Despite an increased insight into rampant inequality in the United Sates, the majority of North American’s still believe that success is possible with hard work alone. This optimistic ideal has its truth: if you generate output, create content, network, and effectively engage with a targeted demographic, it is likely that you will receive some return for your time and effort. However, the amount of return is contingent on many factors not often in the entrepreneur’s or artist’s control, and the majority of those who embark on the task of creating content, a business, or a life that divulges from the typical do not achieve the massive success they expect when embarking on the endeavor.
Unfortunately, luck is perhaps the most influential of all these factors. In comparison to the general population, I am a lucky individual in regards to my capacity to achieve success. I was born in the dominant society (North America) speaking the dominant language (English) during a time and in a location where my chance of survival is astonishingly secure. To add to this, I had a hard-working father and was raised in a community with access to a reputable public school system. That I was blessed with these attributes without any personal effort on my part is luck.
The majority of Americans are not this fortunate, and are unable to pull together the education, connections, and capital necessary to generate a profitable brand or product. Furthermore, the manner in which society operates makes success easy for individuals already born into a successful family or community and challenging for those born out of it. Examples of this are the fact that a large portion of the Forbes-mentioned billionaires in the country have inherited at least a portion of their wealth, or that many successful musicians and actors were born into creative families, gifted with the means, connections, and encouragement to pursue their passion.
It is important to note that the fact that wealth begets wealth or creativity begets creativity is not solely due to an inherent flaw in North American society, but rather an inevitable consequence of how we form communities. We learn how to act and interact from our caregivers and childhood friends, and those actions and interactions often form the basis of our later success. The habits we learn and implement growing up are hardwired into us, and the negative ones take courage and grit to overcome. Because of this, to become successful or wealthy when you haven’t been exposed to the necessary habits for success takes extraordinary perseverance, self-understanding, passion, creativity, management, failure, rejection, support, help, and, most importantly, time. It could take years of anxious, stressful, unbearably consuming work until the first capital is received. This is where the North American ideal, that hard work begets success, is valid.
But that belief has a staunch opponent in a society driven by ad revenue and perfectly curated social media platforms. On a daily basis, I get e-mails and advertisements that promise this: ‘lose a pound a day with this energy drink’, ‘get rock-hard abs in a week with this workout regimen’, ‘the fast easy way to publish your novel’, ‘how I made 1,800 in a week freelance writing without a starting portfolio’, ‘easy ways way to make 1,000 dollars a month in passive income’, ‘hacks to saving for retirement,’ etcetera. These adds promise be an overly optimistic result, and- if consistently viewed- instill in me the belief of easy, effortless success.
Additionally, in news outlets and social media, we are bombarded by individuals flaunting their success. We see a painter’s masterful artwork, the Instagram image of a model’s lean sculpted body, the enviable video of a travel vlogger making substantial rewards from YouTube, the yacht of a successful business owner. But what we don’t see often is the artist’s first failed painting, the model’s lengthy workout sessions and struggle to maintain a perfectly curated diet, the YouTuber’s jet-lagged year making zero income editing and uploading videos onto YouTube, the debt, stress, and risk required from the business owner to construct a marketable idea, hook clients and investors, and find gritty and determined employees to embark on the first venture.
Due to social media, societal pressure, advertisements, and a competitive capitalistic society, we now seem to have a generation plagued with conflicting emotions and beliefs regarding success: that it is effortless, but that it takes hard work, that anyone can achieve it, but that the rich and elite get more and more of it as our society progresses. Consequently, the path to success can feel more confusing, daunting, and facile than before the internet and social media became a staple in everyday life.
But in any circumstance, and in any era, creating an individual pathway towards income success can be the most consuming and at times maddening task one can take, and for good reason. In order for a society to function in a streamlined manner, the majority need to be followers rather than leaders. So, rationally, the way in which the current paradigm functions places endless hurdles in the path of the creative. For those of us who want a lifestyle that differs from the average worker, in order to not be continuously pushed against these hurdles, we will have to find ways to knock them down, jump over them, or slink past them. And to do that takes effort, time, and a stable dosage of rational optimism and reasonable expectations.
Before you can summit a mountain, you must learn how to walk.