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Self-Made Man
aka: Self Made Woman

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Young Scrooge McDuck sets the record straight with Flintheart Glomgold.

"A self-made man, who worships his creator."
John Bright on Benjamin Disraeli (and many other people on many other people)

This person owes very little to anyone for their success. The few advantages that they possessed are disproportionate to the scale of their achievements; the principal cause of the latter being their own skills, talent, and merit. Be it through hard work, dedication, commitment to their work, a little cunning, some business acumen, and a dollop of serendipity, they have gone from unimportant to important. This is usually who you get at the end of Rags to Riches, but this is not that trope because the Self-Made Man is often there right at the start of the story, whereas Rags to Riches follows the course that leads a character here.

Often the conflict of this kind of story revolves on societal acceptance and reputation. Typically, in works set further back in history, they are looked down on as upstarts, a reflection of the dislike a lot of the nobility had for the power shift following the Industrial Revolution. In more modern settings they might be respected to the point of Cult of Personality, basing their ascent on how they had to climb the ladder from the bottom. In other kinds of stories, the story have characters looking back on the process by which they made themselves, wondering if the rest of their lives are going to be as exciting and adventurous, or if what they built and sustained can last, or if it has any meaning in wider society and history beyond their own personal success. Expect them to show fewer social graces but often more political savvy than the more traditionally wealthy, except when he is feverishly trying to imitate and become socially accepted by the Blue Bloods, when he generally comes off the worse. The Arranged Marriage for the Impoverished Patrician is often to a Self-Made Man, or his daughter (or any situation where Nobility Marries Money), though it also is possible that his rise was because he was Unable to Support a Wife, and she did indeed Wait For Him. In Passed-Over Inheritance, the will-making character is often this trope, because refusing your children the inheritance you got comes across as petty.


The archetype of self-made men can involve politicians, clergy, soldiers, scientists, artists and of course, businessmen. In the case of artists, novels like Bildungsroman and Kunstlerroman often serve as a coming-of-age story for how people make themselves into these kinds of individuals. In the case of scientists, it deals with the times they spent until they found the "Eureka!" Moment. A Self-Made Man can appear as a protagonist, a Tragic Hero, a Tragic Villain, a hero or anti-hero. They can also be supporting-characters, where their interesting plot is mostly over and at times serves as backstory or foundation in which one can mine for dramatic gold, guilt, baggage, Dark and Troubled Past or Glory Days. A less positive spin on this trope is the stereotypically boorish Nouveau Riche. As this character tends to Default to Good, it can be seen as an inversion of Ambition Is Evil. A second variant of this trope is that of a character who, for whatever reason, chooses to change their basic nature in defiance of normal expectations of what they are "meant" to be or are likely to become — a naturally selfish or evil-inclined character, for example, forcing himself moment-to-moment to act generous or good because he has decided to make himself that way. This archetype is similar to Übermensch. They might be the middle generation of the Three Successful Generations. What is necessary for self-made also differs. Doing well after graduating at the top of your cause and maintaining high academic standing (all of them being markers of merit) is somehow not as remarkable as achieving something without going to university, either by being self-taught or being a "savant".


As the gendered trope name suggests, this trope has generally been Always Male. Indeed the trope Never a Self-Made Woman, explains how successful women have historically had their achievements tied to connections with men, who had to make it possible for them. This is more how the trope is portrayed than it is in reality since there are indeed quite a number of women whose achievements are no more over-advantaged than that of men. And of course what seems self-made in one era and context changes from another.

If he forgets that it's not always just a simple matter of effort and determination, that's the Hard Work Fallacy. Not to be confused for the book by Norah Vincent, a chronicle of immersive journalism in which she passes for a man for more than a year.


