The Magnificent Self-Made Person

Everyone is familiar with the concept of the ‘self-made’ person – the man or woman who pulls themselves up by the bootstraps – (usually) from poverty – and (usually) makes a great deal of money.  This person is lauded and admired and held up as a example to all of us of how we can succeed in the world in spite of humble beginnings.

But there is a much more powerful way to understand the concept of being ‘self made’.

A way that isn’t as widely recognised but which is much more important for our well-being than mere financial success.

We can come to see that we are truly the creators of ourselves – because…

If we act with kindness – we become kind people.

If we act with generosity – we become generous people.

If we act in a courageous fashion – we become brave people.

And so on.

These actions of ours are what confer our real identities on us.

Not the circumstances of our birth.

Not whether or not we were lucky or unlucky in the ‘decent parents’ and ‘enough to eat’ lotteries.

Not our gender or race or how wealthy or educated or lucky or even beloved we were in our early lives.

Not our unemployment or accomplishment or even our successes.

I am not underestimating the difficulties of overcoming abuse or grinding poverty or neglect or abandonment or grief or the myriad other things that cause us suffering.  All the pain in the world is real and it all deserves to be acknowledged and alleviated if at all possible – it just doesn’t get to define us.

This may seem like a small point but I feel it is of vital importance in a world where when we’ve been victims we are afraid to say we have suffered, because we are frightened to be labelled as broken in some important way that makes us less valuable or capable or wise.

We are afraid that we are tainted by our suffering when, in fact, suffering has the capacity to make us stronger – like tempered steel – and more valuable, capable or wise than those who have suffered less.

Or, as Khalil Gibran puts it,

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.

Refusing to be created and defined by our suffering gives us back our power.  The more we learn to feel pride – and shame – for our own actions, the less we feel ashamed of what may have befallen us in our lives.

And it’s not all about ourselves.  If we saw that we ourselves are the sum total of our own deeds and not a misshapen creation of our victimisations, then we’d be able to see others in the same way.

If that happened, social stigma as a result of rape, poverty, abuse, disability etc, would evaporate like a mist and, while the pain of the ‘suffering’ would still exist, at least it wouldn’t be complicated by undeserved shame.

We may not always have a say as to how we suffer but we do have a say in how we see it.

So, in the spirit of real self-sufficiency, let’s try to be the magnificent, scarred, battle-weary, tempered, self-made people we were always meant to be…

The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. (1)


Picture: UNICEF/Rokiatou Guindo

(1) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp 178-9

17 comments on “The Magnificent Self-Made Person

  1. sufilight says:

    This was to me, a powerful moving message.

    These words stood out for me: “Refusing to be created and defined by our suffering gives us back our power.”

    I see life as a series of lessons and not all are going to be easy ones.

  2. Truly wise words for us all. Thank you!

  3. Visionkeeper says:

    Excellent piece. It truly speaks of many wonderful points to take note of and remember.Sufilight spoke of the one I too was grabbed by. Very good stuff. Thank you for that! Blessings….VK

  4. Ann Gray says:

    You made my heart soar this morning, well said, thank you

  5. AngelaMarie says:

    This is truly excellent. Thank you so much for this post. I truly appreciate this line, “we are afraid to say we have suffered, because we are frightened to be labelled as broken in some important way that makes us less valuable or capable or wise.” I have let this happen to me me many times, but one of the clearest examples I can think of was when I lost my son at 5 months pregnant. When I returned home from the hospital, people whispered, avoided all talk with me of what had happened, and if I cried, they told my husband (in private and away from me) that I should get counseling. What I most needed at that time was for my family and friends to just “be” with me, but instead I found myself feeling like I had to “prove” and show them that I was not “broken” in order to maintain the confidence and comfort of their company. My experience was treated like a stigma instead of a very real suffering/loss that I should have been allowed to normally grieve without being ‘cast away’ from the people closest to me to be able to do it. I felt I had to muscle up and show them that I was still happy and capable to keep them close to me. Whether counseling would have been great for me or not was beside the point in that moment, because first and foremost I needed the natural experience of my grief to not be denied to me by those people (well-meaning as they were) who surrounded me. People often deny others’ pain out of their own projected discomforts. So this has been a costly experience for me, but a big learning one too. Thanks for your great thoughts on this. I appreciate it much.

    • I am sad for you about the loss of your son – I had a daughter who was still-born at 7 months so I understand very well what it feels like and I have also had the pressure to ‘be OK’, so I understand that as well – you describe it very eloquently. I remember seeing someone avoid me in a shop because they didn’t want to have to speak with me because they knew I was sad. And I also agree that often all that is needed is a chance to experience the natural progression of grief. It has a natural course of healing, just like a physical trauma.

      The suggestion of counselling at times like that is almost like being sent somewhere to be ‘fixed’ so the nasty sadness won’t leak out and make a mess. You seem to have learned a lot from your experience, though and while it doesn’t make it OK, it is something.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • AngelaMarie says:

        Yes! In fact the suggestion of counseling angered me, just for the reason you say. Not because I felt people wanted what was best for me, but because they did not want to “deal” with me and wanted to send me off for someone else to deal with and send back whole so their lives would not have to be touched by my grief. Still makes me angry, I think! Thanks so much for all you’ve written here. I have learned a lot, but I haven’t necessarily overcome it all. 😉 Peace & gratitude, Angela

  6. […] the awesome person that I am, I’m sharing it with you. Be sure to take a few minutes to read The Magnificent Self-Made Person over at […]

  7. This was a message I needed this morning. Truly defining, thank you.

  8. granbee says:

    Truly inspiring post to remind us of how we are the authors of our own fate, of our own destiny. We become fabulous people internally as we suffer externally. So very true.

  9. ElizOF says:

    Amen to understanding that no one is an island unto himself. 😉

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