Someone I admired greatly when I was younger was my Step Granddad Bernard Hunt. I met him when I was around 11 at a time when I needed Father figures, and immediately I saw him as a great role model in many respects – he ran his own successful business, he had good taste in things like art and music, he had travelled around the world and he was very generous with me and took me under his wing. We started martial arts together and he got me interested in bodybuilding (as he had been when he was younger) and it’s thanks to him that I am to this day rather beefy and a professional health and fitness writer.
And one of the things that was always said about Bernard was that he was a ‘self-made man’ which was a term I found rather interesting at the time. What did it mean to be ‘self-made’ and how could I make myself in a similar way? It’s a great aim for any man, or any woman for that matter, and it’s something I think we should all aspire to. But what does it mean?
Definition of a Self-Made Man
While there is no set definition for what a ‘self-made man’ is, there are various interpretations of the concept and most of us have a good idea what we think it means. Apparently one popular view was that put forward by Frederick Douglass in 1895 during a lecture called ‘Self-Made Men’. Here he described the concept of ‘Self-Made’ as being tied closely with the American Dream and describes the life journey of Benjamin Franklin as being a great archetype for this journey in that he made it to a position of influence and power despite coming from a more humble background. Douglass stressed the ‘low origins’ of the self-made man, but Franklin also points out the importance of self-improvement and education to that end.
To me though this isn’t quite a satisfactory explanation of what it means to be a self-made man. To me, emphasising ‘low origins’ seems to exclude certain people who were brought up with a privileged lifestyle. Can you not be ‘self-made’ unless you’re poor? Meanwhile it also seems to describe the concept as almost entirely to do with financial/business/political success which is somewhat hollow to me.
For me then the clue is in the name, with ‘self-made’ creating an impression of independence and individuality meaning that the person found their version of success on their own and liberates themselves from the figurative shackles of their culture/society as a result. This shouldn’t mean that you ‘refuse help’ or become a recluse, but that you must forge your own path whatever that may be without being influenced or carried by others. To me someone from a wealthy background could just as easily become self-made by forging their own identities and becoming a success in their own right – which might be even more of an accomplishment when there’s less of an incentive.
Living the Ideal
So that’s all very well and good, but how do you actually go about becoming a self-made man and living those ideals? Well to me it means forging your own path and improving your situation and your principles through strength of will. Here are some ways you can do that.
Educating Yourself: It’s often said that self-educated people can regularly outclass those who are taught in the top institutions, and by teaching yourself you’ll also get a more objective and fresh perspective on a field. Just because you’ve left formal education then doesn’t mean you can’t continue to develop yourself by learning new skills, new languages and new models of thought to help you achieve more.
Develop Yourself: Developing yourself is slightly different from educating – and while self-education is a form of self-development, so too is training your body and mind, or just thinking deeply on what it is you want to accomplish and how you intend to do it. It’s fitting that Bernard was once a bodybuilder, because a bodybuilder is someone who shapes themselves in a very literal sense. If you want to be described as ‘self-made’ then cultivate your discipline, take care of your appearance and go to that extra effort to actually make yourself better.
Set Up Your Own Business: Having a boss to me seems to go against what it means to be ‘self-made’ and it’s hard to think of someone as being autonomous and independent when they have to answer to someone breathing down their neck. To achieve the ultimate financial independence then and to start doing something that you truly enjoy while becoming your own boss is a fantastic way to become more of a self-made man.
Being an Individual: In our society the pressure to conform can often be all-consuming and it can be hard to keep our own identities. My Granddad Bernard is perhaps the only person I know who I think could pull off ‘My Way’ by Sinatra at his funeral. Unfortunately he did die a couple of years ago, though he had another Sinatra tune instead, but the point is that he did things his own way and had his own sense of style which meant you knew right away he was both a man of style and someone who had made their own destiny.
Follow Your Passions: Bernard was also a guy with great taste as I said, and who enjoyed great art and music. He had a real zest for life and had travelled and dated a lot as a result. Following your passions like that is another great way to become ‘self-made’ and this way you quickly develop your own style and have unique experiences and your experience of life will be that much richer and fuller at the same time.