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  • Referenced with an old Tim Horton's commercial. An old man is speaking to his grandson (or perhaps great-grandson), saying that when he came to Canada he had only two dollars, but by working hard and saving his money, he was able to provide for his family, and now things were good for them. In turn, he gives his descendant two dollars, to use to make his family proud. Subverted when the child promptly buys a 20-pack of Timbits, though of course, the grandfather is not disappointed with the gift of pastries.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Fujioka Yukari, the female protagonist of Billionaire Girl, amassed a fortune of 170 billion yen by the age of 18 working as a day trader.
  • Fujitaka Kinomoto from Cardcaptor Sakura. He was orphaned at a young age, pursued a schoolteaching career on his own, fell in love with an Uptown Girl and was accused of being a Gold Digger, married her anyway despite her disownment, worked hard alongside his wife to make a living for themselves and their children, and by the time we meet him he's a rather successful archeologist and uni professor. In his mid-to-late 30s, and did it all without realizing he is one of the reincarnations of the most powerful mage in the CLAMP meta-universe.
  • Marianne from Code Geass can be seen as this. In a society where you only matter if you're from a noble lineage, she manages to get into the most elite knight order of the empire and eventually becomes a consort to the Emperor. A position usually reserved for daughters of important noble families. Her son Lelouch may also count. He obtained half the world on his own, later, the entire world for himself, without relying on his royal lineage.
  • Kiri no Mori Hotel has Makio Shidara and Kalen Hasumi, two characters who worked themselves to the bone, to get where they are today. Makio is studying to become a lawyer, all while working part-time to pay for his student loans and living expenses. Kalen became a model and successful actress, after leaving her small hometown behind.
  • Medabots: Dr. Aki sold patents of some medabot models to other companies to have the money to start Medabot Corporation.
  • As part of his being the poster boy for Eagleland (both versions), Mobile Fighter G Gundam's Chibodee Crocket was an orphan who built himself up from street urchin to the Heavyweight Boxing Champ as well as America's representative in the 13th Gundam Fight. This is the reason why he believes so fiercely in the concept of the American Dream — he's living proof that it's possible.
  • Jack Rakan of Negima! Magister Negi Magi; the reason that he's a beloved invincible war hero is that he literally fought his way to the top despite starting out at rock bottom as a gladiatorial slave. Tohsaka, Mama Bear and Vargas have very similar backstories.
  • One Piece: Franky, Self-Made Man in a... different sense, still related to making himself by himself, but in a more literal manner. The original definition could still apply to him — despite being the son of a pirate, he managed to be one of the few apprentices of Tom, the closest person to an ultimate shipwright there was, by proving his skill to him, then managed to gather a sizable gang, becoming just about the most infamous person of the city — certainly not helped by anyone in the endeavour.
    • Iceberg, Franky's "Brother student" is also this; when he started, he bore the stigma of being the student of the man who built the Pirate King's ship, but through his own hard work, managed to unite the competing shipyards in Water-7 into a massive corporation called Galley-La and eventually became mayor of the city.
    • Surprisingly, Wapol actually manages to become this eventually. He started off as the King of Drum Kingdom, but as a major example of The Caligula. However, after fighting Luffy and being forcibly exiled from there, he uses his Devil Fruit powers to make toys from garbage. From that starting point, he eventually becomes a business tycoon, becoming so successful that he is even allowed to create a new kingdom for himself.
  • In The Secret Agreement, Yuuichi is an orphaned Street Urchin who eventually builds his own business. Even when he found out he had an uncle he didn't go to him for anything he needed.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Seto Kaiba stole his adoptive father's company from him, then rebuilt it from the ground up, leaving his own stamp on it. Regrettably, he just about broke himself in the process, becoming nearly as bad as his father. If what his father says is to be believed, he too was an example of this.
    • Priest Seto (whom Kaiba is a reincarnation of) was also an example, who managed to work himself up from humble beginnings to becoming a member of the Pharaoh's court. While he was technically a member of the royal family (and was eventually crowned Pharaoh himself), the only one who actually knew that had nothing to do with his ascension.
    • Katsuya Jonouchi/Joey Wheeler of the same show is an unusual example. Starting out with a mediocre Duel Monsters deck and a smattering of chance cards, Jonouchi enters one tournament after another and with a combination of skill, luck, and being thoroughly underestimated by his opponents, manages to be a success. Flashforward five seasons — he's been the runner-up at Duelist Kingdom, a finalist at Battle City, and is the third-ranked duelist on the planet. Interestingly, Joey and Kaiba hate each other.
  • Kaiba's Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Expy Jun Manjoume comes from an incredibly rich family, but decides he wants to be this character instead, and resolves to achieve success via his own merits and not his brothers' money or fame.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds:
    • Jack Atlas started as a rat from Satellite. But once he had a chance to escape from there, he became the King of Duelists not shortly after. However, this is subverted much later, as it is revealed that Goodwin and Yeager paid strong duelists to lose against Jack on purpose when Jack's career began.
    • It is revealed that Rex Goodwin himself was the Legendary D-Wheeler from Satellite. Somehow he managed to become the CEO of Public Security of Maintenance Bureau and Neo-Domino City's most famous man.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V: ARC-V's version of Jack Atlas plays it straight in contrast to his original counterpart. Everything started when a single card, that was probably discarded as a trash card by someone from the Tops, fell from the sky and a very young Jack found it. Years later, the boy from the Commons became the man who won the Friendship Cup and earned the title of King, being the hero of the entire City.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman's ancestor Solomon Wayne. He arrived in Gotham with nothing but a law degree and a Bible and worked as a judge. He then started a number of businesses and quickly became the wealthiest person in town. Down the line, that money became the now enormous Wayne fortune.
  • In Disney Ducks Comic Universe, this is the defining positive attribute of Scrooge McDuck, as established by his creator, Carl Barks: he may be an incredible miser, but he started at the bottom as a shoeshine boy on the streets of Glasgow and worked his way up to become the richest duck in the world through years of struggle, toil and bold adventure, all whilst adhering to a personal creed of being tough-but-fair in his dealings. Thus, he's not just a skinflint, but somebody who actively appreciates what it means to work for what he has, and who believes others should do the same. He even acknowledges this fact with his favorite saying about himself:
    Scrooge: I made it by being tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties! And I made it square!
    • The Carl Barks one-shot Somethin' Fishy Here (remade as Something Fishy) has Scrooge start over and rebuild a small fortune in a single day after being convinced that paper money was now worthless and the economy was being switched over to using fish as currency instead. It Makes Sense In Context.
    • It bears mentioning that this trait is subject to Depending on the Writer, especially in European countries that tend to play Scrooge up as a villain. Even in Barks' works, there is an infamous story in which Scrooge is shown to have once behaved like a ruthless robber baron in his past. Ascended Fanboy Keno Dono Rosa squared this off by depicting that event as the culmination of years of Scrooge losing sight of his morals, and something that formed an almost permanent wedge between Scrooge and the rest of his family when he chose at the last moment to focus on his wealth than on making amends with his revolted siblings.
    • Scrooge's Evil Counterpart Flintheart Glomgold zigzags the trope. Like Scrooge, he also started out from humble beginnings... but he rose to wealth and power by lying, cheating, stealing, swindling and dirty-dealing.
    • Subverted with Scrooge's more obscure rival John Rockerduck, who inherited his money. Played straight in that Howard Rockerduck, John's father, was a humble miner who struck it immensely rich with a series of lucky strikes and never lost sight of either his roots or his love for making his money through honest dealings.
    • Rosa also depicted Theodore Roosevelt as a man who aspired to make his own career, despite being from a wealthy family. His words inspired a young Scrooge in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: The Buckaroo of the Badlands:
      "Being born wealthy is no accomplishment! That's why I became a cowboy! To find the life I missed by not being born poor like you!"
    • This is also often the reason given why Scrooge considers Donald's cousin Gladstone Gander an Inadequate Inheritor. Being Born Lucky, Gladstone has always relied on his luck to coast through life, making him something of a Lazy Bum. Although Gladstone's luck could probably multiply Scrooge's vast fortune several times over, the fact that Gladstone actively looks down on honest, hard work offends Scrooge to his core.
  • Iron Man: Though Tony Stark was born into wealth, it's been taken from him multiple times, causing him to build it back up by himself every time, the most notable being when Stane took his entire company from him and Stark built a new one from the ground up. However, he did retain his education and decades of business experience and contacts.
  • In Judge Dredd, Martin Sinfield is proud of the fact that he wasn't cloned or fast-tracked to the top, but instead worked his way up from the bottom. The fraud, bribery, and criminality were completely for the good of the city. Absolutely.
  • Lex Luthor (DC Comics) and The Kingpin (Marvel) are sometimes shown as coming from poor families in rough neighbourhoods; the Kingpin especially, though that fits for a career criminal.
  • In the Mickey Mouse Comic Universe story "Once Upon a Time in America", this is revealed to be true of many of Mickey's ancestors, who, for whatever reason, abandon the wealth left them by their ancestors only to become wealthy on their own efforts. The best example is Mickey's own father, who had lost his wealth due a scam and, after loaning some money from his future wife, became one of the richest men in America (he later sold his economic empire when he realized that he had become a jerk and almost a villain, and gave most of his money to charity during The Great Depression).
  • Moon Knight was a knight of fortune that uses the bottomless pit of blood money he earned over the years as mercenary to protect the travellers of the night. He is also a successful treasure hunter, as the treasures of Khonshu now belongs to him.
  • An interesting variation occurs with the Green Goblin, Spider-Man's archenemy. While Norman Osborn's family was initially very wealthy, Norman's incompetent, abusive father nearly wiped out the family fortune, until Norman founded Osborn Industries and rebuilt the family wealth from the ground up.
  • Ozymandias from Watchmen gave away all his money to charity at a young age to prove that he could get to the top without any help. Being the smartest man on Earth with a drive to match, he pulled it off, becoming both a superhero and super-wealthy.

