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A High Hustle Quotient (What Tina Turner and The Tamale Lady Have in Common)

Whenever I hear people who are struggling financially or in their careers tell me what they’re not going to do to get out of their situations, e.g., “I’m not going to take work outside of my field,” “I’m not going to take the bus to get to work,” or “I’m not working at Starbucks,” I smile and think to myself:
 
Tina Turner cleaned houses.
 
After Tina Turner divorced Ike Turner, she was broke.  If you saw the movie, “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” or read the book, you know Tina Turner came through her divorce without much other than her name.  To get out of the financial situation she was in, she cleaned houses.  Mind you, she cleaned houses not while she was unknown and still Anna Mae Bullock.  She cleaned houses as Tina Turner, formerly of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.  Imagine the humility it took to go from singing and dancing on stage for thousands to cleaning houses for some of her rich friends.  Imagine what it felt like to go from having a cleaning lady to becoming one.
 
Then there’s the Tamale Lady.  A while back in the Sacramento area, there was this Latina who sold tamales in front of a local Wal-Mart.  Someone dropped a dime on her (probably one of her competitors), and she was cited for trespassing, arrested, and ended up in immigration proceedings for not being here legally.  There was a huge hue and cry in the community that the Tamale Lady got picked up for doing what she did best –  make and sell tamales.   It rankled even the free enterprise “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” conservative folks because the Tamale  Lady was doing exactly what we’re told we’re supposed to do in America to succeed – work hard, do well, and don’t expect help from the government or anyone else.  I believe she was eventually released from custody.
 
What Tina Turner and the Tamale Lady have in common is what I would call a high hustle quotient (HQ).  What is a hustle quotient, you ask?  To me, it is a combination of factors that predict how likely it is you will get out of the struggle you’re in and not end up in the same position again. These factors include:
 
1.     Willingness to take any kind of work when you don’t have any, and to work multiple jobs
2.     Effort and initiative in finding work
3.     Willingness to work under difficult circumstances and do whatever it takes to get to work (e.g., take the bus at night, walk to work)
4.     Willingness to learn from those you’re seeking help from
5.     Willingness to do something different when what you’re doing isn’t working
6.     An understanding of how you ended up in the circumstances you’re in and a plan not to end up in them again
7.     Willingness to make hard sacrifices to get out of your situation, e.g., sell some of your shit
 
Why does a high HQ matter?  It matters because it’s a predictor of how likely it is someone will have to help you again and, as a result, whether it’s worth it to help you now. No one wants to put their hard earned money down the rat hole of someone else’s unwillingness or inability to learn from their situation and make adjustments. Let’s explore these factors, shall we?
 
1.     Willingness to take any kind of work when you don’t have any, and to work multiple jobs
 
It’s usually this first factor that is a sticking point for struggling people, usually young ones or those with newly minted bachelor’s degrees.  I laugh inwardly when unemployed people with bachelor’s degrees tell me, “I don’t want to take a job that’s outside of my field.”  Let’s be clear:  Unless your bachelor’s degree is in engineering or computer science, you don’t really have a field.  The only things your non-engineering or non-computer science bachelor’s degree qualify you for are to a) Get a teaching credential; b) go to graduate or professional school; or c) get an entry-level government job.  A bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma.  My bachelor’s degree is in political science, which qualified me for exactly what I did directly after college – a minimum wage internship with a government agency and graduate school.  The irony is that the internship I had at the California State Capitol as a high school senior had more prestige than the internship I had after graduating Stanford with a bachelor’s in political science.  Go figure.
 
When you don’t have a job AND you’re asking other people to help you, you can’t be too picky about what work you’ll take AND expect people to help you, especially if they work shitty jobs or hate their jobs.  No one is willing to subsidize your potential happiness and career satisfaction with their current unhappiness and career dissatisfaction.  Why should you be happier than they are on THEIR dime?
 
