Self Made? Check The Back Story…

I remember in the seventies and eighties how the stories on people getting rich always seemed to start with the person starting from nothing, or near nothing. No mention of family, no real mention of help from the past except from some odd outsider who took pity on the person believed in his future success. Occasionally we even run into an orphan stuck in a family of nonbelievers who found “economic salvation” in his work and in those who believed him.

Well, fast forward to the past decade (the 2000’s, 2010 and 2011). And now the story that comes out is a bit different:

  • FedEx was first envisioned in a paper in undergraduate school, a paper that got a tepid grade from a professor, right? Well, never mind however much truth or falsehood is in that story (there was indeed a paper for a class…), it turns out that his father founded and grew Dixie Trailways during the early years of Interurban Bus Transportation (and that HIS father ran boats up and down the Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland Rivers).
  • Bill Gates was someone who had the gall to drop out of Harvard to start a computer company, right? True, but he also was one of the kids to use an actual computer at school, and had parents willing to support his decisions to the point of taking him back if he were to have failed (compare this with a one-off comment about “You turn eighteen, you move out” from my father).

And more and more, the people making it in the arts have a connection to people in the arts. The movie industry seems to have become very incestuous.

So it would seem that the key mythos of the American experiment is changing. Success is still considered the highest aim in America, but no longer are we getting the idea that anyone can be successful if they worked things. Nowadays it seems you need connections to make it, and if they don’t come from family, good luck.


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