Entrepreneurs

Most Narratives Touting Hard Work as the Key to Success are Harmful. What to Do Instead

Last month, I saw a post on Instagram for St. Patrick’s Day where an influencer was talking about all the things she does to create her own luck, which boiled down to one thing: hard work. One of her followers commented:  “I mean..you aren’t lucky…but you have to admit your privilege. Not every woman has the means and access that you did to climb to where you did.”

A few weeks ago, a personal development influencer came under fire for her Tik Tok response to someone in her audience commenting about how privileged she was. In the video, she acknowledged her privilege, but in the same breath talked about how hard she worked for everything she has.

Privilege and hard work are not mutually exclusive. The reality is, we still live in a society where everyone is not treated equal. If we did, the gender pay gap wouldn’t exist, Black people wouldn’t die at disproportionate rates at the hand of the police, and ageism in the workplace wouldn’t be an issue.

These inequities and the systems that support them still exist because of privilege not put to good use. Here are two ways to use your privilege for good, rather than letting it be part. of the problem.

1. Acknowledge it.

We all have some sort of privilege. All of us. Whether it is your race, skin color, gender, nationality, marital status, degree of financial support, health status, ability to work from home, or something else, those privileges give you advantages that others don’t have.

Your privilege isn’t something to feel shame for. But it also isn’t something that should be ignored or downplayed — especially when talking about your path and journey to where you are.

The challenge is that many underestimate the impact their privilege has on them achieving a certain degree of success. That, and the biases associated with that mindset can be harmful, particularly when others who don’t have that same degree of privilege, follow the same path, and are frustrated when they don’t get the same results.

Acknowledging your privilege puts you in a position to be more empathetic to the plight of others. And that empathy will open the door for you to use your privilege to benefit others. 

I became very aware of my privilege as a U.S. citizen as I traveled the world. I had nothing to do with where I was born, but it is undeniable that having a U.S. passport gave me freedom to move around with ease that isn’t the same for many others.

2. Use it to dismantle systems that make it harder for others.

When I was growing up, I often got to go places because I went with my older sisters. Being the youngest, I had a lot more freedom, because my sisters’ afforded me a degree of access to a social life I would never have been able to get on my own. Thankfully, they didn’t mind having their little sister tag along on outings to football games, the movies, or the mall.

My sisters used their privilege to open doors for me. You can use your privilege to pave the way for someone else too. Be it on a large or small scale, using benefits that have helped you earn a degree of success to help others reach a degree of success is a win-win. 

Simple ways others are using their privilege to break down systems that hold others back is by refusing to speak at conferences that aren’t diverse, providing scholarships to training programs that are financially out of reach for otherwise qualified candidates, mentoring, introducing others to their network, donating to causes whose mission is to break-down systemic barriers, providing underrepresented people access to their platform, and even saying no to opportunities to give space for talent from underrepresented groups to have a seat at the table.

While you didn’t choose many of the privileges that were afforded to you in life, you do get to choose how you will use them. You can use them to level the playing field for others. Or you can keep it to yourself, and let others deal with the cards they’ve been dealt on their own.

Your privilege has power. And that power is being put to work whether you are intentional about how to use your privilege or not. Use your privilege for the greater good, rather than just to advance your own good.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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