My Harley Bootstraps

What creates a successful person? Many Americans have grown up with the idea that the only thing standing between you and your dreams is hard work. You can achieve anything if you try hard enough. You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and change your circumstance. This idea has become so ingrained in our society a two-fold fallacy has formed. People that have succeeded, for whatever reason, credit themselves even if they didn’t work hard; meanwhile those that don’t succeed are accused of being lazy or free-riders.

The truth is not everyone can – or should be –an executive, inventor, artist, or astronauts. Environment, opportunity, and intellect play a large role, and these are difficult levers to change. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t motivate children to try their hardest, follow their dreams, or try to change their situation; but this can’t and won’t happen for everyone. It reminds me of the phrase, “If you can’t have the one you love, love the one you’re with.” It isn’t settling. It is understanding your strengths and weakness to find appreciation in the best contribution you can make to society.

Now, Godin is throwing individuality into the argument; all you need is to work hard and resist the machine. Be an individual and be innovative and you will succeed. However, in promoting unbridled individuality with the aim of becoming personally more successful, Godin perpetuates the dangerously self-centered society created through our existing bootstrap mentalities.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of expressing individuality. I’m an atheist, have multiple tattoos, ride a motorcycle, listen to heavy metal music, and am a woman. But I also understand the importance of a cohesive and cooperative society that could be destroyed by the idea of “the right to individuality.” I don’t expect that everyone will or should ‘take me as I am’; there is a time and place to express myself. And there is a reason why people follow the crowd: sometimes the crowd is sometimes right. Just as it is silly follow the norm blindly, it is just as bad to rebel for no reason.

If all of us did everything that popped into our head, especially in regards to self-promotion or ‘because we wanted to’, society would be chaos. Should an artist starve a dog for the sake of art? Or because he thinks it is an innovative way to make a statement? This might sound like an extreme example, but consider the current situation with climate change. Many might think the right to individuality allows them to pollute how they want, drive gas guzzling cars, or ignore the collective good in pursuit of their own happiness. We need creativity in our society and to think critically about the laws and norms we follow. However, we need to do this not in regard to our self-interest, but with society as a whole in mind. Otherwise, we run the risk of individuality becoming the excuse for a lack of social conscience.

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