Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Myth of the Solo Success

Have you ever heard the phrase:  "I've worked for everything I have." ?

Or how about: "I've never asked for anything I didn't earn." ?

It's a nice sentiment, right? It brings to mind ambitious individuals who aren't afraid to do what needs to be done. isn't true.

Mind you, this doesn't mean successful individuals are exaggerating their accomplishments or the effort they put into their goals. It simply means they have forgotten an element to every success story.


The inherent advantage they have merely by being who and what they are at a specific moment in time.

These individuals did not earn the basic education that allowed them to pursue their fields. The privilege of being born in a time and country that values education gave them that. The did not earn the cerebral capabilities to do what they do. Genetics and biochemistry contributed that without any effort on their part. The ability to stand, talk, care for themselves, use technology, even to make their own decisions are things they didn't earn.

But these things were necessary for the success they have.

Success isn't a measure of hard work alone. Success is a better measure of privilege than effort.

How much privilege a person has, how well that privilege stacks toward his or her goals, and how well said person manipulates that privilege effects how the work translates into success.

For example: let us consider two writers. They have the same amount of free time, work ethic, and they can produce the same amount of words each day. The only difference is that one writer (I'll call her Sally) has access to a home computer and the other (Hellen) does not. At the end of six months, each one has a rough draft, one digital and one handwritten.

Unfortunately, agents won't accept handwritten manuscripts, and self-publishing also requires a digital copy. Therefore, without doing any extra work, Sally is a step ahead. In fact, to reach the same goal marker, Hellen will have to work harder.

Yet we're told that the success Sally has when compared to Hellen is proof that she put more work into her goals, when the reality shows the exact opposite. And that example assumes Sally only had one advantage over her counterpart. Real world gaps are much wider than that.

The truly insidious part of this myth is that the individuals who claim it as their own don't purposely erase the role of privilege in their narratives. They actually don't realize they have any.

LIke many of us, these individuals mainly interact with others who are like them. Which is good for cooperation and self-esteem. But it normalizes their experiences, and makes them incorrectly assume that everyone has the same advantages they have, which in turn leads them to believe what separates them from the unsuccesful is only work.

The solo success myth.

And we're all succeptible to it.

That's why being an ally takes vigilance and the willingness to listen. It's also another reason why the idea of a socially acceptable form of success should hit the wastebasket at terminal velocity.

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