Self Challenging – A lifestyle choice

Born into a poor family – today in the UK we would have been described as “existing”. This whole concept reflects how times have changed. Post WW2 the UK state has taken on a more protective role, setting limits and creating norms for society.

It became clear to me at an early age that if we were to escape poverty then we were the only ones who change our lives. Today, by contrast, an interventionist model of government has created a situation that takes that personal responsibility away. My parents had jobs because we needed them to, our garden was a vegetable plot because we couldn’t afford it to be grass. Our trees were fruit bearing because ornamental trees offered nothing. Yes and we recycled everything we could, repaired things until there was no life in them.

However the positive impact of development and change has meant that very few UK Citizens are faced with these circumstances. This is a powerful tribute to the society that has achieved this.

This comes at a real cost

My siblings and I decided that our children would not grow up in the same position. The two eldest were working whilst still in school. Personal sacrifices had to be made as food on the table was more important than nurturing talent, creating scope for a career or Higher Education. We were once described as the “crawling working class”, we weren’t being carried by the state but we weren’t in a position to walk for ourselves either.

So there were opportunities lost to all of us.

However our children have never experienced the levels of poverty we grew up with. To many we have all been successful as journeymen. Yet there are some residual issues, low self worth and readiness to accept what we are told when it comes to state support. The positive characteristics we all have are summed up in the description of “self-challenging”.

We knew where we were and where our children needed to be when they were born, we had a finite time and very limited resources to achieve that. We all achieved it. But over the last few months we have come to realise the lack of exposure to the very things that made us stronger have left our children in a difficult spot. It has become apparent that they have self esteem and appear very confident in comparison to us, but when knocked down they struggle to get up again.

Self Challenging advantages

To those who have experienced the same process of dragging themselves out of the poverty cycle the first skill learned is “never avoid the issue!” Look at the solution, where you need to be and work towards it never expecting others to pitch in and help. This begins by setting daily goals, challenges and objectives.

We begin to measure ourselves on the distance we have traveled under our own steam and effort. Where we have been helped it is a pleasure to accept it.

Therefore we have a lifestyle that ensures that today is going to mean something because we have worked hard for it. We are autonomous and self starting two powerful advantages, quite often this is linked to our problem solving skills and creativity.

However looking at the children that follow they have inherited “a system” that disenfranchises them because they don’t have to do anything to be entitled to a more comfortable life than “existing”. As a consequence of that system they have access to provisions that limit the need or desire to challenge themselves. So we have an “entitled” generation who when asked to respond to their own issues positively lack the skills required.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Let’s make it clear it isn’t a fault it is a consequence of improvement. The outcome is that the UK has a Health Service and Education System it wants and society demands continuous improvement but refuse to pay what it costs.

I recently read an item that formed part of a social research piece about young peoples attitudes to paying for state pensions. The common theme appeared to be that the feeling was those of pensionable age to day should have saved for their old age. It was a great piece because it clearly shows that few are aware of their social history.


First, I never want us to go back to the way it was, they weren’t the good old days.

Second, our advantages came from our approach to where we found ourselves.

Third, we had the choice to grind out our existence or push forward, our incentive was family.

Fourth, success came at a price, we unintentionally disenfranchised the next generation.

Fifth, we created a situation where state intervention, the catchall safety net limited what individuals could do to resolve their own problems.

Sixth, it is much harder to adopt a lifestyle based on self challenging processes but it is still out there.

We have an opportunity to resolve many things for others through compassion and support but like the stabilizers on a child’s bicycle there comes a time when we must liberate the individual.

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3 thoughts on “Self Challenging – A lifestyle choice”

  1. That’s an interesting take and I agree to a point. We must also remember that in the UK the majority of people in poverty are in work. Tomorrow I will be working with customers who are desperate to move on in life–that’s my job and I love it. But the state has failed them and we have all failed them by sleep-walking into economic ideologies that are now failing huge numbers of hard working people, This is a bigger issue than state benefits to my mind: in the Britain you describe where you grew up there was, actually, more of a chance of social inclusion. You could work hard and get rewarded.

    Now people work hard and are still poor. So we must fight hard for “Inclusive Growth”. The people I work with will not see the benefits of the millions of pounds of investment in this or that region of the country. There will be no “trickle down economics” for the so-called- “JAMS” (Just about managing); and they will remain just that because there are not the opportunities that there used to be. Swathes of middle- and supervisory management have been swept away. People on the minimum wage and in the gig economy lack the education and skills to make the leap from low earning and Jamming to decent wages.

    In short, we need a fundamental change in the way we view employment, economic inactivity and growth.

    • Serena for 20 years I worked within the voluntary sector as an adviser. Finding work for the longterm unemployed, working with offenders, running schemes and programmes. What I have found is the demand outstrips the capacity but also that my specialism of empowerment through activity was effective. Yet no matter what governments do we still have the poor with us. I suppose I was saying our reaction to our history disenfranchises some people. Thanks for reading the article.

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