No Accomplishment Is Your Own

So, I recently came across this tweet on my Twitter timeline. It caused some outrage and controversy. So I went on this person’s profile page to figure out if I could get any context from the rest of the tweets. Unfortunately, I failed on that part. All I could figure out was that this person is a writer and a comedian and they went to Harvard at some point. Considering that this person makes a living in trying to be funny, I wasn’t sure if this tweet was a serious statement or her trying to be funny. Maybe it was both. Since I’m not sure what her intent was, I sort of find it as a failure on her part as a writer to try to convey her true intent.

Anyways, the replies to that tweet fell into two camps: 1) People who assumed that the author of the tweet aimed to skewer rich, privileged young people who boast about their accomplishments when it was in fact their parents’ money that funded everything, and 2) people who felt that they were being kicked while being down because the author did not explicitly state it was rich, privileged young people that she was talking about. Her statement was vague and could be easily interpreted to mean that it included EVERY person who was living at home with their parents, lumping in both the wealthy leeches with the poor, disabled, and others who live with their parents out of necessity.

And what do I think of this? Well, I think figuring out who pays the rent is besides the point of what constitutes a “real” accomplishment. And I’m speaking as someone who has paid my own rent ever since grad school (I lived in dorms as an undergrad and my college education was funded through scholarships). Accomplishments don’t appear from out of a vacuum. They get done from support of a lot of people: parents, yes, but also other relatives, friends, teachers, mentors, other people who believe in you, supporting organizations, networks, and sometimes just pure luck. Just because a smart, hardworking person also happens to be living with someone else who pays their rent doesn’t make them any less smart or hardworking.

I can, perhaps, make an educated guess as to where the tweet’s author was coming from. As the child of immigrant parents who managed to make it into Harvard and then into some high profile gigs–it’s probably easy to assume that she made it to where she is due to her own efforts. In fact, one might assume that I might be one of the most likely people to take her view because I’m also the child of immigrant parents who attended prestigious universities and now making it professionally in one of the most expensive parts of the country. However, I am also acutely aware that where I went to school also helped open doors that might not have been available to me otherwise. Yes, I did all the work, but someone has to open those doors, too. I suspect that all of her accomplishments would have been a lot more difficult to do if she had not had the network available to her simply by attending Harvard (and all the circumstances leading up to her getting accepted there).

So, one could argue that having any accomplishments is a mix of work and circumstance. And in this case, the “circumstance” is the sticking point. As the old saying goes, we all stand on the shoulder of giants. And regardless of who’s supplying the money and the opportunities and the moral support, perhaps we should all apply some humility when describing our own accomplishments rather than stomping on other people while trying to validate ourselves.