We have a cult of success in America. We believe that if we just work hard enough, we will achieve. It is certainly better to hold these beliefs than a fatalist vision of the world in which fortunes are determined entirely by factors outside of oneself (social position, nepotism, economic status, etc.). Nonetheless, there is something naive about our way of looking at things, and cruel too, in the way children can be cruel because they are too young to have anything but an absolutist vision of the world. It isn’t always true that failure has direct correlation to insufficient grit or ambition. We resist the fact that race and class play a significant role in what we want and whether we are provided with the tools to make an attempt at getting it. The humbling, and unsettling, reality is that all obstacles are not surmountable. And in any case, is the sole objective of our lives the surmounting of obstacles so that we can come in first, like dogs in a race? This seems an impoverished vision of our human experience, more tragic and empty than any failure could ever be. But I have wandered into questions about how we might characterize a life well lived, and that is not the subject of this essay.
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