Go back to your own country! I was confused the first time someone shouted that at me. I thought I was in my own country. As I got older, the realization that I was different became more evident. What I saw on TV was very different than what I saw in the mirror.
My parents had fled their war-torn country seeking a better life. We arrived with only the clothes on our backs, literally. For a long time, I struggled with being different and poor.
But as I became more comfortable, and confident in my own skin, I saw advantages in my differences, and even saw positives in growing up in poverty. For many others out there who grew up poor and different, here are 10 reasons I'm thankful:
1. I grew up really fast.
People often say you’re mature beyond your years. With parents busy working, children often step in and take on responsibilities. That means doing a lot of adult-work: making appointments, negotiating, organizing, and translating. Having to constantly interact with adults makes you act like one.
2. I developed a work ethic.
Hard work was the norm. Our tiny living room doubled up as a packing room for vegetables to sell to the market. Homework was juggled with packaging tomatoes. (And If it wasn’t tomatoes, it was crushing aluminum cans with bricks in the backyard.) It sounds brutal. And it was. But having leather hands at the age of 10 comes with some benefits. I'm not afraid of working hard in any other area of life.
3. I'm introspective.
Being different forces you to ask some deep questions about yourself. And it’s a healthy self-reflection; an awareness of internal thought patterns. Much of meditation strives to bring about this mindfulness. Being able to separate thoughts from actions is the first step in changing your behaviors.
4. I appreciate the little things.
The concept of having my own room seemed as imaginary as riding a unicorn. We had several people crammed into one bedroom. When I finally got my own room (when I moved out), I had a deep sense of appreciation for something quite ordinary.
And therein lies the blessing — being thankful for what’s generally taken for granted. When you’re constantly confronted with things to be thankful for, it leaves little room for complaining.
5. I'm resourceful.
When you have no toys, you learn to get a little creative. It was never just a box, it was a race-car. For me, growing up in poverty is fertile breeding ground for resourcefulness and creativity. When life gives me lemons, I don't just make lemonade, I take the rinds and make lemon meringue pie.
6. I grew up with discipline.
Just as poor children are creative with toys, parents are creative with spanking tools. The big wooden spoon was great for more than just soup stirring. I believe that discipline saved me from making bad decisions. Better a few bruises on the bum than a few nights behind bars.
7. I'm extra motivated.
When Sarah down the street has a bigger bedroom than your whole house, it creates a drive to experience something better. The desire for more runs much deeper than sheer materialism. It’s a deep desire for peace in my soul.
8. I've never fit the mold.
While many people are caught up trying to conform, that doesn’t register for me. Swimming against the current is all I've ever known. It’s a different angle on life. Sometimes being different is the difference, that makes all the difference.
9. I have a deeper empathy and compassion.
Being poor is often described as walking through the valley, in places many have never been. But being exposed to a deeper spectrum of experiences allows me to relate to wider spectrum of people. Climbing out of the valley equips me to pull others out. And being able to comfort someone by saying, “I know what you went through,” is a privilege.
10. I have a legacy.
I'm already caught in a great underdog success story. My parents overcame difficult circumstances, but that’s not where the story ends. Being able to contribute to the narrative that my parents started is exciting and rewarding, and it's something to celebrate.