    Fan Works 
  • Code Geass: Cornelia of the Defection: Marianne wasn't only a commoner, but a street urchin who got caught stealing food from a military camp. Not wanting to shoot a little girl, the soldiers tried to subdue her by hand only to get their asses kicked. She was promptly enlisted in the army as a Private First Class and the rest is history
  • Somos Familia: The entire Rivera clan (and blood brother) gets this treatment. Imelda, Héctor, Ernesto, Oscar, and Philippe all grew up in an orphanage together, with little more than their friendships, talents and minor bits of history to their names. But thanks to some determination, hope, talent and a lot of luck, they all ended up in a VERY good place as the richest people in Santa Cecelia and Beyond.
  • 25m Distance Between Us: Pauline grew up poor with Italian Immigrant Parents in New Donk City. She began working as a showgirl but dreamed of more, so she eventually worked her way up the political ladder until she became mayor of NDC.
  • Daughter of Fire and Steel: Lex Luthor founded Lex Corp on his own when he was just 19 years old.
  • Truth and Consequences: Gabriel Agreste went from a poor orphan with no prospects to a world famous fashion designer and head of an internationally successful fashion company he himself founded, and he did this primarily because his beloved Emilie's old-money father would never permit them to marry otherwise. It's very sweet, but also deconstructed: firstly, it made him a Workaholic and Control Freak, seriously straining his relationship with the family he starts with Emilie. It also required him to make some serious moral compromises since, as Tikki points out, no one climbs that far, that fast, without stepping on a few people along the way, which made his decision to become Hawk Moth easier.

  • Arthur (1981): The father of the titular character's arranged bride.
  • Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) from Back to School is a man with little education and class (well, it's Rodney!), but he possesses uncanny financial skills. He built his fortune selling a plus-sized line of clothing to obese men. This comes to a head when he takes an economics class. The professor speaks in terms of pure theory, but Melon keeps interrupting him to talk about all the messy realities of actually running a business, like paying out kickbacks.
  • Biff Tannen looked like one to outsiders in Back to the Future Part II. In reality, he got immeasurable help when his self from 2015 traveled in time to give his 1955 self an almanac with sports results from 1950 to 2000 so past Biff would become wealthy from gambling. Sure, it ended up being for naught, since Marty and Doc undid the damages to the timeline but, he was quite wealthy in 1985 until then.
  • Al Czervik from Caddyshack. He has all the traits of Nouveau Riche: gaudy clothing, obnoxious behavior, but he is more likable than Judge Smails (because he's generous and friendly where Smails is stingy and mean).
  • In Canyon Passage, Logan Stuart built up his freighting business from almost nothing to become one of the richest men in the Oregon territory. At the end of the film, most of his fortune is destroyed when his business is burnt down, but he just views this an opportunity to start over and do it all again.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: In the 2005 version, Willy Wonka had to make his own way in the world at a very young age since he had no help from his dentist family; his father punted him out on the street and transported their house out of the block when he heard his son wanted to be a chocolatier.
  • This is the backstory of the Rivera family in Coco; After Imelda's husband abandoned her (or so everybody thought), she taught herself shoemaking in order to support herself and her young daughter. The family business has been successful enough to support her living descendants for four generations and counting. Ernesto De La Cruz also came from humble origins and became rich and famous thanks to his songs. It turns out he actually stole the songs from Imelda's husband Héctor and killed him.
  • Cleo McDowell in Coming to America spent his early life in a slum. He went on to open a successful (but obviously plagiarized) restaurant. While he tries to marry off his daughter to a rich guy, part of it is because he doesn't want her having to struggle like he did.
  • Cool Runnings: Junior says his father "started off in a one-room hut" and "now he lives in one of the biggest homes in Kingston".
  • Employees' Entrance: When the board of the department store tries to demote manager Kurt Anderson for being too much of a hardass, Anderson spits back at them that while they're all Old Money fat cats, he worked himself up from nothing to become manager of the store. His first job at Monroe's department store was on the loading dock.
  • Nick Vanderpark, the character portrayed by Jack Black in Envy, used to be the average working man until he invested four thousand dollars on the development of a spray that vaporizes dog poop. The investment made himself wealthy. The film never stated how much Dmitrioff, who invented the spray, got from the deal or how it changed his life.
  • Happy Gilmore: Though not in the most conventional manner, Happy Gilmore goes from a down on his luck man with an incredibly short temper to a nationally acclaimed golfer who wins a national golf tournament and becomes famous all around the country and winds up pretty wealthy.
  • Mostly Kingo Gondo in High and Low, who started out as a cobbler's apprentice and rose to become factory manager for National Shoes, but he also got help from his wife Reiko's dowry.
  • High Society: George, the Disposable Fiancé, is very proud of being this, in contrast to the ex-husband.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: It's mentioned that the Big Bad Richmond Valentine grew up poor and made his money by starting his own tech company.
  • Relentlessly lampshaded in Knives Out. Most of the Thrombeys like to claim they're self-made, but they've clearly all spent their lives leeching off the family patriarch, an actual self-made man who now regrets spoiling them their entire lives. The closest might be Linda; despite taking out a million-dollar loan from her father to start her own business, she paid it back, doesn't need his money, and her main stake in the will is wanting the house out of sentimental reasons. At one point, Ransom rants about Marta "stealing away our ancestral home" and Blanc literally laughs that Harlan only bought the place from a Pakistani millionaire in the 1980s, so even the family's house was never truly built by them.
  • The eponymous serial killer in Mr. Brooks founded, owns and runs a successful box-making company.
  • The Richest Cat in the World: Oscar Kohlmeyer was merely the owner of a roadside diner until some land developers decided to buy it. They granted his request to let him keep all rights over minerals found on the land. They found oil.
  • Niki Lauda as depicted in Rush (2013): His family is rich, but he becomes a Defector from Decadence to race in Formula One (which is viewed as a low-class job by his father). Even before he starts, he claims to his teammate he can build his own economy out of the job.
  • Palpatine from Star Wars counts. Born a minor noble on some backwater world, he clawed his way to Senator, Chancellor, and eventually got voted in to be galactic Emperor through trickery, deceit, and tactical maneuvers. He wasn't born an Emperor, but he sure as hell worked his way up the top, whether the perspective be simply from the movies or including the Expanded Universe.
  • Titanic (1997): A self-made man's widow is disliked by some of her fellow first-class passengers because of this trope.
  • 2 Days in the Valley: Art dealer Allan Hopper regularly makes deals in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and grew up in a trailer park, and his mother couldn't afford to send him to college.

