Those who had bad childhoods/rough start in life, how did you succeed despite of it?

By bad childhood/rough start I mean things like poverty, dysfunctional parents, abuse, etc. I'm in a situation that's been actively interfering with my progress in life since I was born(don't want to go too into detail). Although I'm in the process of removing myself from it now that it's possible, I still want to learn from other people that have succeeded despite their background so I can do the same. 

Persistence, hard work, intelligence, and the like help of course but I want to know specific things you did like getting an education, having a support network, or finding a mentor and the way you went about doing those things. If you could go very into detail that would be helpful

WSO Elite Modeling Package

  • 6 courses to mastery: Excel, Financial Statement, LBO, M&A, Valuation and DCF
  • Elite instructors from top BB investment banks and private equity megafunds
  • Includes Company DB + Video Library Access (1 year)

Comments (51)

Oct 21, 2021 - 6:28pm

TLDR: If you grow up very poor you are never going to have the same level of social network or polish of your peers, people of the same social class speak in the same way about the same things, go to the same places growing up. I do not think that you can win at this game, so I would guess that the best way to overcome this is to provide tangible value. What I mean by tangible? I would say that is something that can be objetcively measure, create a business, a line of code, be a kickass pumbler/welder. 

I would not say that I am in exactly a good situation right now, however I would say that until last year I really climbed the income latter so I guess that I can chime in.

Background: I am from a agricultural/fishing family in a very poor country  that lived below the global poverty line of 2 dollars a day.

Early Childhood/High School:

I was very good at math and I studied this all day every day, I did not really have something better to do so it was pretty cool actually. I guess that it was very important to be good at something that is easy to measure at a young age if I was good at literature it would be much rather to leverage that up.

College:- Stem Major Full Scholorship Including living expenses 

Hey man, college was emotionally brutal to me . I was good at math that was it, I did not do anything else in my life before I felt so out of place every day. I remember we going to lunch and everyone talking about restaurants, parties, traveling and I literally have never even drank milk out of bottle I could not relate with my classmates at all. Maybe some people had a different experience then my but I tryied really hard to fit in but it did not work very well so I decided to own my background. Instead of trying to relate to these people I started doing my own thing about things that I cared about, I created  a social club that helped poor people to study STEM  and I did a lot of volunter work  on my homecountry and in different countries. Suddenly, I connected with a lot of my classmates that were interested in this and a lot of business man in the charity world. So, in this phase of my life it was very important to understand that I was different and  try to leverage this in some way, in my case it was my math/poverty background.

Work life:

I started working on some big names charities after the university and I ended up working on a Fourtune 500 company for several years and I was on the top 1% income of my country at some point . At this point in my life I was :way better "polished" so It was easier to be part of the group I do not really have anything special to add besides of what is already in the site.

Nowdays:- 

I made a post talking about this if you want to read on my history, but I am basically back on my hometown for some mistakes that I made.

I am going to write more about this someday I saw a several patters working with kids similar to me on my charity work and I always wanted to write what I believe by a good path from poverty to the corporate world.

Fell free to ask me anything.

Oct 25, 2021 - 11:21am

I have to admit this is a little harsh but it's mostly true regarding same level of social network/polish. In terms of winning, I am going to have to disagree with you on this one. Anyone can win the game but just imagine you're lining up to start a track meet and you're next to your peers (white, wealthy, target school) and someone shoots you in the leg before you start. It doesn't really matter how smart you are, you're always going to be at a disadvantage, it doesn't mean you can't win, it just means you have to work much more harder than the people you're facing. It's an uphill battle and the battles you face are going to be on top of the battles everyone faces in finance. If you do make it to the finish line, you're going to be much more stronger than your peers but it's a slim chance and you may come out worse and even more damaged if you don't make it. 

Oct 26, 2021 - 11:06am

I guess that we are talking the same thing, I do not mean that you can not win at the big boys corporate game if you grow up poor. I meant that you can not win at the game playing by the same rules of trying to out network your rich friends, however you can have a very high probability of winning if you have a different strategy focused on your reality. I am not sure if I like the shoot in the leg before you start, I would say that trying to run on a different track is best. I really believe in specialization and trying to find a niche for anyone, but this is specially true if you are poor.

Important to note that I mean in the sense of increasing the probability of winning, life is always a random event(in special on the short term) but I believe that a strategy that focus on providing real tangible value instead of more subjective careers such as marketing, strategy, management increases the likelihood of success in the long term for poor people.

