Photo by Max Conrad on Unsplash

The Problem with the Bootstrap Mentality

Your life doesn’t have to be endless hard work.

Rachel Wayne
5 min readJul 25, 2019


From a young age, Americans are told to man up, dream big, and work hard. With this magic formula, success will come our way. The flip side is that if we don’t work hard, we’ll fall hard — and that means that any failure is due to personal choice.

This attitude conveniently forgets the systemic problems and dumb luck that drive much of our experience. Here are some ways in which pulling yourself up the bootstraps is glamorized, yet harms our overall development and success.

Financial Health

Few myths are as damaging to Americans’ lives as the belief that hard work simply lifts one out of poverty. This attitude stems from the Just World Hypothesis, which holds that the world is basically right and good people are rewarded. Therefore, people who have had bad things happen to them must have done something to cause or deserve it. It’s an appealing idea because it allows people to shift the blame to the victim rather than admit that a system that benefits them might be unethical or broken. Or, it allows them to avoid uncomfortable feelings of pity and instead resort to judgment.

Socioeconomic status and wealth are complicated, and despite some people’s best attempts to claim that CEOs work harder than anyone else, there are only so many hours in the week. The income disparity is the key. We really can’t compare a CEO putting in 80 hours a week with a low-income person working three jobs for pennies. Often, wealthy people become wealthy through family fortune, manipulative or unethical behavior, or simple luck of the draw. Similarly, poor people can work their darnedest and not move up the financial ladder at all.

Victimhood and Survivorship

Some people who have experienced domestic violence or abuse prefer to call themselves “survivors,” thinking that the word “victim” makes them sound weak or like they don’t have agency. While that’s a…



Rachel Wayne

Artist/anthropologist/activist writing about art, media, culture, health, science, enterprise, and where they all meet. Join my list: