Are You Self-made?

America has gained this reputation as the land of opportunity. It has done so by trying to destroy any and all hereditary obstacles to advancement. Instead, in America the idea is that individual initiative alone could create social mobility. A self-made man would owe his advancement to things like self discipline, loneliness, sobriety, the avoidance of debt, an excessive workload, relentless effort, disregard for his likability, self denial, and self abuse. A self-made man would live for the future and reject any self indulgences like a holiday or even a day off. Instead, under constant pressure, he would focus on grueling accumulation, one penny at a time. I’m a self-made man. Vincent Gallo

Is the above list of requirements a useful motivational tool?

Do self-made people need motivational tools written by actors (or anyone else)? There certainly isn’t anything sweet about Gallo’s description of a successful person, but I think most of what he says is true.

I’m having trouble staying on vacation from writing, plotting, and self-abuse (all mental). Work keeps me believing I am sane (others may disagree).

The only thing Gallo leaves out is the joy of being driven, the reckless disregard for food and shelter, the adrenaline rush of being productive.

This thing called self-made is like any medicine. Read the label. Too much and you overdose on self, too little and you never make anything.

BALANCE … I’m not sure it’s possible with the self-made man. Balance is an elusive nirvana, a fiction for the coasters in life. This is what my self-driving brain says in a loop.

Walk in the field. Do yoga. Call a friend. A few days of such behavior and I’m worried I’ll never produce things again. My husband told me he was proud of how I was handling suddenly taking care of his two elderly parents in our home. The loop in my head says production is all that matters. Care-giving is just what you do when you’re not intensely involved in your self-made habit.  His compliment fell on deaf ears.

Like any addict I have moments of clarity. Life can’t only be about joyfully serving your ego and amassing material accomplishments. I am a Christian after all and believe (mostly on an intellectual level) that serving others and appreciating God’s creation outside my window are good, important things, yet  I struggle to put any of it joyfully into action when there’s work to be done.

I seriously believe God is cool with me obsessively thinking about writing … well if you knock off the obsessive part. Vincent Gallo’s quote paints a picture I admire and am troubled by. America has always been a place where most people have a chance to rise above perceived castes. I think obsessing about victimhood is more deadly than obsessing about success, but addiction (and aren’t we a nation of addicts in one way or another?) is getting things out-of-order. We fill that part of ourselves meant for God with something less than God. And then we wonder where God is.

Tell me what you think about working too hard. Is there such a thing? How does your work affect how you relate to the divine?


16 responses to “Are You Self-made?”

  1. This resonates on so many levels. I, too, am a writer, something of a work-aholic, caring for an aging parent, a Christian who values serving, but also a lover of nature who tries to fit in a little time outdoors (though more often then not that consists of smiling up at the sun as I walk to the car, to go off and do something else).

    I’m not looking for balance, however. To me, that implies an equal measure of work and rest, and I don’t think there is much to recommend that. I’m just trying to remember that God advised us to get at least some rest — one day in seven in the Old Testament — but then Jesus adds “which of you, if your donkey falls in a well on the Sabbath, won’t get him out.” So helping others trumps resting. I do think that at least occasionally looking after myself is good, if for no other reason than to make sure I’ll be there when others need help — or when the next book needs to be written — but that is an area of discipline that I need to work on. It is so easy to see all the things that need to be done, and as you note, there is joy and satisfaction in doing those things. But I’m not getting younger, and I pay a slightly higher price each year for not taking care of myself — so while I don’t want to exactly relax, I am working on trying to add occasionally caring for myself to the list of disciplines I practice. Maybe I’ll even fit in a walk outside today. Because, in the self-made category, I don’t want the things I’m making myself to include overweight and out of shape.


    • I really appreciate your thoughtful and eloquent comment. Maybe instead of balance we just need a sense of our priorities.

      I love being outdoors too. It calms me (especially if I’m doing physical labor–still working haha). i was thinking that this summer I need to get to the Jersey shore (there are some really nice spots). Listening to the ocean I think is the only time I really quiet the mind but I live hundreds of miles away now.

      I feel really grateful to be able to live my passions and follow my dreams. I wish everyone knew how true Thoreau’s quote is: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

      Have a great week. I hope you get outside a little today!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not very good when it comes to slowing down and not working when it comes to my writing, Adrienne. I feel strongly that God has given me a gift and He’s okay with me clocking in those extra hours and stretching myself to reach new goals. That said, I do make time for my family and to take care of myself.