In the end, I really agree with you I do believe that is possible to be successful I have  friends of mine that participated in the same math program as myself when we were a kid that are worth millions of dollars nowdays, some of them made more money last month then their parents made in their whole life, so it really is possible. 

Oct 21, 2021 - 6:39pm

I let go of my victim mentality and took responsibility for my own actions. and exercised some patience while improving every day "brick by brick" to eventually build the wall of prethtieefj. 

  • 1
Learn More

300+ video lessons across 6 modeling courses taught by elite practitioners at the top investment banks and private equity funds -- Excel Modeling -- Financial Statement Modeling -- M&A Modeling -- LBO Modeling -- DCF and Valuation Modeling -- ALL INCLUDED + 2 Huge Bonuses.

Learn more
  • VP in IB-M&A
Oct 21, 2021 - 6:54pm

I did it through hard work and failing over and over, for example, breaking into IB took me thousands of resumes, hundreds of interviews and 3 years. Too often I see people who come from rough backgrounds use their bad upbringing as an excuse to justify why they can't get ahead in life, fail at landing that job, getting into that university, etc., which is a complete cop out. I had a shitty upbringing, at 17 I moved out and cut everything and everyone out of my life that was holding me back, put myself through undergrad, MBA, and broke into banking. If you aren't able to achieve something it isn't because you had a rough childhood, being accountable and learning from failure is the best way to succeed.  Fail, learn, adapt, repeat. 

Oct 21, 2021 - 7:20pm

Thanks. Are you close with your immediate family? I need to cut them off but part of me feels guilty because I feel responsible for them despite how toxic they are. 

Oct 22, 2021 - 11:56am

I did it through hard work and failing over and over, for example, breaking into IB took me thousands of resumes, hundreds of interviews and 3 years.

+1 SB.....i.e. the same way non-targets with good childhoods do it.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Oct 21, 2021 - 7:39pm

To be honest, I've always looked at my rough childhood as a privilege and an advantage I had over everyone else.

I've been through much more than everyone else so I know that no one can outwork me. I'm just cut from a different cloth and built different - that's why I succeed. I succeed due to my rough upbringing not in spite of it.

Oct 22, 2021 - 10:54pm

Truth…I was sexually, physically and emotionally abused as a child by people I should have been able to trust. It still haunts me, but I have come so far. When you look at the person across the table, it is highly unlikely that they have been through what I went through. It kind of makes it easier. 

  • 2
  • Associate 1 in ER
Oct 21, 2021 - 11:44pm

Succeeded because I was smart and I knew I was smart. I grew up poor and never wanted to go back to my shit hole hometown after college. Struggled with finding jobs after college, I slept on homies couches rather than moving back home, until I got my first full time job which paid a pitiful salary despite being in asset management. The goal to never be poor again is what kept me motivated 

Oct 22, 2021 - 2:09am

yeah. grew up dirt poor. dad was most of the time unemployed and often drinking, and I saw my parents fight (with screams, ripped clothes, etc.) every week as a little kid. I just kept my head down and studied hard every day dreaming that one day it will let me escape the life I had, and it did. now, I have a well paid job and a life I would never believe I would have. it's still a long way to go though. I still have a lot of student debt and rent a studio. so still have to work hard and save money, but my life is already incredible and is only getting better and should be like in a fucking movie later in my 30s and 40s and later.

in terms of trauma, I definitely developed some issues growing up watching my parent violently fight, but I don't care much about it, cause it's in the past, and I won't face it anymore, so I'm at peace.

Oct 27, 2021 - 2:38am

mentally very difficult and exhausting. spent all my life doing what I had to do (studying and working) instead of enjoying life / doing what I want, for the exception of my freshman year when I was just hooking up most of the time and 9 months after school before work when I traveled the world. now I'm still paying off student loans and cannot enjoy life properly, but it's getting better and should be great soon.

my dad died, but I'm close with my mom and talk to her on the phone every week or so (we live far from each other).