  • Simona Ahrnstedt has two very straight examples, complete with the prejudice from the "old money": Seth Hammerstaal in "Överenskommelser" and Markus Järv in "Betvingade". And even Gabriel Gripklo in "De skandalösa", who was born as an aristocrat, had to make money on his own to save his family from actual bankruptcy.
  • In Alien in a Small Town, Indira became this after she first left home in her youth, leaving a Mennonite farm, getting an education, and becoming a high-paid engineer on a Space Station. After her life falls apart, she returns home to the farm for many years... and then later goes back out into the world and achieves it all over again.
    Indira fascinated him. Here was this brilliant woman, totally self-made, professionally successful, with no biological enhancements at all. Raised Amish, for God’s sake. She entranced him, and yet the more time he spent with her, the more her very presence made him feel crapulous by comparison.
  • In L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle, Dr. Redfern.
  • James T. Sedgwick, maternal uncle of the protagonist of Brewster's Millions, built his fortune in Montana, where he arrived with just a few thousands of dollars on his name and ended up owning some ranches and gold mines.
  • In A Brother's Price, Jerin's grandmothers worked their way up from thieves to government spies, and were knighted for their part in winning the war. The Whistler family is very well-off at that point, partly thanks to the grandfather, who was a prince the grandmothers kidnapped. After his family lost the war and was executed, Prince Alannon saw no point in revealing his identity, and instead wrapped his kidnappers around his little finger. As a result, the Whistler offspring don't only have money, they also have good manners, and everyone, even the boys, is taught how to read and write. Grandpa insisted.
  • Dancing Aztecs: While not explicitly stated, this is implied with Open Sports Committee member Bud Beemis, who has a good business, and carries himself very well, while Corella notes that "Some stink of the street still clung to him."
  • Discworld has a few.
    • Harry King (AKA Piss Harry, The King of the Golden River) went from gutter-born mud lark to one of the richest men in the city by realising there is nothing so foul that someone doesn't want it — and what's more, you can usually get people who don't want it to pay you to take it away. While not liked, and even disrespected, by most of the traditional power players in the city, the protagonists and most other characters the reader is meant to sympathize with tend to have at least a grudgingly positive opinion of him.
    • Vimes is a peripheral example, in that the Watch ended up in its modern place of power because of his hard work, but in his personal life, he married way, way up. (He does have a general dislike/distrust of Aristocrats and others born into money, usually because they usually have personalities that lead them to treat others as inferior, at best. Vimes gets along with Sybil because she doesn't; one of their first meetings has him amazed that she even made friends with Nobby, who was described as "Disqualified from the Human Race for shoving.". Sybil herself is "More highly bred than a hilltop bakery.")
    • C.M.O.T. Dibbler is not an example, despite all his best efforts. But he never quite sinks under either and is already ready for the next Big Thing.
    • Mr. Bucket in Maskerade, whom Salzella contemptuously thinks of as "a self-made man who's proud of his handiwork".
    • Willie Hobson, of Hobson's Livery Stable, another businessman in the mold of Harry King who had 'found a niche, occupied it, then forced it open so wide a lot of money dropped in'.
  • Karl Oskar of The Emigrants arrived in America with a wife, four children and a small chest with all their belongings, and by the end owns a large, prosperous farm which can support him and his now seven children. Karl Oskar firmly believes in self-improvement from hard labour, and left his homeland because he saw America as a place where his labour would be rewarded. However, it should be pointed out that the reason he chose to emigrate was the realization that hard work was useless without the opportunity to make it pay off, and that he could have worked himself to death in Sweden because there was no opportunity there.
  • Mr. Weston of Emma. He and his first wife had a financially strained marriage as they overspent what his militia salary allowed for, forcing him to give up their son to her family when she died young. Mr. Weston then joined his brother's business, carefully building up a small but stable fortune that allowed him to buy a comfortable property. Unlike the Noveau Riche Eltons, Mr. Weston doesn't flaunt his wealth, simply enjoying its benefits in a friendly and gentlemanlike way.
  • Alexandria's Character Arc in the Emperor books consists of becoming one of these; she starts off as a slave but manages to earn her freedom in the first book and goes on to become a successful jeweller.
  • In Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian Grey calls himself this, saying he started up his business and has made it as large and influential as it is now, all by himself. He seems to forget that it was Elena Lincoln who gave him the starting capital for his business.
  • The benefactor in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations is a ringing example. From escaped convict to Wealthy Australian.
  • Perhaps the most famous example in western canon is Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby. Born poor, he falls in love with a girl above his station and dedicates himself to making money to win her back. He's fantastically wealthy by the time the story starts and is famous for the lavish parties he constantly throws in his opulent mansion. Alas, his true love still rejects him.
  • Wang Lung, the hard-working Chinese farmer from The Good Earth.
  • Honor Harrington is a moderate example. Her parents were always well-off, a pair of respected and successful doctors who were themselves descended from successful professionals, but they were solidly in the yeoman social class and never had the money to really be "rich." Honor herself earned her first several million dollars with prize money from ships she seized for smuggling during her stationing in the Basilisk system, then reinvested the modest fortune into numerous investment opportunities around Manticore; the proceeds from her investments turned her from millionaire into a billionaire. She then founded Grayson Skydomes, Ltd. on the planet Grayson, bankrolled by her off-world fortune, the proceeds of which made her the wealthiest individual on Grayson and in shouting distance of the wealthy on Manticore. Throughout the novels, her fortune continued to expand through regular reinvestment in the many financial opportunities a sustained war provides anybody with capital and resources, along the way also earning a knighthood, a Duchy on Gryphon and investment as a Steadholder on Grayson. The later books have her as one of the most important figures, exonomically, politically and militarily, in the entire galaxy. However, all along the way Honor is quick to point out that her financial success is primarily the doing of her hired financial consultant, and she was always quick to deflect any praise or reward from her personal actions.
    • Klaus Hauptmann is another, albeit antagonistic, example and bears a hidden distaste for old money.
  • Hagbard Celine in The Illuminatus! Trilogy quit his job as a lawyer, sold his property, gave half of it to the poorest people he could find, and the other half to the richest people he could found, hitched a ride to Europe to start fresh. A few years later, he's the leading private importer of contraband after the mafia. Off course, it could all be a great big lie, he might not even exist.
  • Rourke, from the In Death series, starts out as a poor Irish street brat and becomes an obscenely wealthy member of the Fiction500 through a combination of illegal and legal business ventures.
  • Dr. Bledsoe in Invisible Man is almost a deconstruction of this type — he seems at first to have earned his way to the top honestly, but it becomes clear just how much he lied and schemed.
  • Johann Sebastian Bach Smith from Robert A. Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil is a rare protagonist example.
  • Martin Dressler: Martin is the genuine article. He starts out as a hotel bellhop, and works his way up to clerk, to assistant to the hotel manager, to owner of a diner, to owner of a chain of diners, to owner of the hotel where he used to work, to a hotelier with hotels all over New York. However, since the book is a rather cynical take on the American dream, he loses everything and goes bankrupt.
  • Exaggerated Trope in Paradise Lost; Mammon is so unwilling to owe anything to anyone that he refuses to be eternally happy in Heaven and instead goes to Hell to try fo find a power totally his own. He even lays out lavish plans to use this power to create an empire. Of course, all his power is derived from God and Beelzebub makes it clear his hope of making an empire in the universe's dungeon is delusional.
    "Let us not then pursue / By force impossible, by leave obtain'd / Unacceptable, though in Heav'n, our state / Of splendid vassalage, but rather seek / Our own good from our selves, and from our own / Live to our selves, though in this vast recess, / Free, and to none accountable, preferring / Hard liberty."
  • Captain Frederick Wentworth of Jane Austen's Persuasion: "I have been used to the gratification of believing myself to earn every blessing that I enjoyed. I have valued myself on honourable toils and just rewards." Those rewards amount to £25,000, making him equivalent to a millionaire. Sir Walter, on the other hand, objects to the navy precisely because it makes it possible for people like Captain Wentworth to enter the upper classes.
