Alicia Diamond

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Practical advice & inspiration for leaders building important companies.

Hillbilly Elegy

What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.
— J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy

I just finished reading Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance's memoir about his childhood in Appalachia and his truly extraordinary escape from poverty to Yale Law School. The book lived up to the hype and is well worth a read. I finished it over the course of three days before/after work.

My key takeaways:

  • The American doctrine that success is inevitable through hard work is broken. Entire generations have witnessed their parents and extended family toil away their lives in hard manufacturing jobs that are now disappearing. They worked hard and were rewarded by losing their job. Why should they believe in hard work? Why should they even try?
  • Childhood trauma, in all of it's ugly forms (physical and verbal abuse, poverty, malnutrition, emotional instability), has an extraordinary impact on a child's ability to succeed in school.  

  • When someone successfully transitions social classes, he or she is bombarded with a new set of norms and mores for which they are ill prepared. Sustained success in the middle and upper class requires equal parts mental and social intelligence.