Too many young men immune to hard work. Good jobs impossible to fill for any length of time. And a young man with every reason to work—a wife-to-be to support and a baby on the way—carelessly tossing aside a good job with excellent health insurance. More troublingly, when it was all over, he thought something had been done to him. There is a lack of agency here—a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.
J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy
In his memoir about growing up in “rustbelt Ohio,” J. D. Vance suggests that one of the reasons he and others were able to succeed and many others struggled was the lack of agency. The white working class he knew growing up blamed everyone but themselves for their failures.
I couldn’t help but make a connection between his experience and what Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset” (vs. the “fixed mindset”). Successful people believe they can grow. Unsuccessful people believe they are destined for some way of life because of personality traits, genetics, family, culture, intelligence, health, etc. or the government and employers.
The answer to the problems the people in the Midwest are going through right now, if there is one, is a cultural one. It is a mindset shift.
How do we convince people that they can grow?
How do we convince people that they have hope?
How do we convince people that they have at least some level of control over their lives?
We can’t control what other people say or do, but we can control how we react and work towards a better life.