I recently received a question from a reader:

Q: If you only had one conversation to challenge someone at their core, to offer them opportunity for growth, and to invite them to grow, how would you structure that conversation?

A: It depends on the person. Here are some different questions I would like to ask them:

  • At the end of your life, what do you want to remember that you did to make the world a better place to be?
  • What is your greatest talent? How can you use that talent to help others?

Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, as well as Outwitting the Devil, researched 25,000 people after the Great Depression in the early 1930s. He said that only 2% of the people could move beyond their fears to actualize their hopes. Fears include the loss of safety, belonging, being in poverty, criticism, etc.

  • What wakes you up at night?
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • Do you have a future story? Can you see yourself in the story?
  • Do you have the strength and stamina to face obstacles and valleys?
  • Success requires that you have periods of time when you are on the path. Can you handle that?

If the individual you are interviewing comes from poverty, they have had very few conversations with adults about what they want to do or be. There is lots of conversation about winning the lottery, becoming a sports star, or being a YouTuber, but the idea of a plan to get you there—methodically, with setbacks—is not part of the conversation. Also, there is a deep understanding that if you make it out of poverty, then you “owe” your friends who stood by you in poverty and kept you safe. The Michael Vick story is a classic example of that.

A second issue is this: When you move from poverty to middle class or from middle class to wealth, there is a period of time where you have to give up relationships for achievement because there is not time enough for both. Relationships keep you alive in poverty, so it is a very difficult transition.

The four reasons that one leaves poverty are: It is too painful to stay; there is a key relationship; there is a talent or a skill; there is a future story. The more of these you have, the more likely you are to leave poverty.

To learn more about working more successfully with those living in poverty, check out the content and strategies in Bridges Out of Poverty or A Framework for Understanding Poverty.