Ermal Alibali


The self-made man: a myth to debunk

The self-made man is a figure that embodies the dream of those who want to achieve success starting from nothing, without the help of anyone. It is a cultural model widespread in America and in Anglo-Saxon countries, which exalts the value of personal commitment, willpower, and determination. But does the self-made man really exist? Or is it just an illusion that hides a more complex and nuanced reality?


Origins of the self-made man

The concept of the self-made man emerged in the United States in the 19th century, in a historical context characterized by the frontier, territorial expansion, and industrial development. In this scenario, many men from humble backgrounds or immigrants from other countries managed to build a fortune and a reputation thanks to their talent, initiative, and ability to adapt to challenges. Some famous examples include Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford.

The self-made man thus becomes a symbol of the American Dream, the possibility of achieving one’s goals regardless of one’s social, economic, or ethnic background. It is an idea that also exerts a strong appeal in other countries, such as Italy, where the culture of merit and autonomy is often contrasted with that of privilege and welfare.


Criticism of the self-made man

However, the self-made man is also the subject of numerous criticisms, which question its validity and truthfulness. Some of these criticisms include:

  • The self-made man ignores the role of luck, circumstances, and opportunities in determining a person’s success or failure. Not everyone has the same starting opportunities, living conditions, or resources available. Success also depends on external factors such as historical, political, economic, and social context, which can either favor or hinder the achievement of goals.
  • The self-made man denies the importance of relationships, cooperation, and solidarity in personal and professional growth. No one succeeds on their own, but always relies on a network of people who support, help, inspire, challenge, and stimulate them. Success is also the result of sharing values, collaborating skills, and synergizing interests.
  • The self-made man promotes an individualistic, competitive, and narcissistic vision of society, where the common good is sacrificed to the personal one, where success is measured only in material terms, and where failure is stigmatized as a fault or shame. This vision can generate anxiety, depression, isolation, and violence, as well as increase social inequalities and injustices.


I argue that some of these considerations, in the era of global digitalization, can be easily reassessed with a positive connotation, not just critical.

A new perspective on the self-made man

Faced with these criticisms, it is necessary to reconsider the concept of the self-made man, going beyond its most superficial and stereotyped connotation. Instead of denying or glorifying the self-made man, one can try to reinterpret it in a more balanced and realistic key, taking into account all the elements that influence a person’s journey. In this sense, we can speak of a self-made man who is:

  • Aware, acknowledging the role of luck, circumstances, and opportunities in his success, but who does not surrender to fatalism or determinism, and seeks to make the most of his potential and resources.
  • Relational, appreciating the importance of relationships, cooperation, and solidarity in his journey, but not relying passively or uncritically on others, and seeking to contribute actively and responsibly to the common good.
  • Human, promoting an integrated, harmonious, and sustainable vision of society, where success is also measured in terms of quality of life, happiness, and well-being, and where failure is accepted as an opportunity for learning and growth.



In conclusion, the self-made man is not a myth to be debunked, but to be renewed, in order to make it more adherent to reality and more beneficial to the society we live in today. In the era of the possibility to earn or create a business simply by holding a cell phone or having access to a computer, the myth of the self-made man is more present than ever before.

Every day we hear stories of individuals, especially from Gen Z, who have been able to realize themselves thanks to the digital world, achieving their life and economic goals.

What do you think? Has the self-made man remained a myth or is it still alive in today’s world?


Subscribe to my Newsletter: