What Does “Self-Made” Mean (Or Matter) Anyway?

Kylie Jenner was pronounced by Forbes as the “youngest self-made billionaire ever” and the internet started debating what exactly self-made means.

Hold aside that the Forbes lists are notoriously, well, estimates – I mean, this is the one that Trump was obsessed about ranking on, and would make up all sorts of numbers to successfully to do so. And hold aside that no matter what you think of Kylie’s success and what it says about America, she’s role modeling some notion of business-savvy and Get It feminism, albeit wrapped into a confusing package. What Forbes responded to quickly was backlash regarding the concept of self-made. And they did it in a surprisingly specific way – a scoring system!

First the definition….
Then the scores!!!!

The American mythology of meritocracy and mobility are being eyed with increasing amounts of skepticism by younger generations, and likely always by those less Caucasian and less male. Economic class mobility has statistically slowed as the inequality gap widens but many of us hew to the pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps American Ideal, and if you reach far enough back into the family tree, tell an apocryphal story of a relative who landed on these shores with nothing and made it.

I saw this same reaction in the Twitter replies to an article shared over the weekend. The NYTimes ran a story about how large numbers – a majority in fact – of adults 21 – 37 had received some sort of financial support from their parents. As a friend commented to me, it’s was a weird age range (21 is very different than 37) and the tone of the article seemed to want to shit on someone but couldn’t exactly figure out who.

I circulated the article not because it was millennial shame-bait, or the perfect seed for calling out phony self-starters, but instead to promote why an increased public safety net makes sense — give the people who weren’t born on first, second or third base at least a fair at bat.

Turn the clock back a few days before the Times article and you’ll get to Ivanka Trump chiding AOC’s “socialism” by saying Americans don’t want handouts. Elizabeth Spiers, who once worked for Ivanka’s husband, responded in the Washington Post by articulating why this “self-made” myth prevents economic policies which would extend the type of headstart the economic privileged have to broader groups. They need to continue deluding themselves because so much of their self-worth is tied up in believing they did it themselves.

And it’s not limited to the denizens of the White House. I see this too in my own community.

It’s wonderful that some people are able to be helped by their families directly or have stability to fall back on. It doesn’t belittle the hard work that they did to continue or extend their success (the inability for some folks to concede that luck played a role too is a different rathole). My hope is that it starts a conversation about how to support others even fractionally to the degree they were kickstarted. We’ve had enough ladder-pulling and self-made self-delusions to last me until the next Presidential election (but hopefully not long after šŸ˜‰ )

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