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  • Wally Lan

Why pulling yourself by your own bootstraps is unrealistic

The term, “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps,” is often used to describe the process of succeeding or reaching a higher position—mainly socioeconomic—through your own effort’s and no outside help.

This idea seldom proves itself to be feasible in modern society. The concept of increasing one’s socioeconomic status through their hard work alone skyrocketed—even becoming the national ethos—during the 1920s, otherwise known as the roaring 20s. The very idea of having an equal opportunity of climbing the social ladder through hard work alone fascinated many. However, over time, this national vision—the American Dream—changed.

People no longer dream of owning land. People no longer dream of living a comfortable life. People no longer dream of eating food on a normal basis. Nowadays, people dream of buying the most expensive houses, luxuries and goods, etc. Many would believe that in order to reach this modern vision, they would have to work harder and become more self-reliant than ever before.

That is not the case. In fact, it is the opposite. In our nation, the concept of being self-reliant on one’s efforts to reach success no longer exists. Now, people aim to improve their lives and live luxuriously through working as little as possible.

While this concept sounds ridiculous upon first glance, it is because people these days are more likely to receive help in advancing their endeavors.

This idea aligns with nepotism—favoritism granted to those with connections with friends and families in fields such as business, entertainment, politics, sports, etc. While many frown upon this—stemming from ancient Indian philosophers criticizing the practice as evil and unwise—those who are favored by this system are still considered successful and stand at a higher position.

When measuring solely through socioeconomic means, there is no difference between those who are favored by nepotism and those who spent nearly a decade of training for their jobs. Sure, the latter may feel a bigger sense of self accomplishment, but when looking at the core values of the American Dream, what difference does that make anyway?

To put such comparison into view, take a look at the law field. Under the concept of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, it would make sense that the one who attended a better law school, received near perfect grades, and worked many internships would be the more successful lawyer right?

Unfortunately, in today’s society, that is far from the truth. The law field is notorious for its over-saturated nature along with being dominated by privileged and powerful families. Children and grandchildren of senior attorneys and powerful families thrive through the field—with their friends’ or families’ help—while first generation lawyers—who are “pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps”—struggle to find a job after graduating law school, with the odds being highly against them.

However, this is not to say that first generation lawyers have no chance in the field. Many have proven that they are capable of thriving in this field without connections, but the process is just not as simple as having a family member referring you to work at their firm.

And again, there is nothing wrong with being self-reliant. But just think about the last time you asked for help? Did the result lead to gratification and happiness? Attempting to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps is still doable, but through allowing others to help you reach success, you not only increase your chances of reaching your goals, but you experience less anxiety and greater gratitude.

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