From rags to riches, the story of Cinderella is not just a fairy tale, but an idea underpinning a democratic society. One of the fundamental ideas in the Western world is that everyone has an equal shot at their highest aspirations. The road may be bumpy but if we stay on course, the final destination is within our reach. The institutions are structured in a way that facilitates upward mobility. Cinderella stories are everywhere. However, more than just being members of a supportive society, these Cinderellas also offer lessons in resilience and stamina.
J.K. Rowling, the epitome of the Cinderella story (albeit without the help of a handsome prince), always tugs at my heart strings. A single mother driven to poverty, Rowling found solace in the story of Harry Potter – a character who fired up every child’s imagination in books and later in Hollywood. The mighty power of her pen kept her going even after being rejected by multiple publishers.
Plenty of modern-time politicians and other influential figures have walked down the path of an underdog in their unique ways. It is almost like a rite of passage in order to make it in this world. In the United States, the story of Bill Clinton needs no introduction. Clinton grew up in an abusive home in rural Arkansas, a place as far away from the luxury and politics of DC as one can get. It was his sense of purpose and a huge dose of intelligence that earned him the Rhodes scholarship, a Yale law degree, and the rest is history. In Canada, Jean Chretien, the 20th Prime Minister of Canada, was the 18th child of a poor Catholic family in rural Quebec. He learned to fend for himself at a young age. Through unwavering devotion to a political cause he believed in, strong academic achievement and plenty of fortitude, he led the Liberal Party of Canada to three majorities.
The likes of JK Rowling and the Bill Clintons of the world could not have less in common. But their success can all be attributed to a society that rewards hard work and ambitions. Just as important as being part of a generous society, they demonstrated incredible resilience and stamina when odds were against them. They were not born into fame and fortune; they had to do the heavy lifting on their own. There were too many road blocks to count. For Rowling, it was publishers who did not believe in the magic of Harry Potter or her writing style. For the Clintons and Chretiens of the world, it was opponents who jumped at every opportunity to negate what they stood for.
Whether you want to be the next Rowling or a future leader of a country, these underdog stories remind us that being born into a society that values individual achievement is a gift. It is hard to imagine a poor rural boy growing up to be a leader (Chretien or Clinton) in an oppressive country or a poor single mother making billions from a series of books about magic in a country that stifles new ideas. But a gift is useless if the recipient does not know what to do with it. Both Rowling and the great leaders of our time were not only blessed with a gift, but they built on it with their hard work and determination. Never let a gift go wasted.