily pertain to entrepreneurs and business leaders. They engage personnel at various levels and, through differential compensation schemes, garner substantial “markup,” thereby generating exponential income growth.

It’s evident that most ordinary individuals reside within the confines of the first “life business model,” characterized not only by a restricted income scale but also by a monolithic income structure, feeble risk resilience, and meager anti-fragility. To fortify against this fragility in risk resistance, ordinary folks must consciously pursue a competitive craft and cultivate the survival skills upon which they depend for sustenance.

The author Feng Jicai posited in “Extraordinary Individuals in the World”: “In every sphere of life, there exist a few luminaries endowed with exceptional talents, such as Brick Sculptor Liu, Clay Figurine Artisan Zhang, Kite Master Wei, Mechanist Sovereign, Brush Maestro Li, and others. Adorned with consummate craftsmanship and illustrious renown, those possessing specialized skills feast upon success and command attention, while those bereft of such prowess subsist on meager fare and linger in obscurity. This pattern is not dictated by any external force; rather, it embodies an authentic mode of existence.”

Ordinary individuals equipped with a skill not only secure a more prosperous and stable livelihood but also stand poised to transition into the second life business model of instructing and providing training upon mastering said skill. Particularly amidst the prevailing economic downturn, many harbor feelings of insecurity and apprehension regarding potential layoffs. However, possessing a skill renders one indispensable, instilling a sense of security. This acquired proficiency not only sustains one’s sustenance but also commands respect and esteem from others.

2. Eschew Consumerism and Embrace Deferred Gratification.

Economics elucidates the concept of the “ratchet effect,” wherein once consumption habits crystallize, they become resistant to reversal—easy to escalate but arduous to de-escalate. Particularly in the short term, consumption exhibits irreversibility, exerting a potent habit-forming influence. Put succinctly, individuals find it facile to augment consumption commensurate with income growth but struggle to curtail it commensurate with income diminution. Thus, as the adage goes, “It is easier to ascend from frugality to opulence than to descend from opulence to frugality.”

In everyday life, many individuals harbor a profound concern for others’ perceptions or succumb to trends. Fearful of being deemed “respectable” or feeling out of place within certain social circles, they blindly covet what others possess, indulging in conspicuous consumption under the sway of the “ratchet effect,” irrespective of their economic standing or objective circumstances.

Not long ago, LV collaborated with three Shanghai coffee establishments to inaugurate a “limited-time bookstore” pop-up event. The stipulation dictated that the acquisition of two brand-affiliated books entitles one to a canvas bag adorned with the LV insignia. Among the offerings, the least expensive “City Guide” retailed for 290 yuan. In essence, one had to expend a minimum of 580 yuan on books to procure the coveted LV canvas bag. Despite the exorbitant cost, throngs queued outside the coffee shops. This episode provoked widespread discourse, with a prominent media outlet denigrating the book buyers as “foolish, indigent, and vain.”

Individuals possess the liberty to consume, be it for the LV emblem or literature. It’s lamentable when opulence fails to afford happiness. People are entitled to consume according to their means. Nonetheless, reports indicate instances wherein recent entrants to the workforce, even college students, resort to installment payments, credit card swipes, or borrowing from peers to finance expenditures, all in pursuit of ephemeral gratification and the coveted LV artifact. Such overreach, transcending one’s financial means to acquire dispensable items in pursuit of fleeting satisfaction, epitomizes a misconstrued understanding of consumerism.

Buffett’s paternal counsel to him emphasized cultivating inner fortitude, fostering unwavering self-assurance immune to external judgment. Each individual harbors unique aspirations, and there’s no harm in pursuing them within our means; indeed, it may kindle our progress. However, until we’ve fortified ourselves, exercising restraint over our desires and shunning consumerist traps, opting instead to defer gratification and allocate limited resources judiciously, such as investing in self-improvement, is imperative.

3. Chart a Prudent Life Course

Hollywood luminary and former California Governor Schwarzenegger hailed from humble beginnings. At the tender age of 10, this frail and impoverished lad resolved to ascend to the presidency of the United States, meticulously crafting a life plan to achieve this lofty goal:

To attain the presidency, one must first ascend to the governorship;
To contest the gubernatorial race, one requires backing from a formidable financial consortium;
To secure such backing, one must integrate into said consortium;
To join the consortium, one must wed an affluent scion;
To wed into affluence, one must first achieve celebrity status;
The swiftest route to fame lies in cinematic stardom;
Prior to achieving fame, one must cultivate a compelling physique and masculine countenance.

Schwarzenegger devised a plan and navigated the prescribed trajectory. Through rigorous bodybuilding training, he ascended to European bodybuilding supremacy, subsequently transitioning to Hollywood stardom, marrying into the Kennedy clan, and ultimately clinching the governorship of California. Although the presidency eluded him, his adeptness in life planning and execution warrants admiration and introspection.

A life devoid of a plan resembles a jigsaw puzzle, whereas a planned existence resembles a blueprint. Individuals adept at planning typically harbor long-term aspirations and discernible pathways. They discern their desires early on and steadfastly tread toward them, irrespective of class or milieu, eschewing aimlessness and conformity, and resolutely pursuing their objectives. Conversely, those lacking in planning suffer from nebulous goals, buffeted passively by the vicissitudes of reality, drifting aimlessly with the currents of fate, bereft of initiative.

Effective life planning finds exemplification in Stanford University’s Life Design course, a perennially popular offering. This course advocates introspection to discern genuine aspirations and self-identity, employing a “health/work/leisure/love” dashboard to facilitate self-examination. Through practices such as cultivating a positive outlook, maintaining a “good time diary,” crafting an “Odyssey plan,” and seeking mentorship, individuals can realize their ideal life design. Due to constraints of brevity, further elucidation is omitted; interested parties are encouraged to explore independently.

Many extol the virtues of social mobility. The term “leap,” originally a physics term, denotes the energetic transition of electrons between atomic orbits. Analogously, achieving upward social mobility demands formidable energy. Particularly in contemporary society, marked by ossified social structures and the crystallization of the Matthew Effect, the arduousness of effecting social mobility is patently evident. Should one endeavor and experiment, or resign to fate and acquiesce? Each individual harbors unique choices. In life, there are no absolutes; it hinges upon individual volition. If one finds contentment therein, then all is well. Let us mutually encourage one another.