Oct 22, 2021 - 10:04am

Grew up lower middle class. Just enough to avoid having to want for food/clothes/basics but not enough to fit in. I grew up in a suburb that is very wealthy. Kids coming to the "public school" in Audis, BMWs, or Mercedes. I rode the bus. I was always good at math and science. I leveraged that to get into the state's Math & Science school and to a full-ride to my in-state university to study engineering. Blah Blah.

tl;dr You are not a product of your genetic lottery but the summation of your decisions

Oct 25, 2021 - 9:18am

Lmao of course I did. I just didn't go into detail on the internet. Imagine being that fucking wrong

My dad almost died 4 times during high school from heart attacks and threw us millions in debt. He survived after being on a ventilator 4 times for over a month each (one time for 3 months). You try going to a STEM (residential) high school while that is going on and your peers are kicking your ass because you're in the hospital instead of studying. I barely graduated and my dreams of going to an ivy went out the window. Settled for an in-state school where I worked 3 jobs (40+ hours a week) to graduate with zero debt in Engineering. Zero financial help from my parents. Everyone has adversity. This one threw off my entire life plan and threw my parents in debt they are still climbing out of almost 10 years later. 

I literally almost dropped out of high school to support my family. Fuck you.

Oct 22, 2021 - 10:35am

Didn't grow up too poor (although lost our family home 'due to' 2008 recession, family still hasn't financially recovered) but parents were divorced my entire life, and basically didn't have a father figure as mother moved away to another state, but dad didnt do a ton anyway. 

These were things I didn't think impacted my life too much when I was younger because I still was able to have a comfortable life. Didn't go to bed hungry, lived in a safe neighborhood, etc. But as I got older it became much easier to reflect on your upbringing and how it molded you into the man/woman you are today. Fortunately, I'm pretty self aware and improvement focused (wasnt when younger) so still ended in a good spot. But things that stick out:

- Living beyond means. See the house loss. Sure my family 'blamed' it on the recession, which as a kid you agree with. But when looking back we/they were buying all kinds of things they couldnt afford, living on credit, etc. If everything must be going perfect economically to keep your head above water then you will drown eventually. So now I have like a 40%+ save/investing rate, am frugal as hell, still drive a 12+ year old car, shop at thrift stores for clothes, etc. Am doing well financially but dont think I will really feel the need to take foot off gas until net worth >$1MM and even then will still be pretty tight. Financial independence is THE most valuable 'tangible' thing in my life outside of health and relationships 

- Accountability. See above. Family blaming others for their own misfortune - and 2008 wasn't a one off. In reality when you want the hard truth it was their / our fault. No you can't predict job loss or recessions, but you can prepare for them and make sure you have a strong employable skillset. Whether it's getting late to work (i.e. blaming traffic every day) or trying to lose weight (i.e. just not enough time in the day!) people always have excuses. Not me. Everything falls on my shoulders and if I dont have something it's because I didnt want it bad enough. 

- Masculinity, and it's importance. Growing up with a single mother means you likely get plenty of coddling and told you are perfect, good enough as is, that someone will love you for you and you dont need to change. Dont like doing something? Dont need to toughen it out, just quit if it makes you feel better. This made me soft as pig shit. Terrible with conflict, didnt play sports at all growing up, non confrontational, etc. I think this is a big, and growing, problem with other men today raised by single mothers - and think a lot of the loser stuff you see online is from this group. A mothers love is important, but you need a strong masculine presence / role model as well. Doesnt have to be your father, could be a brother, uncle, coach, mentor, etc. I honestly had to learn all this stuff on my own but at an older age was able to fall in love with competing, being a handyman, weight lifting, etc.

Having lived this firsthand it's also why I loathe the modern 'get rid of toxic masculinity' movement, as most of it is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are differences in the roles our genders play, and society (men and women both, liberals and conservatives both) will wreck you if you don't adhere to yours. At least conservatives are honest about it. Telling young men to be more feminine, open emotionally, etc. is going to fuck over an entire generation. 

Oct 22, 2021 - 12:40pm

There's nothing wrong with it. Just decide if the need to express yourself is worth the trade off of losing respect from male peers and potential attraction from female ones. You can be the sensitive guy, but you cant be the sensitive guy who is admired. Most guys dont realize that tradeoff. 

Oct 27, 2021 - 9:35am

Sure, on paper what you say may not seem as bad as the comment makes it out to be. But scroll through social media and see what the real effects are of this mentality is and you'll see that it is every bit as bad as he said it is. Why do you think we have hundreds of genders now? Everyone can be sensitive and praised for living in a fairy world as to not hurt their feelings. This mentality throws logic out the window.

Most Helpful
Oct 22, 2021 - 5:19pm

I'd consider myself a late bloomer so I'll share my story.

