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Evolution Bookshelf: “Hillbilly Elegy”

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. VanceA timely deviation from my typical business focused titles, today’s book reflection is on Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. Describing his life growing up in small towns in Kentucky and Ohio prior to joining the Marines, attending Ohio State University and subsequently Yale Law School, Mr. Vance’s background had some similarities to my own, which proved to be extremely thought provoking.  A quick search of the all trustworthy Wikipedia suggests Middletown, OH (the author’s home town) had a 2010 population of 51,605 and 2000 median household income of $36,216 and Alliance, OH (my home town) had a 2010 population of 22,322 and 2000 median household income of $30,078.  The big difference, I had lots of family support, whereas J.D. had very little until he moved in with his “Mamaw” and “Papaw” (grandparents).

A recommended read, here are a few of my big take-aways:

Support at home has a huge impact on outcome

J.D. Vance didn’t have parent support for most of his life.  He struggled with direction in life until he moved in with his grandparents his junior year of high school.  J.D.’s Mamaw was someone he could count on, even if that support was threatening to shoot anyone that messed with him.  In one scene the author describes his Mamaw standing on the front porch with a shotgun warning the Marine recruiter not to step foot on her property.  It proves to have a positive impact when you have someone in your corner, someone that you can count on in good times and bad.

Military may be an answer for many

It bothers me that after 18 years of schooling, I never took a class on how money works.  Why is this?  A question I struggle with.  Everything I learned about money and making practical decisions came from my parents, especially my father.  My father was the youngest of 9 kids, the first to go to college.  His parents were pig farmers in Southern Indiana…hillbillies, perhaps?  Dad went to college to play basketball (not to study) and soon after joined the Air Force, becoming a fighter pilot.  The Air Force gave him structure and taught him about living within his means.  Living within our means is something Dad has been preaching to me for the last 50 years.  J.D. Vance joined the Marines out of high school.  J.D. credits the Marines with teaching him daily finance and discipline, stopping him from things like buying a car he could not afford, as well as healthy lifestyle choices like eating right and physical fitness.  Not only did the Marines help J.D. pay for college after his service, the Marines helped him prepare to be very successful while attending college.  Given the amount of debt that many college graduates find themselves in today, maybe four years with one of the military services is a great foundational choice?

Hillbilly Code

I don’t have an answer for this one.  Why is it that people in Middletown, OH and Alliance, OH feel pride towards their families and the United States?  As J.D. was describing this loyalty and pride in the book, I found myself smiling, again thinking about my own home town.  The Hillbilly Code includes not only an unwavering love of family, but love of country (even when the country has not provided a better life).  Interesting to compare the Hillbilly Code to the feelings about country expressed by NFL players often receiving free educations and making millions of dollars at a very young age.  I’m not sure which positon is correct, but definitely provides food for thought.

Also, as a small business investor, there was a recent Forbes article referencing this book, which I found interesting and thought worth sharing: It’s Up To Entrepreneurs To Redefine What A ‘Good Job’ Means In America.

As always, let me know what you are reading, I’m constantly looking for new titles to add to my growing list.  And if you are looking for additional suggestions, check-out the Evolution Bookshelf here.

 

 

Posted by: Brendan Anderson

A co-founder and managing partner at Evolution, Brendan has spent the past 20 years as an investor and manager of businesses ranging from manufacturing to financial services. @Brendan_Andersn

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