2.      Effort and initiative in finding work
 
However, it is usually the second factor – effort and initiative in finding work – that brings strugglers and helpers to blows, especially if the struggler is living under the helper’s roof.  No grown person wants to feed and house another healthy adult person who isn’t working hard at finding a job or is picky about what they’ll do (see factor number 1). My father’s rule was that if you were an adult and living in his house, you needed to be going to school, working, or looking for work.  He also believed and made clear that there were no other men in his house but him because, if you were a man, you’d be in your own house taking care of your own self.  If he even remotely sensed that one of my brothers wasn’t going to school, working, or looking for work, he’d growl, “This ain’t no flop house.  Get up, n*****!” 
 
The point that my father was trying to make, albeit inartfully, is that there is a difference between being an adult and being grown.  Adulthood is a matter of reaching a certain age; being grown is a matter of reaching and maintaining a level of responsibility for yourself and sometimes others.  Not all adults are grown.  Conversely, not all grown people are adults.  My father was the second oldest of eight, grew up without a father, and worked to support my grandmother and his siblings, all before the age of eighteen.  For the most part, my father has always been grown, even before he was an adult.  When you have the responsibilities of a grown person without the income, you better make some effort and show some initiative in finding a job if you expect other grown people to help you.
 
It’s typically the second half of the second factor that gets under my skin – lack of initiative.  I’ve had a struggler tell me, “I can’t apply for jobs online because I don’t have a computer,” to which I’ve replied, “Go to the library.  They have computers.”  The response:  “But the library is far away.  I’d have to walk or take the bus.”  Precisely.  That’s called initiative.  And when you’re broke or don’t have a job, all you have is your initiative, which is your determination to overcome obstacles with little or no assistance from others. I have evolved to the point where your initiative only matters to me if you’re asking for my help. If you lack initiative AND are asking for my help, don’t bother.  If you have little or no initiative AND you’re not asking for my help, party on, because I’m not affected by your lack of initiative. Mind you, when it comes to my relatives, it’s taken me a long time to get to this point of view on initiative when they aren’t asking for my help (because I despise laziness in all forms), but I’m there.
 
3.         Willingness to work under difficult circumstances and do whatever it takes to get to work (e.g., take the bus at night, walk to work)
 
Willingness to work under difficult circumstances and do whatever it takes to get to work is a factor that rankles most helpers who are Depression and World War II-era folks, pre-civil rights blacks and people of color, or people who came up out of abject poverty.  When a struggler tells a helper who grew up in the Depression, served in or survived World War II, lived as a black person or person of color in the pre-civil rights era of limited opportunity, or who came up out of abject poverty what they’re not willing to do or that they’re not willing to take a bus or walk to work, these helpers literally lose their shit because they HAD to do what the struggler is not willing to do to get out of his or her struggle.  They had to walk to work or take buses.  They had to work overtime – hell, my father thought that overtime was the equivalent of Christmas in July, and he took it whenever it was offered.  These kinds of helpers had to take jobs that were hard, dirty or beneath them to take care of themselves or others or to get to the next level.  They even left behind family and friends to find work in places where they knew no one.  They came through hard times not of their making.  When a struggler is not willing to do what a helper has had to do to survive, the conversation about help is pretty much over.  Stick a fork in it; it’s done.
  
 
4.         Willingness to learn from those you’re seeking help from
 
The strugglers who aren’t willing to learn from those they’re seeking help from just leave me shaking my head, especially the young strugglers.  What they don’t get is that the people who are helping them are in the position to help them because they know some things that perhaps the struggler doesn’t, like how to get and/or keep a job, because those things never change.  When a struggler, especially a young one, tells me that I don’t know about their profession or what they’re going through because the job market has changed since I was their age or that I haven’t had to find a job in a while, I just laugh inwardly.  True, the job market has changed in terms of the number and kinds of jobs available.  The qualities it takes to get and keep a job have not.  I may not be successful at a lot of things, but I know how to get and keep a job.  If someone who is struggling isn’t willing to learn that from someone who is helping them or in a position to help them, they lose major points on the HQ scale in my book.  As Marianne Williamson says, the youth teach us about the things that change.  Elders teach us about the things that never change.  Word.
 