I was born/raised in a typical Asian immigrant household in the US. Finances were extremely tight growing up - school meal vouchers, couldn't afford anything that wasn't free, and so I had to pass up almost all social/sports/extracurricular activities. Was always either studying or working when not in school and my parents only hung out with other Asian families due to the language barrier, so while I had friends, I never quite fit in with the "mainstream".

I thought when I got into a "good" college (didn't even know target schools were a thing back then) I'd be set, but instead I ended up struggling with some major imposter syndrome. Most of my classmates were well-polished, sharp prep school kids who's parents were banking/consulting execs and brought them to exotic places I'd never heard of like "Vail" or the "US Open". It was a whole other world for someone like me, who was just glad to be out of my public high school (which had a terrible college acceptance rate and was a breeding ground for mediocrity). I had a hard time keeping up and ended up with pretty bad grades, which made recruiting tough. As for the interviews I did somehow land, I ended up bombing ALL of them due to how unpolished I was. By the time I graduated, the only job I had in hand was a call center job paying ~$12/hr for Thomson Reuters in BFE. By sheer dumb luck and the grace of God, I got a last-second job offer from a MM bank in New York (I think because whoever they offered reneged and the group figured it wouldn't hurt to take a chance on me). I ended up taking the opportunity and running with it, and have since gotten back on track and really come into my own.

I credit a lot of what kickstarted my career to the VP I worked with in that first banking job out of school. He was from a totally different background from me but he took me under his wing and taught me a lot not just about how to be a good analyst, but also everything else - office politics, negotiating, socializing, sales. Truth be told, I ended up just emulating him at first because I had no fucking clue what I was doing, but eventually I settled in a bit and became a more well-rounded version of myself. 

Fast forward a few years, I not only had all the hard skills but also could network my way into anything, was much more polished, and could sell anything under the sun, all of which has paid huge dividends in my career. I rarely share my background with people, but for the few I have shared it with, they are usually pretty surprised at how far I've come. Most have assumed I come from a pretty well-off background, but instead it's something I've built from scratch by myself. 

Anyway, long rambling post, but I think the moral of the story for me is that no matter where you come from, mentorship is key. Sometimes, you just don't know what you don't know and for those of us who had a rough start, there's no easier way to move forward than by surrounding yourself with people you can learn from. 

Oct 26, 2021 - 3:13pm

Thanks, that was very helpful. I find myself in the same situation of being very different from my peers and having to try to catch up in terms of 'polish' and cultural things like hobbies and lifestyle so that I can have an easier time interacting with these types of people in the future

Oct 22, 2021 - 8:15pm

Poverty will break a man or make them insanely ambitious. To overcome the odds you have to commit a great deal of effort, moreso than if you simply coast into something that was arranged for you from birth.

I know a banker was born into absolute poverty, raised in an orphanage, but attained success in finance through education. On a personal level, I will never forget what it is like to go without food. It is a fire that drives you, but there comes a point when you have to choose how you apply your drive and ambition.

All I can say is that you should never forget where you come from. Remember the people who helped you along the way and bring it back to them when you make it. You have to will it, to demand it. The most successful people I know in this business are very competitive and driven, and not all of them come from wealthy backgrounds. Many of them are not satisfied with a normal level of success and try to do great things.

You need to apply your mind, in education or in your work. It's an uphill battle if you are not already connected, but you can get connected through education or professional experience. Once you are in, you are trusted with a lot of important knowledge, and it's a brief test of your integrity. Until then, you have to prove yourself, and the two paths you have to accomplish that are education and professional experience.

Oct 22, 2021 - 10:17pm

I'm from West Virginia. All I'll say is it takes patience. When everyone else was having parties, I was in the library studying. Next year I'll be making more money than anyone in my hometown working at a Big 4. Never give up.

Oct 22, 2021 - 10:50pm

60% of investment bankers are middle class: have had it great financially, went to a great school and your parents learned you how important education is. Your parent put you in football club or track and field etc from a young age where you developed core strengths such as competitiveness, winning spirit and team work. However, you have an inferiority complex because some people in school around you came from money with a better family name, lived in a better area and never worried about money. You saw a movie once maybe. Your dream has always been to fit in with them but your whole life felt a bit different - like an outsider. You got a taste from their life and decided from at least the first year in high school that you want to become rich - more like them - so you one day will live their life. You want to fit in. You're working really hard to get into a great uni and know IB is the only option. The hunger you will see in these guys is crazy. I am one of them myself.

If you have it too good in your upbringing you will never learn to work hard - be it the value of money or that you need to push yourself to win. They already know they are better than everyone else and their family or family connections will give them a great job.

