- The myth of the self-made person leads people to believe that they can achieve anything they set their minds to, without the help of others. It leads to arrogance and entitlement.
The dangerous concept of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”.
The phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is often used to describe the idea that people can achieve success through hard work and determination alone. But where does it come from and is that concept Biblical? The phrase has a more complex history than many people realize.
It originated shortly before the turn of the 20th century, and it was originally meant to be sarcastic. It was used to describe an impossible task, like trying to lift yourself up by pulling on your bootstraps.
But the phrase’s meaning eventually evolved, and it came to be used to describe socioeconomic advancement. This shift in meaning occurred during a time when there was a growing belief in Western culture that anyone could achieve success through hard work and determination.
Today, the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is still used to encourage people to achieve their goals. But it is also used to criticize the idea that everyone has an equal chance of success. Critics argue that the phrase ignores the many factors that can prevent people from achieving their goals, such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to education and resources. [source]
The Myth of the Self-made Person
The idea that people can achieve success through hard work and determination alone is a myth. There are many factors that contribute to success, including intelligence, talent, opportunity, and luck (Holy Spirit?). Even the most successful people have benefited from the help of others, whether it be from family, friends, mentors, or teachers.
A study by the Pew Research Center found that only 2% of Americans believe that they have achieved success entirely on their own. The vast majority of people (98%) believe that they have received help from others along the way.
This idea of being a balanced person able to achieve all that we set our minds to can be found back in 1490 in Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Vitruvian Man — the drawing of a man perfectly proportioned within a circle and a square. It presented the human form in the idealized geometric terms of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius. The individual human body was celebrated as an analogy for the perfect workings of the universe. [source] It’s as if the “universe” created us with everything we need to achieve success all on our own.
The Biblical Perspective
The Bible teaches that God is the ultimate source of all success. In the book of Ephesians, Paul writes,
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (2:8-9).
This passage makes it clear that we cannot earn our salvation by our own good works. Instead, it is a gift from God that we receive by grace through faith. The same principle applies to our success in life. We cannot achieve success on our own. We need the grace of God to help us. God is not a co-pilot who helps us achieve our own goals, but rather a sovereign Lord who works in us and through us to accomplish his will.
The Trinity is a central concept in Christianity, referring to the belief in one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. According to some Christian theologians, the Trinity can be a model for our relationships on earth and our need for one another. Just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are joined in a loving and harmonious relationship, so too are we joined together in our families and communities. Each member of a family has a different role to play and unique talents to share, but we are all unified in holy relationship.
This Trinity concept doesn’t align with pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and taking the hill through hard work and determination. Karl Barth said,
The Trinity is the doctrine of the divine being in himself, and of his relation to the world.
In our modern world, it is easy to become isolated as we strive for success and spend hours each day staring at computer screen or communicating with others only through email or social media. But the Trinity teaches us that we are created for community. We are called to love and support one another, just as the Father, Son, and Spirit love and support each other.
The Trinity can also be a model for a more just and equitable society. Because of human sinfulness, we often fall short of the ideal of mutuality, fairness, and equality in our relationships. But the Trinity shows us that this is the way God intended things to be. In the divine community, each person is valued and respected, and all are treated with dignity.
That love modeled by the Trinity points to why God is worthy of all worship. When we worship God in the light of the Trinity, we are worshiping the God who created us, the God who redeemed us, and the God who sanctifies us. [source] We are worshiping a God who loves us unconditionally and who is always with us.
It’s A Dangerous Myth
Therefore, the myth of the self-made man and woman is a dangerous one. It leads people to believe that they can achieve anything they set their minds to, without the help of others. This can lead to arrogance and entitlement…dare I say, if you look back at history, entitlement may be at an all-time high.
The Bible teaches us that we are all dependent on God for our success. We need his grace and help to achieve our goals.
Psalms 133:1-3 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
Romans 12:4-5 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
We should also be mindful of the fact that we have a responsibility to help others achieve success. We should be willing to share our resources and knowledge with others, and to offer support and encouragement.
When we work together, only then can create a society where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.
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Joshua Swanson is the Editor-in-Chief of Worship Leader. He's also the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Authentic Media, Worship Leader's parent company, and the former CEO and Co-founder of the creative agency GTMA. His proudest achievement is his marriage to Rachael Joy and partnering with her in founding New Hope Children. As a performer and speaker, he’s appeared on TV networks like ABC, NBC, Lifetime, and Hallmark. His companies have worked with major brands like Sprint, Pokemon Go (he was also in a Pokemon movie), Pepsi, The Latin Grammys, the Billboard Awards, Corona and over 75 national developers. He’s narrated over a hundred audiobooks and was awarded Best YA Voice twice. His companies have been Inc. 5000 three different times.