Kimberly Eddy

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Bootstraps: Proof that some people don’t understand sarcasm

Boots and bootstraps. What does pull yourself up by your bootstraps really mean?

Table of Contents

Knowing my God Guided Bible Study Journal for Teens and Adults
Knowing My God Guided Bible Study Journal for Teens and Adults
Formats Available: Paperback
Knowing My God Guided Bible Study Journal for Teens and Adults

I am, by nature, a sarcastic person. I try not to be the mean kind of sarcastic. I guess maybe the right term would be sardonic, but most people have even less of a clue about what that means.

Witty. Yeah. I’m witty.

I also wrestle often with the current advice to the poor (having been through a long period of poverty in our late 20s-40s that was not as much fun as advertised), vs my own desire to work hard and be the hero of my own story.


Both of these things collided the day I learned about the origins of the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, oh so popular with the “self made man crowd”.

I have heard a lot – in churches, homeschooling circles, books, radio shows – that ADULTS pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They don’t look for handouts. They do it all alone.

But, is that possible?

The origin of the phrase was to point out sarcastically that it wasn’t.

Let’s think about this.

Picture your bootstraps

Imagine you’re wearing a pair of boots. The boots have a bootstrap on the back of them. The bootstrap was a loop that allowed you to more easily pull your boots on.

Do you have that picture in your head? Great.

Now I want you to imagine yourself bending down, grabbing onto said bootstrap, and pulling yourself up out of a hole that way. Or over a fence. Or onto a high step.

What would happen, most likely?

You’d faceplant.

Which stinks because healthcare in America is now only for those who are rich, and getting a broken nose, chipped, tooth, ect. will probably cost a few thousand dollars out of pocket unless your insurance covers that. I’m cynical about American health care ever since a friend called an ambulance while I was having a panic attack, and I got a $14,000 bill and no diagnosis other than, “Hmmm maybe you’re right. Maybe it was just a panic attack…”

Back to the origins of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps….

The entire point of this phrase (from back in the early 1800s) was to sarcastically point out the impossibility and absurdity of something. Not a lofty prescription to help the poor.

The Self Made American Success, and other fairy tales

Today it means to change your entire socio-economic standing with no outside help – which is about as likely as pulling yourself over a fence by your bootstraps. No man is an island.

This whole concept of the self-made American really was leaned into post World War II as our culture tried to create some entirely fictional ideal that was the exact opposite of communism. Anything that involved working together to better our entire society was rejected as communist.

The truth is, we can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Everyone who succeeds gets help whether they acknowledge it or not.

Connections Matter to Success

Let me give you an example.

As I’ve grown full time in my freelancing gig, I have done the most growth through networking. And I’ve realized something in that too. Everyone talks about doing it all on your own, but the truth is, until you know the right people, things don’t always happen for you, at least not in any big way.

Businesses don’t grow in a vacuum.

Authors? If they’re writing in their office and not talking to others and meeting people in the industry they will sell a handful of books.

Musicians? Yeah, same. Talent isn’t as important as your connections.

Can we put the fairy tale of American individualism to bed already?

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