If you have it too bad then you never get a taste for what money can bring you and no one around you will fight for good grades in school because you will not go in a school with rich and ambitious kids. In your school it's cool to be lazy and say fuck you to your teacher. No ambitions around you, hence, you don't get ambitions. Your parents have low paying jobs and are not educated so they will never tell you that school is important - and worst fo all, you are likely to get their's lazy mindset.

Because of all this; 60% comes from the middle class, 20% from upper working class, 10% from high-society families and 10% from lower working class.

This is my hypothesis. More to it but would be a very long text. BTW, I am from a wealthy European country and believes this applies fairly well for Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany etc but don't know about south Europeans and Americans 

Oct 26, 2021 - 3:50pm

I find this very accurate in my experience as well. Of the upper class kids in industry you have some (50%) that are just bred winners. Come from parents who were winners, and they themselves just learned all the traits at a young age. This is the kid that was President of some student body organization, at an elite school, who also had time to be a D1 (or whatever) athlete whether it be Rowing, Track, Football, etc. Parents were both lawyers/doctors/execs/social and well rounded themselves. What seems like a mountain of effort for anyone else is just their DNA from being raised that way at a young age - and these people are also pretty humble and great to work with. They arent insecure in their abilities.

The other (~50%) half are more or less wealthy and entitled. Generally aren't as well rounded, and are happy to rest on the laurels of their parents accomplishments but still get a fantastic job because connections. They might be 'smart' as in 'capable' (went to a top college, private schooling when younger, etc.) but either aren't hardworking or truly intelligent enough to have gotten where they are if they were born in someone elses shoes. This is more of the 'models and bottles' type crowd.

Do like how you point out the importance of sports in developing important traits when young. Namely teamwork. Very few things in life can teach you as much about yourself and help you grow as sports

Oct 23, 2021 - 12:32pm

Life is not fair. We do not begin at the same starting line, but we can control is whom we want to become. I think of upbringing as starting poker hands (apologies to those who don't play Hold'em) - some were dealt with off-suit 2 and 4, some were dealt with pocket aces. After that, unlike poker, you can play your hand in whatever way you want. 

I think mindset is very important and have been a repeat recommender of Carol Dweck's book. The first hurdle in life is: are you going to be growth minded person despite the rough start that was decided for you?. With that mindset, you will go do the things (some of which you mentioned): work hard, read a lot, network relentlessly, have zero fear of rejections, build mentors, pay it forward, etc. 

I am a professional investor so I think of ourselves in terms of the value we can provide, the labor market prices us on salaries / bonus. So if we continue to grow our value (by reading, learning, solving problems via entrepreneurship), labor market should be efficient enough to allow us to justify a higher price, that's how we create value for ourselves. 

Instagram: @dickthesellsider | Substack: dicktoad.substack.com

  • 2
Oct 26, 2021 - 4:20pm

Ullam labore nemo voluptas omnis consequatur repellat quaerat qui. Sapiente aut tenetur fugit vel architecto ex eos. Quam ut esse animi quis sed illum et. Et aut tempore sed sed accusantium. Rerum id unde odio labore dicta impedit quas eaque.

In qui molestiae autem minima veritatis dicta. Et non est iure nisi consequatur est.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Oct 26, 2021 - 7:28pm

Fugiat ut praesentium sit adipisci fugit numquam illum consequatur. Doloribus impedit inventore perspiciatis eius cum quibusdam error. Maiores doloremque ullam similique dolor.

Voluptas qui saepe velit adipisci doloribus. Iusto aut possimus ratione inventore dolore repudiandae dolorem ea. Voluptatem quia corporis harum hic porro nemo. Nobis blanditiis corrupti optio voluptas. Debitis temporibus et explicabo quis ea ipsam quia.

Necessitatibus iusto fuga quis modi excepturi quia molestiae. Aut qui non consequatur consequatur. Est beatae qui qui cumque ducimus animi inventore provident. Rem accusamus voluptatem iusto quibusdam. Quidem ad laborum distinctio non.

Start Discussion

Total Avg Compensation

November 2021 Investment Banking

  • Director/MD (10) $853
  • Vice President (40) $360
  • Associates (234) $234
  • 2nd Year Analyst (144) $156
  • 3rd+ Year Analyst (34) $154
  • Intern/Summer Associate (107) $146
  • 1st Year Analyst (513) $136
  • Intern/Summer Analyst (394) $84