My White Privilege
by Stephen Perkins
I look at the pathway I took, and I think it just gets down to being focused. You have to have some sort of goal, you have to have some focus on that goal, and you have to work towards that goal every day, every week, and never lose sight of what you hope to achieve. And you know, when you fail, which we all do, you cannot make excuses and you cannot blame other people, you just have to keep moving ahead, you have to keep focusing on your goals, and work to those goals.
Chapter 1: Parents Who Loved Me
A big part of what I kept thinking about was family, and my parents. Most of the guidance direction I got came from my parents, who I felt loved me, but gave me very good direction. The upbringing part of it had so many aspects to dive into it is hard to find a place to start, but I think, honestly, there was an element of -- you know, because my parents had a strong Christian background there was a lot of teachings from traditional Christian values, New Testament values. Basically, you know, “Do on to others, as you want them to do onto you.” And fairness. And so being brought up in a way that taught fairness and tolerance and such helped shape that. As a young child, you don’t always do that, and so you get in trouble. You get reprimanded, but I think a lot of the reprimands of such from my parents were always done in a manner that was trying to help me become a better person to my family, my community, and whoever I was interacting with. I think my parents had a huge influence on my upbringing that shaped me for my later years. My parents, they gave me that upbringing to be somewhat respectful of others and do onto others thing.
I think, regardless, I was lucky enough where my parents stayed together. A lot of my friends didn’t always have parents that stayed together, and it changes dynamics. Often times, you can see that, maybe the two parents had different values or views on how they raise or teach their child. Sometimes, it is just because that’s the way it is and sometimes it’s to spite the spouse they left. And then unfortunately the child suffers, but in my case, I was very lucky and so I felt like that was a benefit, there was always clothes on my back and food on the table.
My parents struggled. They had me when they were 18 and basically 20. There were times that my parents struggled. They lived in a trailer, then an apartment early on, but the focus was always about family and about being the best person you could be to yourself and to your community. So, they were barely adults at the time. I think they did a good job for the most part. You know, it was different then because I grew up in the 70s. I was born in ‘68, and growing up in the 70s, I am a gen Xer. I’m one of the earliest Gen Xers, actually. The baby boomers cut off around ‘64, I was born in ‘68. In my life time, we had vinyl records. There were no video games. TVs were still at times black and white; remotes -- remote controls came out in my era. Video games, and all of that launched, and things really snowballed with the advent of computers and technology, and what-not. It really snowballed, and it really moved quickly, and the 90s, and so on.
I was really happy about that generation because it seemed a little simple, and you could be happy with less. I grew up, often times, having lots of leftovers and hand-me-down clothes that we got from the older kids in the neighborhood. It wasn’t uncommon, that if you had patches in your jeans it wasn’t really a big deal. Like, today’s standards it probably isn’t as acceptable. Not that it isn't acceptable, but you will just be looked at differently. So, the time I had then it was definitely simpler and cozier. Just parents who love and just wanted to bring me up in a way that they say fit.
Chapter 2: Finishing School
This would be getting into more of my teenage years, and early adulthood, I think. I knew that I was never really fired up to spend a lot of time studying in high school. I was a very average student. I didn’t really have any direction, honestly, as to what I wanted to do with my life. At that age, it’s difficult to zone in and focus on something you want to commit your life to. I plugged my way through high school, without any purpose, not sure if I was going to go to college, or join the military, or what it might be. Until one time, I think it was my senior year of high school. I was being recruited heavily by the marines. There was a recruiter on campus that was spending a lot of time with me. He would see me after school at the gym, after football practice, and what-not. I remember my mom made a comment to me, she said something to the effect of, “Are you seriously thinking of joining the Marines?”
She said something to the effect of, “You can do better than that,” or “You have more smarts then that, and besides do you really want someone telling you what to do all the time?” She planted a seed, and then from there, I basically decided that I am not going to join the marines, but I am going to go the community college. So then I did that immediately after high school.
During that time period, one of my football coaches - his wife was a physical therapist, and I had shown a little interest in athletic training. When you play sports, sometimes you get injured and you see the trainer, and in those days the coach would tape you up. And so, that coach was taping me, and I was interested in fitness and going to the gym, playing sports. And so, athletic injuries I was somewhat interested in. So, he brought in one of his wife's physical therapy journals. That I was intrigued by. I thought that was an honorable profession, and it seemed fun, and seemed like something I could get excited about.
So, I decided that after high school I would go straight to the community college, and just start taking classes that were related to that. Even though a lot of my friends did join the military, whether it was the marines or the navy, or the army. They went in all different branches. Some of my friends decided to take a break from school and work. And luckily, I went right into a summer class and kept my academics going and so I spent two years at the junior college, at which point, I went from being a very average or below average student to an above average student. I started getting straight A’s, 4.0s, and I was getting excited about things. School at that time now became, instead of a drag, it became something that I was excited about and so, I did my two years at the community college before I decided to transfer.
Through high school and these early years of college I had been working part time constantly. You know, always working, and [my parents] just said, “Listen, all you have to do is just keep going to school, save your money to pay for tuition, and we will continue to support you the way we can.” I was free to stay at the house, I didn’t really have to pay any rent, as long as I was going to school and working, saving money for college. At which point, I transferred to a four-year university, luckily with some scholarships and grants, and finished school. And that really, I think, got me on track as far as the path way for my life.