  • Ayn Rand loves the trope and uses it as part of her belief in a true meritocracy where all the power, influence and wealth to go superlative people who earn it rather than the mediocre people who just want it to be given to them.
    • Atlas Shrugged: Hank Rearden, Midas Mulligan, Ken Dannagger, Ellis Wyatt, the posthumous Nat Taggart and Sebastian D'Anconia... the list goes on. Even Francisco D'Anconia, heir to the massive D'Anconia Copper empire, qualifies, as his family has a rule against assuming you're "born a D'Anconia" — you have to earn it. He started by working at a copper foundry in college and managed to earn enough money on his own to purchase the foundry himself, while still learning the family business.
    • Howard Roark from The Fountainhead.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "The Scarlet Citadel", Conan brags that his Rags to Royalty climb was all his own and that he had shed blood himself as well as shedding that of others.
    • Conan is not kidding on that score either; he attained the throne of Aquilonia by leading a rebellion against its last king, a Caligula by the name of Numedides, who he personally slew by his own hand.
    • In "Queen of the Black Coast", Pirate Girl Bêlit is already a legend of the high seas, a feared pirate and the titular queen, with her crew treating her less like a leader and more like a goddess, before she ever meets Conan, putting her on equal footing with Cimmerian.
    • In "The Shadow Kingdom", Kull.
  • Sir Willoughby Parfitt in ''Sharpe's Justice''.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish was born an extremely minor noble, heir to a crumbling tower on a tiny plot of worthless land, but has parlayed his genius with finances and intrigue into becoming the Master of Coin by the start of the story. He reaches loftier titles as the story goes on.
    • Varys and Illyrio began life as a mutilated thief and a street bravo, respectively. They parlayed their skills into becoming Master of Whispers and a Magister of Pentos. By the start of the story, they're two of the most powerful chessmasters in the world.
    • Bronn starts out as an anonymous bastard sellsword who earns a knighthood for his service during the Battle of the Blackwater and uses that to marry into a minor noble house.
    • In the backstory, the progenitor of House Clegane was a common kennelmaster who was granted a landed knighthood for service to his lord.
    • Davos Seaworth was a common smuggler who earned a knighthood by smuggling food into Storm's End during a siege, saving the city and earning himself the nickname "the Onion Knight." He quickly became Lord Stannis Baratheon's most trusted adviser, and ultimately his Hand of the King.
    • Members of the Night's Watch forsake all titles and inheritances, so commoners often rise to prominent positions. However, members from noble families still enjoy many advantages.
  • Jason Currie of The Stone Angel never misses an opportunity to tell his children how he is this.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Jasnah is a pretty straight aversion of Never a Self-Made Woman. She's the sister to a king but insists that she'd be able to exert the same authority if she merely convinced people she was royal. While she's never shy about using her wealth and connections, she's far more likely to use her own intelligence and natural charisma. She even refuses to marry in a world where both men and women are expected to pair off by their mid-twenties; she scoffs at the idea that she'd need a man for anything (and her demonstration with some muggers proves that she definitely doesn't need a man for protection). Her mother wryly claims that Jasnah has been a sour-faced scholar since she was five years old, and never needed even a mother.
  • Well before the time of The Thrawn Trilogy, Thrawn had made Grand Admiral despite literally being an alien who had been picked up off of a distant planet. He'd been a Commander among his people but had been exiled to an unpopulated world. The Empire was quite biased against nonhumans and he started with no rank among them, but he was a strategic and tactical genius the likes of which the galaxy had rarely if ever seen, so despite his many oddities he was able to pull himself up into a position that let him command the Empire itself, in that trilogy.
  • Tom Broadbent of Tyrannosaur Canyon aspires to be one of these. Born to a wealthy merchant family, he turned his back on his connections and started his own business as a veterinarian. While he has over $100 million inheritance, he never actually touches it since he values eking a living from his own labor.
  • Military thriller Victoria has Terry, the former Marine aviator and aviation buff who made a fortune in real estate and fulfilled his dream — buying and restoring a real-life World War II jet bomber. Naturally, this becomes a plot point...
  • Kya from Where the Crawdads Sing is a Minor Living Alone whose family abandoned her in a shack in a North Carolina marsh. She only attends one day of school and doesn't learn to read until she's a teenager. After Tate finally teaches her to read, she becomes a voracious reader of biology textbooks, not caring that they're too advanced for her. Her reading combined with her careful observation of the natural world makes her more educated than most of the townspeople by her early twenties, even though most of them see her as a feral idiot. On Tate's advice, she submits her work to a publisher, which helps her compile it into the most detailed guidebooks of East Coast shells and seabirds that currently exist. The royalty checks allow her to live comfortably and pay off back taxes on the land to save it from developers.
  • Wolf Hall portrays Thomas Cromwell as this (although as his career unfolds, certain people have reason to see him go From Nobody to Nightmare). He starts as an abused blacksmith's boy, becomes a mercenary in Europe and finds his way to an Italian banker after an especially nasty battle. He begins by scrubbing the floor before getting into the counting house, then enters the wool trade, returns to England and becomes the Hypercompetent Sidekick of an aging merchant (who sets Cromwell up with his daughter), enters the legal profession, and becomes the right-hand man of Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII. After Wolsey's fall, Cromwell joins Henry's privy council and eventually takes the position of Master Secretary, which gives him enormous latitude and power — all the way along he's building substantial wealth. This being Tudor England, his origins are frequently hurled in his face as an insult regardless of the ability he shows.
  • Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. After feeling betrayed by Cathy and leaving the Heights as a teenager, the gypsy foundling returns... somewhat mysteriously wealthy three years later. He then proceeds to swindle both Hindley and Edgar out of their respective properties.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock started out as a poor kid from a broken home in Boston. By working odd jobs from the age of 12 he put himself through Princeton and Harvard Business School and went on to become an immensely powerful and wealthy executive. Part of the show's Early-Installment Weirdness included him buttoning both buttons on his suit jacket in the first episode because he's ignorant of business fashion due to his humble roots.
  • Billions: Billionaire Bobby Axelrod is very proud to be a self-made man. He grew up in a working-class broken home and made his way as a pool hall hustler and horse track gambler before being exposed to the world of stock trading and financial investment. His wife comes from the same neighborhood, and they still maintain ties to some of their local haunts and friends. By contrast, the Axelrods' nemesis Chuck Rhoades makes a tiny fraction of their net worth in his job as US Attorney, but was born into a wealthy family and enjoyed a privileged upbringing.
  • Deconstructed in an episode of Blackadder the Third, which parodies the rising industrialists in Regency England with Amy Hardwood's father, a farmer's son who invented the "Ravelling Nancy" and now owns more mills than the Prince Regent has brain cells (seven). Unfortunately, he seems to have squandered his wealth on god-knows-what and is currently dirt-poor.
  • In Brass, Bradley Hardacre, a Magnificent Bastard industrialist, is a full-time parody of this trope. He is not the nice sort of self-made man.
  • Stephen Colbert, as a response to one of Mitt Romney's comments, deconstructed this trope on The Colbert Report by claiming that being forced to acknowledge his 100+ staff had a role in his popularity removes all the significance of his many accolades. As a result, he fired all of his staff and attempted to continue the show purely by himself using nothing but a desk lamp, a dry erase board and an iPhone.note  During his solo segment, he starts choking on a marker cap and falls unconscious after refusing to let someone help him via the Heimlich maneuver. After the commercial break, Colbert had rehired all of his staff, taking a stance of Let Us Never Speak of This Again.
    Colbert: The only accomplishments I value are ones I create entirely by myself. That’s why I’m not that crazy about my children.
  • A villainous version occurs in Doctor Syn ("The Scarecrow") with General Pugh, who started in the ranks and expresses his disgust for the commission-purchasing system of the Georgian British army. It seems to make him worse than a highborn officer would be since he disdains "gentlemanly" conduct like not threatening civilians and instead goes for the ends justifying the means.
