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The Myth of Being “Self-Made”

Kylie Jenner caused an uproar two years ago when Forbes named her the youngest self-made billionaire ever. Obviously, the Kardashian clan already had substantial wealth when her net worth reached $1 billion, which made the claim somewhat laughable to the general public. Without that name and family, she would’ve had a much more difficult time creating a viral beauty brand like Kylie Cosmetics. However, this incident had me thinking: is anyone truly self-made?

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who have achieved success without a substantial head start from their family, but success doesn’t occur in a vacuum. We all rely on other people for countless things: teaching, producing, managing, legislating, etc. As my roommate likes to say, no one makes their own shoes alone (or roads, or house, or car, you get the idea). For example, small business owners’ first customers and cheerleaders are family and friends, high school students often have teachers and parents helping them reach graduation, and athletes have coaches training them to peak their performance.

Lebron James
Tim Shelby

Even when people haven’t played a huge part in someone’s success, their God-given talents, gifts and capabilities always do. Basketball players are born with a genetic predisposition to be enormously tall, jockeys are vertically challenged and actors have great expression.

Reflecting on the credit I deserve or don’t deserve for my (albeit small) life achievements continuously brings me to the conclusion that I owe God the recognition for everything. After all, we have no control over what family we are born into, where we are born, what opportunities are available to us in those spaces, our genetics, talents, or many other factors. I hit the jackpot with a family who loves me, being born in the wealthiest country in the world, a healthy body and a sound mind.

But what about those born in poverty who achieve the American dream and create a better life for themselves and their families? Although this is extremely admirable, these people could not have achieved this feat alone. The customers to their business, the encouraging professor, the supportive friend, the early investors, their natural abilities and more were factors in their success. Oprah Winfrey came from a young, poor single mother in Mississippi, and she became the first black female billionaire in America. Winfrey is as close to self-made as it gets, and yet her achievements are not solely accreditable to herself. The keys to her success were the tenacious pursuit of her goals, television networks that provided her a platform, an agent with great advice and a gift for performance.

Forbes delineates “self-made” versus not in terms of wealth by judging if the entrepreneur, investor, etc. inherited part or all of their net worth. Inheritance is not the only way a person can receive a contribution to their success, and it is not generally a large portion of billionaires’ fortunes. Intangible factors such as the help of parents, mentors, friends, talent, genetics and more are often the source of wealth. Most of our origin stories lie somewhere between the extravagant background of Kylie Jenner and the meager beginnings of Oprah Winfrey, but all of us have someone to thank for our opportunities.

Getting into college, receiving a job offer or simply buying a latte are all things that don’t happen in a vacuum. This holiday season, consider all the ways that God and others have contributed to your life. You might be surprised at the number of essential people who deserve gratitude for their support along the way.             

Kristina is a senior majoring in Finance with a minor in Psychology. When she's not at a coffee shop or going for a run, you can catch her suffering at the library questioning her life choices. She loves watching college football and writing for HerCampus!
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