Anyone Can Be ‘Successful’, But Not Everyone Will
The Problem With Opportunity
One of the fundamental tenets of today’s society is that anyone can become successful. No matter your background, race, or where you’re from you can be a success.
Want to be an entrepreneur? Of course, you can do it! Want to become a prolific and well-known writer? Sure, go for it! If you browse the internet long enough, you see these kinds of messages everywhere.
In essence, they boil to down this: if I can do it anyone can do it. On the surface, this seems to make sense. What marks one person out as destined for success, while another languishes in mediocrity?
While it’s true that, given the opportunity, most of us could become successful entrepreneurs, this line of thinking misses one key point. Everyone can’t be successful entrepreneurs.
Everyone cannot found a Fortune 500 company. Everyone cannot become a successful lawyer. Sure any of us can make it, but not all of us. This is a key distinction that a lot of commentators miss, particularly those who preach the virtues of a lifestyle of self-sufficiency.
If we take a step back and imagine a society where almost everyone is an entrepreneur. It’s hard to see how this society would function. Who would collect our trash? Who would work in supermarkets, factories and all the other jobs that are deemed to be unfulfilling and boring?
Straight away you can see the essence of the problem. No society can ever be 100% equal. A society full of entrepreneurs would fall apart at the seams without anyone there to do the jobs that are fundamental for any society to function.
I’ve read many articles by various writers on a variety of websites and publications that claim all you need to succeed is hard work. That anyone can have the life they desire if only they work hard enough. Want to become a digital nomad and work from your laptop on the beach? Sure, you can do it, as long as you put in the work.
I’ve written articles that extol the virtues of hard work. I still stand by this doctrine that hard work is necessary to be successful. The problem doesn’t lie with this statement, it lies with the definition of success. No one definition of success exists.
For some, success means becoming a Doctor and saving people’s lives, for others it means working for yourself, while others may consider championing environmental causes as a successful career. Success comes in many flavours, it’s not solely limited to working for yourself and earning a cheque online.
The idea that anyone can make it is seductive. It’s similar to the American Dream, where anyone can come to America and make it despite where they come from. It’s seductive because we see the success stories such as the Warner Brothers who came from Poland and founded one of the most well-known media companies on the planet and ask ourselves what’s stopping us from doing the same.
The issue is that all societies require a certain level of inequality to thrive. It’s an uncomfortable fact of life but true equality in any political system can never be achieved. Everyone can own a house, but not everyone can own a mansion.
Anyone can start a company, but not everyone will become the founder of a Google or a Tesla. Communism was purported as a solution to the problem of the haves and the have nots. Yet, when it was applied in Soviet Russia, it merely replaced one class of haves, the Romanovs and their court, with another, the Bolsheviks.
Far from everyone being paid the same and living in a state of equality, the ruling elite became a new type of aristocrats while everyone else was reduced to queuing for bread.
The problem with opportunity and stating that everyone can achieve what they want is that it’s an impossiblity. We don’t live in a perfect world. If we did, I wouldn’t be writing this article.
The idea falls apart on an individual level too. Research has shown that people with high impulsivity are more likely to break the law, become obese and have poor health. A person’s character and genetic makeup is as much a part of their ability to be successful as their environment.
Bill Gates was born into a wealthy family and was able to use the computer at the nearby university which gave him the skills needed to found Microsoft. Jeff Bezos received $300,000 from his parents to help him get Amazon up and running. We’d like to think anyone of us could have done this, but the reality is that circumstance and character play more of a part than we realise.
If anyone could start a company and grow it to the size of Amazon, there would be thousands of them. the fact that there is only a limited few, is a testament to how the myth that anyone can be as successful as these tycoons is false.
This shouldn’t be an article that causes you to despair, to bemoan the fact that you may not reach the heights of some people. Rather it should be a reality check. A reminder that opportunity is not equal and never will be. That’s not to say you can’t become a success on your terms, it that’s you might not be a success on someone else’s.
Success is an arbitrary concept. No one would state they’re not a success because they’re not a billionaire, nor should anyone dictate the terms of what success means to anyone else.
Any one of us can start a business that allows us to quit our jobs, start a successful writing career, or become a high-flying lawyer, the distinction is that not everyone can. Sure some people might not be committed enough, but that’s just one reason among many why some people succeed and others don’t. Reality is always more nuanced than simply stating people don’t work hard enough.
Set success on your terms. Most of us recognise that we’ll never run as fast as Usain Bolt, or swim as fast as Michael Phelps. Likewise, it’s unlikely we’ll be the next Bill Gates or Elon Musk. However, that shouldn’t stop us from striving for success.
Trying to be the best version of ourselves is a better measure for success than devoting yourself to matching someone’s else’s definition of success. If you can look back at your life and say you achieved what you set out to, isn’t that enough?
That’s something everyone can aspire to and achieve, no matter what opportunities come our way.