  • In The Flash (2014) episode Mixed Signals subverts this. A trio of programmers earned billions from an app they sold to a tech company, but it turns out they stole the idea from a colleague of theirs, Ramsay Deacon, and erased any mention of him from their history. When Deacon gets his Technopathy powers, he kills one of the programmers and spends the episode hunting down the other two. The Flash eventually saves both, but not before Deacon forces one of them to admit on live camera that he and his colleagues stole the app.
  • Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was originally a farm boy from a small rural town who managed to better himself and eventually became a rich and successful lawyer and eventually a judge in California. This meant that he usually displayed more common sense than all his children combined — usually. Sadly deconstructed at the end of one episode after he had all but alienated his farmer parents because he was acting ashamed of his humble origins. He confesses to Will that, for all his Self-Made Man rhetoric, he didn't have it that rough since his parents were always there for him. In a later episode, he chides Will for not asking Phil for help out of a misguided desire to emulate Phil since people had opened doors for Phil too in the past.
  • Game of Thrones: Given the feudal setting, very few characters accomplish much without their noble name, as moving between classes is nearly impossible. However, there are a few exceptions:
    • Varys had nothing, even less than Littlefinger, who was at least a minor noble, being born as a slave and prisoner. After he was castrated and thrown into the slums of the Free Cities, he became a pocket thief and whore. There, he learned to extract secrets from his clients. Gradually expanding his power, through his shrewdness and clever use of information, he eventually rose to become Master of Whispers, with a seat on the Royal Council.
    • Daario was a literal Son of a Whore who was once a slave, as his mother was a drunk whore who sold him to get more wine, but through his martial skill earned his master's respect and rose to nationwide fame and was eventually freed. He then moved up the ranks of the Second Sons, eventually becoming their leader and becomes the right-hand man to the Mother of Dragons. He also believes he'll return to nothing, and seems pretty okay with it.
    • Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish is born into the very lowest ranks of nobility, with holdings barely worth mentioning and being seen as the son of an upjumped merchant by the ruling class, but parlays his twin talents of manipulation and money-lending until he's playing cyvasse with kings and queens as pawns.
    • Xaro Xoan Daxos was a poor immigrant from the Summer Isles when he arrived in Qarth but became a member of the ruling Thirteen.
    • Daenerys Targaryen went from abused child to independent woman; from glorified sex slave to fully-realized Khaleesi; from penniless widow to commander of eight thousand elite soldiers and liberator of over two hundred thousand slaves. She remarks that she did the last two things in only a fortnight. She does enjoy the clout of the Targaryen name, however — as some (though not all) are more willing to follow her due to her claim on the Westerosi Throne.
    • Bronn starts the show as an anonymous sellsword and lands a knighthood for deeds performed in the service of House Lannister, making him eligible to marry into minor nobility.
  • Gilmore Girls: Even though Lorelai Gilmore comes from money, she ran away from home as an unwed mother, got her first job basically because the inn's owner took pity on her, lived in a tool shed and less than twenty years later owned her own house and was part owner of her own inn.
    • Jess starts the series as a delinquent with a Junkie Parent and years of Parental Neglect under his belt. He managed to piss off everyone in town, and at the end of season 3, is informed he isn't going to graduate high school because he skipped too many classes. Luke kicks him out when he refuses to repeat the year, and he leaves town. In season 6, he returns full of Character Development, having written and published a short novel, and is working as one of three guys running a small publishing company. As of the 2016 reboot, he still works there.
  • On Grand Hotel, Santiago is the rich owner of a posh Miami resort. When a staff strike hits, the remaining kitchen workers are surprised when Santiago strips off his coat to take the place of the absent head chef. He tells them how he started off working in a kitchen, taught himself to cook to become chef and won enough favor to become manager and then owner. He then opened up two more successful restaurants which gave him the cash to buy the hotel. He shows them all he's still an expert cook as he personally supervises the lunch rush amid the hotel's other issues.
  • On Highlander, several Immortals were basically born into nothing and (thanks to their long lives) became huge successes.
    • Amanda was a homeless thief in the 9th century who, thanks to her expert skills at theft, is now so rich she barely even knows how much money she has.
    • It may have come from killing a priest and stealing a jeweled cross but it's still impressive how in just a few decades, John Durgan went from an illiterate backwoods hunter to a cultured millionaire art expert who speaks nine languages.
    • Carl Robinson was born a slave in the 1850s South and by the 1990s had briefly become a major league baseball star (sadly, he had to fake his death after a duel with another Immortal and start all over).
    • Hilariously subverted with Duncan's long-time friend Fitz who, over the centuries, constantly works to get himself money only for it to end badly. The biggest example is when in 1929, Fitz has become an actual which point the stock market crash wipes him out.
    • Duncan himself was born to a humble Scottish clan and worked over centuries to become rather wealthy (even if he doesn't flaunt it) and train himself as an expert warrior.
  • George Jefferson. He's not as rich as the other guys on this list, but he started off as a janitor and with the help of an insurance settlement opened and ran a successful dry cleaning store in Queens, New York. He managed to turn one store into a chain and got enough money to "move on up" to the Upper East Side of Manhattan into a deluxe apartment
  • These have been suspects (as well as victims) from time to time on Law & Order in its various forms. At least one case notes some of the less admirable qualities common in the Self-Made Man — a sense of entitlement (because they have already worked hard enough that the world owes them acceptance of their success) and a tendency to be very thin-skinned when it comes to criticism and political viewpoints.
  • Mad Men: Don Draper casts off his old life (literally) and rebuilds himself as the best ad-man on Madison Avenue after the Korean War.
  • Stymie Bundy in Married... with Children accumulated half a million dollars.
  • Invoked on Party of Five (2020) when Emilio frets he isn't living up to the legacy of his father who long boasted of coming to America with just $50 and building himself up into a successful restaurant owner. New nanny Natalia just chuckles that "no one makes themselves from nothing. Fifty dollars? How long do you think that will last?" She presses that the man just ended up getting help from fellow immigrants and that asking for aid is okay.
  • Danny Wilde, Tony Curtis' character in The Persuaders!, is a self-made millionaire who grew up in the Bronx. The contrast between him and Roger Moore's character, British aristocrat Brett Sinclair, is frequently played up for humorous effect.
  • Lionel Luthor in Smallville started his fortune with half the insurance money he collected when he had his parents killed in a fire (the other half went to pay the killer). He's not actually happy about this and tries to pretend to be descended from Scottish nobility.
  • Spartacus: Blood and Sand:
    • Quintus Batiatus is a successful owner of gladiators, making him wealthy but a low-born Roman citizen. His ambitions for political office are not taken seriously by the Roman aristocracy.
    • Marcus Crassus (whose real-life counterpart was quite possibly the richest man in history) earned his wealth and power through his strength and intelligence rather than by lineage. The Roman Senate has a particular dislike for him as a result.
  • General Martok in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine clawed and hacked (probably literally at times) his way to flag rank in the Klingon forces despite his poor birth and the opposition from aristocracy. He was a badass by Klingon standards.
  • Succession: Logan Roy, billionaire and patriarch of his family, is a self-made man who brags about working hard in a car garage in his youth. This stands in stark contrast to his children, who were handed everything, including cushy jobs in his media empire if they want them. For this reason, there is a huge cultural divide between him and his children, and he does a poor job of concealing his underlying contempt for them.
  • Nikos Karabastos from Brazilian soap opera Uga Uga was originally an employee of a toy factory who, tired of his employers not seeing the merit of his ideas, started his own toy factory.
  • Wolf Hall has Thomas Cromwell confess his origins as the son of a Putney blacksmith when he's newly hired by Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey, a butcher and innkeeper's son, is delighted to find another working-class man in his world of Upper Class Twits. Cromwell survives Wolsey's fall and joins Henry's privy council, swiftly taking the position of Master Secretary and becoming the king's Number Two. Most people he deals with find having to deal with (and sometimes answer to) a lowborn man anywhere from faintly distasteful to morally offensive.

