There is a lot of self-help advice on the Internet that claims to give people the secrets to success. People are telling you to hustle harder; to fake it till you make it; to smile more; to state your intentions. And of course, all of these people are willing to tell you exactly how, as long as you pay them something for their guidance, or if they are desperate, to shower them with attention.
I am not one of those people. I am the asshole telling you that these people are full of shit.
Here is the cold, bitter truth — you might not succeed. That idea you have, the one you sweat and toil over, might not earn you the fame or notoriety you desperately want it to.
There is this pervasive myth in America that if you work hard, that effort will translate into success. This concept is called a meritocracy, though it is referred to almost exclusively as the American Dream, and it runs pretty deep in the American mythos. In the words of Senator Tammy Duckworth — who is by no means a conservative icon — “The American Dream I believe in is one that provides anyone willing to work hard enough with the opportunity to succeed.” The American public is heavily invested in the meritocratic ideal of success coming from hard work. It’s something heard in countless rags-to-riches stories from Whoopi Goldberg to Barack Obama. If you work hard, the refrain goes, then you will get the recognition and riches you deserve.
It’s a familiar story.
It’s also predominantly a lie.
In general, social mobility is declining within the United States. If you start out poor, there is an increasing likelihood that you will stay poor for the entirety of your life. For many Americans, real wages (i.e., your salary when adjusted for inflation and cost of living) have not budged in decades. Meanwhile, the cost of living for things such as health care and college tuition has been steadily increasing.
These difficulties do not mean such success never happens. The number of self-made billionaires within the United States is increasing, but these people make up 0.00017% of the population. You literally have a better chance of winning the lottery. And unsurprisingly, this success cuts more…