No Self-made Man am I

The temptation for folks my age with some success is to explain that we are “self-made”.  We proudly build our story around “starting with nothing” then we bloviate about the long hours we spent building our success one brick at a time.   

I find most commencement speeches tripe or, at best, creative stories by famous people whose look-back is made sugary in the heavy syrup of ego.  The three I’ve done so far began with words more on the order of: “if you want to succeed at your passion, get committed to doing the things you hate to do” and “if you think your professors were unfair, wait ‘til you get a load of what’s coming next”.

When recounting how I arrived in this place, it cannot be honestly described as a self-made journey and my work is a constant reminder of this truth.  

Most of my time is spent working with people to expand their family’s economic base.  Crossing the widening chasm between very rich and very poor is a bigger issue but mentoring people into business, getting an education or gaining better employment is doable.  I was given the chance for all three, why shouldn’t those who are willing to try get a similar chance?

And it is in my work I’m reminded how relatively “not-self-made” I am.  Many of the people who dedicate themselves to expanding their economic base inspire and humble me.  They are creating great stories while at the same time many are changing their cultural patterns.    

Theirs?  Generational poverty, single or no parent homes, parental addiction, domestic abuse and mental illnesses.  Education that was inferior or often not even available to them.

Mine?  Two parents who loved me and provided good example and lived in the same home my entire life.  And though it’s sporting now to make fun of priests, nuns and parochial teachers, their legacy with me was 12 years of knowing someone else deeply cared about my education and more so the formation of my character.  In addition to Mom and Dad and my teachers and mentors, I had aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings who passed down their values, thankfully less in story than in practice.

Every time I meet someone overcoming real life obstacles through their dedication and focus to “changing their pattern”, I am moved.  At the end of most sessions with my striving workers and entrepreneurs and career-builders – whether in groups or individually – I say two things, 1. “you inspire me” and 2. “I’m proud to know you”. 

It’s neither false encouragement or the “right thing to say”.  I’m in front of them because my own success gives me the honor of their listening to me.  And frankly I’m pretty sure I would not have this privilege if my life had started out the way many of their lives did. 

I must look up, metaphorically to see their mountain from my mole hill.


Tim McCarthys

2 thoughts on “No Self-made Man am I”

  1. I am intrigued by your thoughtful words. I am working as a foundation officer for a Catholic Hospital System and we are participating on a project to re-vitalize the Southeast quadrant of my home town – Canton, Ohio. I would like to pic your brain about the monumental challenge that lies before us. A representative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation called this neighborhood “orphaned”, essentially abandoned. I could use some of your apparent wisdom.

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