Here’s the link of the video I made based on this article :

Recently, I have been coming across people labelling themselves as ‘self-made’, on social-media profiles (not in-person of course). Whether on their Instagram bio or as their Whatsapp statuses and maybe on LinkedIn as well. And I started thinking about this concept. What does self-made actually mean and what do people who claim to be one intend to imply?

The beginning & early shaping

To look at it from an elemental level, our very birth in this world is not in our hands. The part of the globe, the continent, the country, state, city, and the family. None of that is under our volition. The family, primarily our parents then nurture us, feed and protect us. Now depending upon their financial capabilities & awareness, they educate us (or don’t). Along the way, we imbibe the cultural values & traditions, ways of thinking and behaving with the people in our surroundings.

Apart from this immediate circle of relatives/ family members, the next level of our interaction is with our friends- the company we keep. This circle in some cases has more influence on the individual than the family. The people we get associated with by our choice, influences us, our thought patterns, mannerisms, etiquettes and has a role in forming our worldview. “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with” – that’s what came into your mind, right?

The Academic Shaping & entry into the ‘real world’

Our college/university, our teachers and professors, the knowledge they impart to us, adds a different layer of information to our heads. But it might or might not influence us that much as by the age a person gets into a HEI, he or she doesn’t remain that gullible. They have somewhat formed a foundational idea about who they are and how they think about things. Hereafter, people enter into the open realm, out of an institutional, structured setting to a broad spectrum of limitless possibilities.  Some are already aware of their professional interests, have a job in hand or know the direction they want to take. Others not so sure, try different areas, fields of interests in the pursuit of finding their thing.

The ones who do great things

Out of all the people who set out to do something big and unique, only a handful are actually able to achieve some level of success in their endeavours. And the most enthusiastic, optimistic and purpose-driven of this handful are the ones who create some massive positive impact in the world. We’ll call them ‘Gamechangers’. Hardly any of these gamechangers has ever claimed or will claim themselves to be self-made. Primarily because they don’t need to and secondly because they don’t care. They’re too focussed to achieve what they’ve set out to rather than be concerned with any sort of insignia.

The Contradiction

Most of the people who label themselves  as ‘Self-made’ are basically implying that whatever they’ve achieved or built in their life (usually after giving due credit to the people who supported them) is by themselves. And that, most probably would be true, i.e. they must have had the idea, would have built a team, he/she would’ve lead the team, made important decisions and so on. But wouldn’t that be self-contradictory? Being ‘self-made’ and having had all the things – the people support, the resources –material/financial and all the innumerable factors – the privileges, opportunities, environment and also luck, that made it possible for the person to be able to claim being self-made?

For a moment, let’s assume that the one who is claiming to be self-made was not born in the family, city or country in which he did. Or his family did not have the financial capability to provide the education, the material comforts, the environment or the lack of these – which he did get or faced. Or the friend circle, the teachers & professors that also played a defining role in the formation of his worldview, his thought patterns and eventually his choices. Could he have achieved what he did if any or a combination of the mentioned aspects were to be absent or would have been in different measures than what they were in reality. The obvious answer is NO. The outcome would have varied depending upon the variations in these factors.

What we do, how we do it, when, where and why we do it – all of these depend on what we think, how we think and why we think in a particular way – which in turn majorly depends on our life experiences, the choices we have made in different situations and phases of our lives. And this keeps on continuing in the form of a virtuous cycle.

Our deduction

What then, we can safely assume and which also sounds reasonably correct and probably is also true is that all that one achieves or doesn’t is the sum result of the various forces/aspects – collectively at work, right from the beginning. The opportunities, privileges, resources and luck which one got or did not. To say that someone is self-made would be, in essence, over-exaggeration or rather a falsity. The better way to convey the same message or status without erring can be, say, “Least-aided achiever”? It doesn’t sound as cool but is factually more true. Another one can be “Max-struggled achiever”. Can you think of a better one? Post it in the comments below and share your thoughts about this article/concept.

In the end, I’d like to share this quote by Lawyer & Activist Vernon Jordan on the collaborative nature of life:

You are where you are today because you stand on somebody’s shoulders. And wherever you are heading, you cannot get there by yourself. If you stand on the shoulders of others, you have a reciprocal responsibility to live your life so that others may stand on your shoulders. It’s the quid pro quo of life. We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.

Source: 2002 speech at Howard University


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