  • The Hamilton Mixtape:
    • "My Shot (Rise Up Remix)" celebrates the ability of people to rise up from circumstances of poverty and societal opposition to become something great.
    • "Wrote My Way Out" centers around the ability of writing and song to help downtrodden people make a name for themselves.
    • "Washingtons By Your Side" calls out people for complaining that successful people have it easy, even when they've had to work hard all their life to earn their wealth and acclaim.
  • "Where did you go to my lovely" and "Last of the Breed" by Peter Sarstedtis this story but Marie-Claire is a woman.
  • The song "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel is sung to one of these, as the second part of the chorus has the line "Well, you started off with nothin' and you're proud that you're a self-made man."
  • This is a very common theme in Gangsta Rap both new and old, as most artists of that genre had to work hard, usually on the other side of the law, to actually get through life. It would be easier to list gangsta rap songs that don't talk about this trope than those that do.

  • In Capcom's unreleased Kingpin, the Kid becomes this throughout the course of the game.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Surprisingly relevant in the role-playing game Paranoia; the setting of Alpha Complex is a grinding dystopia, but it has no heredity aristocracy, and even the most powerful of Ultraviolet High Programmers started his/her existence as an anonymous drugged-up Infrared drone. On the other hand, they probably reached their current position not by being a good programmer, but via lying, bootlicking, bribery, blackmail and backstabbing treachery.

