Mythbusters: The Self-Made Man (or Woman) – Examining the Claim & A More Humble Perspective

Is the self-made man a reality or a myth?

It is sometimes said of or by successful people that they are a “self-made man” (Or woman.) This, to me, seems to indicate that those who report them as such are of the belief that they achieved their mountaintop status all by themselves. That they alone are responsible for their outstanding accomplishments.

I personally think that is a load of hooey.

Enough so, that I deemed it worthy of the second installment of this blog’s “Mythbusters” series. The first post in the series was on the false belief that it is possible to get everything done.

Now I’ll grant that there is a school of thought, found none other than on, which determines that one becomes self-made:

“the moment you decide to shape your world, rather than be shaped by it.

It is a spark… A decision… An internal will that can never be given by another, and that can never be purchased or borrowed.

In that moment, you become the sole architect and artist of your life – a Self Made Man or woman, where the rest of the world serves as the hammer and chisel you wield in order to shape it to your desire.”

That makes sense, and I am even inclined to agree with it.

What I take issue with is the mentality that one can get to where they are with no help at all. That one can forge their destiny out of sheer determination and brilliance.

My belief is that is arrogant, and fails to acknowledge formative influences in one’s own life.  The quote above describes the behavior of someone who has chosen to take control of their life. But let us give credit where credit is due.

Everyone’s story begins in a fashion that is beyond their control: where and to whom they are born, and how they are raised. It isn’t until one’s brain is developed and they begin making deliberate, independent choices, that the trajectory of their life gains some autonomy.

Some examples:

The person born in poverty to poorly educated parents. They may stay in the cycle into which they were born. Or perhaps they will encounter an outside influence that ultimately leads them to complete a higher level of education, go on to have a successful career, or even start a wildly successful company and end up in the “1%” club.

An individual with parents who have no interest in a healthy lifestyle, who raise him or her on processed and fast food, loads of sugary garbage, and provide no model for exercising. That person may follow the example they are given, or they may realize their inherited lifestyle is leading to trouble, and end up being a health-food junkie marathoner.

Or how about a rank-and-file worker bee who marches through the rat race for years, enduring terrible bosses, low pay, and a dearth of growth opportunities. Discouraged, they begin taking classes to beef up their education, and eventually switch careers to a job about which they are passionate.

Are all these folks “self-made?” I would argue, no. Not entirely.

The first person may have had an inspiring teacher who their potential, and encouraged them to break the cycle of poverty. Or a sibling who reminded them that there are other options, and it wasn’t necessary to maintain the status quo. Or a friend who had grand ambitions, which opened their eyes to other possibilities.

Perhaps the second person witnessed a parent struggle with health problems caused by poor lifestyle choices. Researching how to treat and prevent such issues lead to the discovery of the vast world of resources out there to help one get and stay healthy. They team up with a friend and join a gym, where they meet others who pursue health, and their life takes a different turn.

The third person may have endured poor or cruel management, being overworked and underpaid, all the while carefully taking notes about “what not to do.” They see in other leaders qualities they admire and seek counsel from them and other co-workers about how to best navigate the situation in which they find themselves. In their next position, they take what they have learned and use it to forge a more rewarding environment for themselves.

The point

The bottom line and the point I am attempting to make is that we all have people in our lives who, for positive or negative, help shape who we are and who we become. We are ultimately responsible for who we become, but the end result was not created in a vacuum. It was forged by the input we received from others every day of our lives.

My mental exercise

I’ve had this topic on my “blog ideas” list for quite some time, but a recent exercise of mental gratitude for specific people in my life is what pushed it to the top, and with greater focus.

Just today I was thinking about a particular individual who started out as a respected supervisor, who eventually became a friend with whom I have stayed in contact even years after we last worked together. We’ve since often commiserated, worked out together, shared the struggles of our various goals and dreams, and helped each other along the way. At least I know she has helped me. She is one of the dozens of examples of people I’ve had the privilege of knowing, whose skills and outlook on life have impacted and shaped my perceptions and abilities.

As I began to think about a handful of other such influential people in my life, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude. I give the credit to God and His kindness and providence in guiding my life to allow me to cross paths with so many fabulous people. Not to mention giving me an outstanding family in which to grow up.

When I reflect on where I am today, I am keenly aware that who I am has been shaped in a big way by the influence of others. Some good, some bad. But all have contributed to my current outlook on life.


That is why I scoff at the phrase “self-made man” and find it arrogant when someone believes they got where they are all by themselves. As I said earlier, I prefer to give credit where it is due and embrace the gratitude for the people and battle scars that have contributed to my success.

What are your thoughts on the “self-made man?” Do you agree or disagree? I am guessing you could name at least one person who has made an enormous impact in your life.

6 responses to “Mythbusters: The Self-Made Man (or Woman) – Examining the Claim & A More Humble Perspective”

  1. AMEN! Well said, Summer.

  2. I don’t think anyone gets anywhere without the help of others. I also think they need to realize that helping others is beneficial for all. The more you list others up, the easier it is to rise together,

  3. Agreed! We need each other. While there is definitely reason to take pride in the choices we make on our own, we can look with gratitude at those who helped us get there.

  4. It definitely helps to have the support of others when you’re making strives to move ahead!

  5. I don’t know anyone who uses the phrase “self-made” to mean that they got to where they are all by themselves. I’ve worked in the entrepreneurial world for over a decade and have met many “self-made” success stories, and they each would agree that we all get to where we are with a LOT of help along the way from others. It’s all about positive support!

  6. […] a positive impact on my business. Behind every successful person is one or more people that have helped them get where they […]

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