    • God put writing on my heart since I was a young girl but it took me a while to get over the fear of failure. Now I’m making up for lost time!

      My family realizes that I’m easier to be with after writing so they are totally supportive. 😉

      This winter I was so involved in an editing project. My daughter finally forced me to go get a haircut.

      We really do have to consciously make time for family–isn’t it strange that despite our love for each other we can be so neglectful?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I do not relate to the Divine. (I have too many “buts”) 🙂
    Yet, the self-made man “recipe” above is a bit harsh isn’t it?
    What about Passion? Passion to do what you’re good at. Passion to work hard indeed? To face success and disaster with an equal face as in Kipling? I don’t think it has to be all that hard.
    And my compliments for taking care of the old. Duty is another (missing?) part of the recipe. We have to take care of them as they took care of us when we were little. Now it’s our turn to care for them. (I did for my mother through cancer and my father through very old age).
    Your caring for your in-laws can be hard but is very commendable.
    Thank you for your thoughts Adrienne. (And actions)
    Hope all is well with you. (If you want to write, just write!) 😉


    • Lol. I thought his recipe missed some key elements too. Joy and passion make it all worthwhile. Duty I hadn’t thought of but you’re so right!

      I think some people tend to make things harder than they have to be–I have that tendency. LOL. I was struck by Gallo’s quote because to be materially successful maybe you do have to be a little harsh. It gave me much to think about.

      I will write but thought I should be at least a little attentive to my new guests for the first week. Haha.

      I hope you’re well too!


      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed on all. Even the harsh thing. To a point. I created my own business. Which meant being harsh some times. Firing people for instance. Never easy but has to be done. Which can be done while remaining human though. But that is a long – other – story.
        A warm welcome to your new guests. 🙂


    • I’m torn on the nepotism thing. I don’t have a problem with a successful person favoring their family. If they’ve earned their wealth and position I think they should have a right to spread their wealth to whomever they want.

      When the Irish came here for example they tended to help other Irish. No one helped them. They helped themselves. I think that’s healthy. Group identity can be a good thing in small doses.

      In the US and in my own family I’ve seen there’s plenty of room for the cream to rise to the top. My uncle went from a lowly mail clerk at The New York Times to the top financial officer there–all from hard work,

      Of course there are instances of unfairness but I still have optimism about success in the US. Despite the media’s portrayal of a vast racial divide due to prejudice etc the reality is that most people here get along and don’t spend every waking minute thinking about race and unfairness, but you’d never guess that if you watched the news.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And then you have the old boy network of established politicians who enrich themselves–on both sides of the aisle.

        Jared and Ivanka being in the White House is a little troubling but I think nothing in comparison to the corruption every day in the House and Senate. A majority of American voters rightly hate the media for the fawning, the ignorance of history and dishonesty they display on a daily basis.

        Sadly most Americans don’t take their right to vote that seriously so in some respects we get what we deserve.

        I do love fashion so seeing what the pretty women of the White House wear is a bit of fun. My daughter is a huge Anglophile and loves watching Kate and William, etc. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “I think obsessing about victimhood is more deadly than obsessing about success, but addiction… is getting things out-of-order”- gosh this is so true. Honestly, I think it is about balance. I do think it’s possible to neglect parts of our lives outside of our work, but a the same time, I think it’s natural (and good in many ways) to strive for success. I guess, we probably know where we’re erring as individuals (either becoming too complacent or too busy) and the best thing to do is to hold ourselves accountable possibly? Very interesting post, definitely got me thinking!


    • Striving for success is invigorating! Making the most of god-given talents is one of the joys of life.

      I think you’re so right that we all probably know when we’re being lazy or obsessive but there’s a big difference between knowing and doing. LOL.

      No one likes to suffer but it seems to be true that in many cases it’s suffering that gets our attention and gets us to confront our tendencies. My fear of failure was only dealt with after a close encounter with death. Yeah, it took that much for me to get out of victim mode–the experience was worth every bit of suffering.

      You seem like a fearless writer. i’m inspired by your style and substance!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely!

        hehehe yes, very true lol!

        And gosh- that’s incredible that you turned it into a wake up call and honestly I could learn a lot from you (a lot of the time I feel far from fearless!) But thank you!


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