Chapter 3: Getting A Job
Basically, after I finished my undergraduate studies, I continued working, although struggling. Getting out of school with a degree in Sports Medicine, it really did not allow me to do much. It was like a degree history, where you can use that to go on to graduate work, but I was in limbo. I was making like $21,000 a year with student loans piled-up. At that point for me, I was really trying to figure out how things work. I knew I was going to go back to school in the physical therapy area. But, you know, I had a lot of debt, and I wasn’t making a lot of money, and I was out on my own, trying to pay bills. And I felt at that time that I had to keep working, but working as an exercise technician, or anything along those lines, making $21,000 a year is not going to cut it. I was trying to figure out how this was going to work. How do people succeed in this world, when you’re not making any money, and you got debt, and you can’t get into graduate school fast enough and get out fast enough to start making money to pay your bills? It is a horrible cycle to be in. And so, it was a rough three years, but I continued. I just, basically, scrimped by and until I could get back to graduate school.
Getting the job - the job has always been there, ever since I had the paper route at, you know, twelve years old. So, delivering papers, washing dishes, and basically working at whatever job I could that was either some sort of step up towards my focus of physical therapy, which eventually lead me into orthotics and prosthetics. And now, so each job I got, narrowed the focus. Every time I changed an employer it was narrowing the focus, and not losing sight of what that ultimate goal was, even if it was going to be delayed while I had to save money and pay loans. It was still that focus was there, even though it was two years down the road, one year down the road, whatever. So, that’s basically getting the job; I was always working.
Chapter 4: Taking Risks
When I finally did get into grad school, I decided that physical therapy wasn’t where I was going for; it would be prosthetics and orthotics. I did that two-year program and then I did my two-year residency. Then, I went to go work for somebody. It was a publicly held company, a big corporation, and I learned the ropes a little bit, and I spent a few years with them.
And it was pretty good. I was making decent money. I was paying off my loans, got married and such, but there were still some things missing. I mean, I was still always pushing, I knew I had certain goals or a certain, maybe, lifestyle that I had envisioned for myself, when I had started this whole thing going back to community college. So, in order to do that I knew it wasn’t going happen working for a publicly held company getting a 3% raise every year and chipping away into a 401K program. At that point, I decided that when the timing was right and the market was poised for some competition in my area, I quit my job, put my house on the line, and took a loan, and started a business. That was probably the biggest risk I took. Very, stressful at the time. I was going to have to make a move if I wanted to take care of my family the way that I wanted. So, in that sense it pushed me forward, but at the same time, I was being very calculated because I didn’t want to disrupt their lives. You know, the kids were young, they were in grade school, and I didn’t want to disrupt them because if things blew up in my face, we were going to have to sell the house and basically move and disappear. Yeah, but luckily, things worked out.
I had a good business partner, and we had a great business plan, and we worked hard together. And, you know, we caught a few breaks here and there. Sometimes we didn’t catch breaks, but it worked out. You know, the first few years were really brutal, lots of sacrifices, almost a step back in income and lifestyle, but then, quickly things accelerated, after that the business started to snowball. Things steam-rolled past what I had been doing with my previous employer, and things have been really pretty good ever since, for the most part. Yeah, there is still obviously, being a business owner, there is still a lot of liability associated with that, so the risk is never 100% mitigated. The house is safe because my loans are paid off, but the liability associated with it sometimes can be a little intense.
I’m thinking that there has got to be time to take a break and not wait until I am old to retire. So, it would be, basically, coasting to a finish. Right now, I am currently looking at possibly selling my business. I have two interested parties; one is my former employer and the one is another huge medical center. One of the top ten medical centers in the country is looking at it. It is a big deal. It is really exciting, actually. So, we just had a conference call today, so - but looking - when you build something from scratch that you have total control over, and you are able to then - it is one thing to turn it over to somebody else for a payday, but it is also something else to create and build something, and then merge it into something bigger than you, that leaves a legacy for the future. It is pretty neat. So, to predict it would have to be something along those lines. Maybe you know, not waiting until I’m old to retire, and just cruising a little bit because at the age of 50 I’ve been pushing really hard ever since I was basically, at this point now, 18. So, yeah I am ready to slow down a little bit, and not work so hard, and maybe enjoy things, and maybe slow the pace.
I would give [this collection of stories] to my oldest. I would give it to her as a, if nothing else, maybe, a blueprint of what’s worked for me. So, it could be used as a guide for, if nothing else. Then, if she found it beneficial I would be hoping that she was putting notes in the margin, and updating it, and editing it, as she goes, so she could then hand it down to her brother, and then so on, and so on for future generations so that the family would have some sort of history to use to their benefit, in any way that they see fit, if they found it useful.
My White Privilege: Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Parents Who Loved Me
In which Stephen Perkins reflects on the influence that his parents had on his life, and the values that his parents instilled in him from a young age.
Chapter 2: Finishing School
In which Stephen Perkins discusses what his school years were like, and how he remained focused on his goals throughout his life.
Chapter 3: Getting A Job
In which Stephen Perkins remembers all the times that he had a job, and that time that he got his first large corporation job. He reflects on the years of academics and schooling that got him to that place.
Chapter 4: Taking Risks
In which Stephen Perkins leaves his old job and starts his own company. He discussed the risks that he took in his life, and how those risks ended up being some of the best things that happened to him.
About Stephen Perkins
Stephen Perkins is 50 years old, or 51 now. Lives in [City] with his family and is very grateful to the friends and family who have given support and advice over the years. And you know really, quite content with where I’m at now. He enjoys what he does and feels very fortunate to work in the career that he does because he has met wonderful and incredible people who overcome really huge challenges, every day. And he is happy to be a small part in of making a difference in their lives. And to him, he feels very fortunate that he stumbled into this profession.