The Self-Made Worker in the 21st Century

100 years ago, the self-made man or woman achieved success with very little assistance from birth right, formal education or luck.

A century ago, successful business people came from three different places. You were either born into success, went to school to learn how to become successful or figured it out for yourself in the “School of Hard Knocks.” Society referred to successful people without a college education or a rich endowment as “Self-Made” men and women. This is a term you don’t hear much anymore.

In a famous lecture given more than 100 years ago, Frederick Douglass that the self-made man or woman achieved success with very little assistance from birth right, formal education or luck:

“Self-made men […] are the men who owe little or nothing to birth, relationship, friendly surroundings; to wealth inherited or to early approved means of education; who are what they are, without the aid of any of the favoring conditions by which other men usually rise in the world and achieve great results.”

Today, it seems that these three classes of people have merged into a single self-made worker. Now, starting out with money and a good education certainly helps, but doesn’t guarantee success. In an economy that remains shaky and a corporate infrastructure that is still rebuilding, the attributes of the “Self-Made” worker are even more critical to one’s personal success. These attributes are very similar to today’s business entrepreneurs. These are individuals that are:

  • Disciplined in how they work
  • Confident
  • Open-minded and flexible to change
  • Self-Starting
  • Willing to compete
  • Creative
  • Determined
  • Collaborative
  • Passionate about what they do
  • Strong in their work ethic.

Though many things have changed in the past 100 years, one thing hasn’t. Successful people, self-made workers, know that their work needs to be central to everything that they do in the business world. What Frederick Douglass said more than century ago still holds true today:

“My theory of self-made men is, then, simply this; that they are men of work. Whether or not such men have acquired material, moral or intellectual excellence, honest labor faithfully, steadily and persistently pursued, is the best, if not the only, explanation of their success.”