I met someone the other day who swears the deck is stacked against him. He truly believes he’s been shortchanged because he doesn’t have access to the opportunities and connections that privileged people have. He said, “There are no jobs for people like me.”

I felt sorry for the guy. He really does have zero chance of making it big in this world, but not for the reasons he thinks. Holding onto those lame excuses is what’s holding him back. It’s all in his head. And that’s probably enough to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The truth is, business success is not a function of money and privilege. It never has been. Nearly all the highly accomplished people I’ve known -- and I’ve known a lot -- started with nothing and faced considerable adversity to get to where they are today.

It’s certainly no coincidence that so many great minds, business leaders, and famous entertainers grew up in tough inner city neighborhoods.

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Starbucks founder Howard Schultz grew up not far from where I did in Brooklyn. Likewise, FUBU CEO Daymond John is from Queens. Former Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg worked his way up from cable splicer’s assistant right out of high school.

Had any of those guys thought they weren’t going to make it because the deck was stacked against them, they probably wouldn’t have had the success they had.  

In a recent interview, Sting said his kids wouldn’t be getting any of his $300 million fortune. Instead, the 62-year-old musician who grew up in a working-class family in Newcastle taught his six children the importance of having a strong work ethic – of standing on their own two feet and succeeding on their own merit.

“I am determined that my children should have no financial security. It ruins people not having to earn money,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to leave them trust funds that are albatrosses round their necks.”

He’s absolutely right about that.

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The truth is, when you grow up with nothing and have to work hard to make your own way in the world, it teaches you self-reliance and personal accountability. It teaches you that complaining and excuses don’t do any good. It teaches you that the only way you’re going to make it is by making things happen, not by whining.   

I also found another striking similarity between Sting’s upbringing and my own. He felt he had to get away from where he grew up and his admittedly dysfunctional family. Likewise, I grew up in a similarly toxic environment where I felt I didn’t belong. Like Sting, I “escaped” when I was young – 16, in fact.

That upbringing toughens you up, puts a chip on your shoulder and makes you hungry to achieve great things. That sense that you have something to prove is what drives you to wake up every day and face the enormous challenges of a competitive world with all the determination you can muster. 

The truth is, no able-bodied person benefits from having a safety net. It leads to complacency. It reduces competitive spirit, adaptability and perseverance. It fosters the status quo, inertia – the opposite of entrepreneurial risk-taking.

Steve Jobs once said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” That’s about as clear an articulation of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur I’ve ever heard: feeling that you have nothing to lose. And that never comes from money and privilege.  

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