“Working with these kids taught me a lot about myself. Until then I thought I was the poster boy for the American dream. I came to the United States virtually broke, worked hard, kept focused on my goal, and made it. This really was the land of opportunity, I thought. If a kid like me could do it, anybody could. Well, that wasn’t so.
Traveling to schools, I saw that it wasn’t enough to grow up with the United States as your address. In the inner cities, kids didn’t even dare to dream. The message they got was “Don’t bother. You’ll never make it. You’re a loser.”
I thought about what I had that those kids didn’t. I grew up poor too. But I had a fire inside of me to succeed and two parents who pushed me and taught me discipline. I had a strong public school education. I had after-school sports with coaches and training partners who were role models. I had mentors who told me, “You can do it, Arnold,” and then made me believe it. They were around me twenty-four hours a day, supporting me and making me grow.
But how many inner-city kids had those tools? How many learned the discipline and determination? How many got the encouragement that would let them even glimpse their self-worth?
Instead, they were told they were trapped. They could see that most of the adults around them were trapped. The schools were short of resources, the teachers were worn out and not always the best, and mentors were scarce. There were families in poverty and gangs all around.
I wanted them to feel their own drive, ambition, and hope, and get up to the same starting line. So it was never hard to work for these kids or to think of the right thing to say. “We love you,” I would tell them. “We care for you. You are great. You can make it. We believe in you, but the most important thing is that you believe in yourself. All these opportunities are out there waiting for you as long as you make the right decisions and have a dream. You can be anything you want to be. A teacher, a police officer, a doctor, you can do that. Or a basketball star or an actor. Or even the president. Anything is possible, but you have to do your end of the work. And we as grownups have to do ours.”
Excerpt From: Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story.”
Also published on Medium.