Why Pulling Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps is Bullshit

by Danielle Holliday

We live in a world where individualism or the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality is strongly encouraged. But what if most of the life you lived, you were pulled and pushed by forces you could not control? Perhaps you dealt with things far bigger than you and events you couldn’t have expected like personal health scares, mental illness, tragedy, trauma, or environmental factors like not growing up with the things or people you needed to help equip you for life; let alone adulthood or a career.

Some of us, spent our childhoods trying to survive our parents, and their vices. Trying to survive, literally, with them. Whether it was having a place to stay for a few weeks, battling an eviction notice, or trying to keep up with school materials, even though we knew next week we would have to move. Then later, when we become adults and we escaped or families, the burden to figure out survival came on us, and even more than surviving because of our pasts, we now have a will to thrive, and do better than the life that was handed to us.

But society unfortunately, holds us to the same standards, and timelines as they do a student, or worker with no such background and complications; as if the playing field was level. Are we all the same? Well in fact, adversity, made us stronger, and our desire to succeed stronger, but that doesn’t mean we have all the same tools and access in our tool kit as our well-polished counterparts with less of a background to spring back from. In fact, part of our adulthood maybe spent reconciling some of the tragedy we experienced, for our own mental health, while simultaneously trying to achieve the same things as our counterparts, in the same work and school arenas as them. And unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of support for this process along the way. On the contrary there is a reinforced value, that all people have the same opportunities to achieve as each other, regardless of where we came from, what built us, or the amount of obstacles placed before us. This can make us even drive ourselves further, and harder without checking up on ourselves, taking care of our health, and pacing ourselves at a healthy rate that is good for us; because we are overly concerned with “success”

The truth is trying to build your life based on other people’s standards is bullshit, and so is the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality. For those of you who have endured the worst, you will have your time of recovery and learning, and you will also have your time to shine. But you need both recovery and learning to accomplish this and maintain yourself. It takes a village, to realize equality of opportunity, and a community of support to both survive and thrive. This means we have to equalize the playing ground for students and families from these backgrounds and create supportive outlets, networks and organizations along the way. And for your personal network driving you, I advise that you don’t internalize the opinions of outsiders and their views of success, and their timelines on when success should happen. It will happen when you are ready for it to happen. Many will doubt you but not know the actual real life obstacles you have endured, that they quite frankly, may not have been able to. Remain resilient and know that if you can overcome such great trials, you most certainly face the things to come.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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