5.         Willingness to do something different when what you’re doing isn’t working
 
The strugglers who aren’t willing to do something different when what they’re doing isn’t working amuse me.  It’s funny to me when they insist on continuing on a path to nowhere and want you to finance the journey, then get mad when you suggest that they try something different.  They want you to have patience with them continuing on a failed path.  What they fail to realize is that it’s okay for them to continue on a failed path, but it’s not okay for them to ask people to subsidize their journey.  If you’re not willing to try something different when you’re struggling, I have neither the time nor the inclination to subsidize you because your actions tell me you’re either not going to get out of your struggle or, if you do, you’ll be back in it again.
 
  
6.         An understanding of how you ended up in the circumstances you’re in and a plan not to end up in them again
 
When strugglers don’t understand or don’t want to understand how they ended up in their struggle, it’s almost useless to help them financially.  They think their struggle is purely happenstance and they didn’t do anything wrong, and that with time and money (yours), they’ll be back in the game without having to change what they did before.  This may be true in the event of a catastrophe such as a death, debilitating illness, or an economic downturn (to a certain extent).  It is not true, however, if the struggler keeps getting fired for the same reason, e.g., won’t go to work or keeps cussing out the boss, or if the struggler keeps insisting on finding work in a field where the jobs are disappearing, such as factory work.  A struggler who does not see the role he or she has played in creating his or her struggle is doomed to continue struggling.  At that point, giving them money is the worse thing you can do because they’ll go back to doing what they did before, thinking their timing or circumstances was  off when if fact they were off.  All you would be doing is subsidizing future struggle.  I’m all for giving strugglers a financial time out to figure out how they ended up in their struggle and to plan not to end up in their struggle again; what I’m not for is giving a struggler money to go back and do the same stupid shit that got them in their struggle in the first place.
 
7.        Willingness to make sacrifices to get out of your situation, e.g., sell some of your shit
 
Finally, if you’re struggling and asking someone for help, be mindful of this last factor.  If you have more assets than the person you’re seeking help from, they’re not likely to want to help you until you get rid of your assets that they don’t have or can’t afford.  Why?  Because they’re not willing to subsidize for you a lifestyle that they can’t afford or have not afforded themselves because of the sacrifices they’re making to get to the next level or achieve a goal.  Don’t ask someone for financial help when you’re rocking a Coach bag, rolling in a Benz, owning the latest smartphone, watching a 52 inch LED flat screen, or own two or more houses or vehicles when the person you’re asking for money or help doesn’t.  I can tell you what that person is thinking:  “You’re not willing to make sacrifices to get out of the situation you’re in, so why should I make any sacrifices to help you keep shit I can’t afford or don’t have?” An acquaintance of mine told me of how she was routinely hit up for rent money by a family member who rocked designer purses and got her hair and nails done regularly when the acquaintance was doing neither.  Needless to say, the acquaintance stopped giving the rent money. 
 
If you’re struggling and have assets that the person you’re seeking help from doesn’t have, you need to make friends with eBay or Craigslist or start your own Etsy store before you ask that person or anyone else for help.
 
So, if you’re struggling financially or in your career, start with an assessment of your own HQ before asking for help.  What strugglers don’t understand is that a high HQ is almost like a high credit score – people are more willing to help someone with a high HQ because they believe in that person and that person’s ability to get out of their struggle, just as lenders are more willing to lend to someone with a high credit score because it is a predictor of whether they’ll get their money back.  Conversely, a low HQ is like a low credit score when asking for help.  If you need to build your HQ, you might want to start by cleaning houses like Tina Turner or selling some tamales like the Tamale Lady.
 

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