  • Yermolai Alekhseevich Lopajin from Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, who became rich despite starting as a peasant, as a direct contrast with Impoverished Patricians like Madame Ranevskaya, Gaiev or Simeonov-Pischik.
  • Mr. Birling from An Inspector Calls made his way up the social ladder from a lower-class background and intends to become even more successful; this is the ulterior motive behind his support of the engagement between Gerald Croft, from a richer and more prestigious family, and his daughter Sheila. He firmly believes that "a man has to make his own way" and expresses disapproval of "community and all that nonsense".

    Video Games 
  • Andrew Ryan from BioShock plays this trope straight while going as darkly as possible with it. Born Andrei Rianofski in Russia, his family fled the persecution and violence of the Russian revolution. He soon rose to power and wealth through a series of investments. As an adult, he used his personal history of having pulled himself up by his own bootstraps to argue against the idea of unions, taxes, and anything that could benefit the public welfare (if they want better working conditions, they should work to become rich like him). Eventually, he founds his own underwater city to avoid having to pay dues to an overseeing governmental body, claiming that the new city would operate as a meritocracy where anyone could acquire wealth. Needless to say, Ryan's lack of compassion for his (effectively captive) city's populace goes badly when they're deprived of basic human rights and resources...
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, David Sarif is the epitome of a self-made man, having fought every step of the way to turn Sarif Industries from a tiny biotech firm to a corporate empire, while still caring for every single worker under his roof with no strings attached.
  • Teyrn Loghain mac Tir in Dragon Age: Origins was common-born, but won his title (approximately equivalent to the real-life title of duke), a great deal of money, power, and influence, and got his daughter to marry the King of Ferelden by his sword and his wits fighting off the Orlesian occupation.
  • Grand Enchanter Fiona from Dragon Age: Inquisition began life as an alienage elf, was enslaved as the concubine to an evil Orlesian nobleman, killed him and was taken to the Circle of Magi, was freed and inducted into the Grey Wardens, underwent a unique process by which the Taint was removed from her blood, and then rejoined the Circle, became First Enchanter of Montsimmard, was elected Grand Enchanter, led the mages in rebellion, and she can become the leader of the free mages of Southern Thedas. All this, in one life.
    • In the same game is the return of Dagna, a dwarf girl first encountered in Origins whom the Warden could assist in her desire to study the principles of magic. Not the application, since dwarves can't do magic, but the bare-bones structure. As a result, she has in the ten years since turned herself into an arcanist, a position that she literally invented because she's the only one who has the requisite knowledge, and it brings her to serve the Inquisition as a Gadgeteer Genius.
    • Cullen also qualifies for this by the time of Inquisition. According to The World of Thedas, vol. 2, he first declared his intention to join the Templars at the age of eight. He left for formal training at age thirteen, and worked his way up the ranks through an awful lot of horrible situations, finally serving as Kirkwall's provisional Knight-Commander following the events of the second game. It was his heroism and commitment there which made Cassandra think him worthy of leading the Inquisition forces, bringing him to his current position.
  • Dragon Quest:
    • Dragon Quest V: Rodrigo Briscoletti is descended from a line of sages, but his wealth is all his own.
    • In Dragon Quest VIII, Angelo's half-brother Marcello claims to be self-made, having worked up from being an orphan in an abbey to the leader of the world's religion. You watch his rise to power throughout the game, but he only gets there through tossing around blame to imprison or otherwise dispose of those in his way to the top, and really only gets there by exploiting others, rather than through any earnest effort of his own. Because of that, he loses it all pretty quickly.
  • Robert House of Fallout: New Vegas. While he was born to wealthy parents, he was cheated out of his inheritance upon their death by his half-brother. That didn't stop him from attending CIT (the setting's version of MIT), founding RobCo (the company responsible for building most of the robots of the series, including Liberty Prime) and buying out several companies within Vegas, including his brother's. Using his vast resources, he managed to mostly preserve Vegas from the nuclear war, giving the Mojave Wasteland a possible chance for restoration.
  • Fatal Fury: Geese Howard is called "The Ultimate Self-made bad guy" for a reason. He began as an illegitimate child (actually, the bastard son of the Earl of Stroheim) from the lower part of South Town, worked as a policeman, became the chief of police of the city, and by the time the Fatal Fury story properly starts, he's a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • The Player Character in Game of Thrones: Ascent, earning nobility for a heroic deed and getting more and more powerful as the story progresses.
  • Luminous Plume: The knight captain, Levin, was once a street urchin from the Outer Ring of Arcana. He eventually works his way up the knight order, but he doesn't forget his humble roots, which is why he rushes to protect Southlight Village from brutes despite how slow the knights are to approve sending out help.
  • The Illusive Man from the Mass Effect franchise. Started out a mercenary amongst the human armed forces during the First Contact War, after publishing his manifesto made for the defense of humanity, he builds up all his assets and winds up eventually creating and leading Cerberus, a powerful Human Alliance black-ops division funded through many front companies and sympathizers amongst the Alliance Industrial Military Complex.
  • The Player Character in Neverwinter Nights and the one in the Shadows of Undrentide/Hordes of the Underdark storyline both rise from a position as an apprentice adventurer to stations of great wealth, power, and influence by undertaking a variety of mad quests to save the world.
    • Common in community modules, too. The Player Character in Tales of Arterra is an orphan raised by simple farmers, who wins a title of nobility at the end of the first module and goes on to (depending on your choices) head one of the most powerful churches in the world.
    • The Player Character in Sanctum of the Archmage was the child of poor foresters, who (as the story stands) is presently set to become a close adviser to the next King/Queen at the very least.
  • Street Fighter:
    • Fei Long, according to his backstory. He began training in Kung-Fu as a 6-year-old child, as a teenager he became a stuntman for HK movies and got into informal streetfighting, and from then on he worked hard in minor roles and training to reach the top. An assistant director asked him to show his skills in a single scene take, and the rest is history.
    • All but stated in the case of Sagat, too. The humble Thai village that he visits in Street Fighter IV is strongly hinted to be the "Emperor of Muay Thai"'s hometown, and the elder of said place is one of his relatives (apparently, his eldest brother).
  • Gray Mann of Team Fortress 2, as stated by his quote.
    "Unlike you two pampered imbeciles, I built my empire. I have studied. I have plotted. I have waited."
  • Kazuya Mishima from Tekken started out as a kid thrown into the ravine and then had to grow up by himself with nothing but martial arts. Along the way, he also learned some cutthroat skills by himself that enabled him to run a Zaibatsu once he took it from his father. He runs it for seriously evil stuffs, but he's still a pretty competent leader that can recognize opportunities when he sees one. Technically, he also has the Devil Gene, but that doesn't help him in management or leadership skills, it only helps his fighting skills.
  • This is one of the possible backgrounds for your Presidente in Tropico. It boosts the production rate of your factory workers and your relations with the capitalists and the US. It is also one of the few capitalist backgrounds that does not lower your relations with the communists.
  • Exaggerated with Naoya Kawahashi, one of the Mr. Shakedown encounters in Yakuza 0. Before he left home, his father told him to make his own way without relying on anyone, which Kawahashi took far too literally, to the point that he refuses to even get a job because having a boss give you a paycheck counts as "relying on somebody else" in his mind, so he gets his money by mugging people in Sotenbori instead.

    Visual Novels 
  • Deconstructed with Satomi Kijima in Spirit Hunter: NG. After her parents died, she struck out on her own to try and make a living as a house-keeper. This ended up with her becoming pregnant with a child who grew up in poverty, until eventually, she passed away from her weak constitution, leaving him in the care of his aunt. Had she allowed herself to be taken in by relatives, like what happened with her sister, then she might still be alive.
  • In contrast to demon princes Kakeru and Meguru, Satoru Kamagari of 10 Days with My Devil clawed his way up from nothing to a respectable status in the demon realm's Decadent Court entirely on his own steam. It's greatly informed the way he sees his world: he doesn't believe in trusting others, and instead views the people around him entirely on the basis of whether or not they'd be able to facilitate his further advancement.

  • GF Serendipity: A Gravity Falls Alternate Universe has this as the premise: Fiddleford McGucket and Stan Pines meet in a bar and Stan uses his business savvy to market Fiddleford's laptop and they become multi-millionaires and captains of industry in a couple of years.

    Web Original 
  • Homestar Runner: Bubs claims to be a self-made man. That's debatable.
  • RWBY: Weiss' grandfather, Nicholas Schnee, was this years before the series began. He not only founded what would become the largest Dust mining company on Remnant but he also personally led each expedition and helped protect them from Grimm attacks. Unfortunately, people in the present tend to forget this and instead associate the Schnee name with Weiss' Corrupt Corporate Executive of a father, Nicholas's son-in-law Jacques. Weiss' main-motivation for becoming a Huntress is to follow in her grandfather's footsteps.
  • Phase of the Whateley Universe. After being thrown out of his wealthy family, he used a payoff from his father and his knowledge of Goodkind Enterprises to make money using derivatives in the stock market; then he put together a consortium and bought out a series of corporate units that he realized would work better when consolidated. As of spring of his freshman year in high school, he's a billionaire.

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin: With his surfing skills, Tweeg's father earned enough gold to fill a bucket.
  • Arcane: As he himself puts it, being a cripple from Zaun, Viktor didn't have the benefits of a patron or nobility, but nevertheless managed to work his way up to being Heimerdinger's assistant.
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes retcons Simon Williams into one. Instead of inheriting Williams Innovations from his father, he built it from nothing.
  • Long Feng from Avatar: The Last Airbender. It's mentioned briefly that he worked his way up to head of the Earth Kingdom's Secret Police from a middle-class childhood. Part of Azula's Breaking Speech is insisting that he could never match her "divine right".
  • DC Super Hero Girls 2019: Implied, as judging by Lex Luthor's parents' clothing style and mannerism, they are country farmers. So Lex may have created his company out of nothing, a rather impressive feat for someone who is still a teenager.
  • Xanatos in Gargoyles likes to call himself a self-made man, but does abusing a time trip and leaving himself a note really count as "self-made?" It does when it's a self-made causality loop. He turned a tenth-century coin that he sold for $20,000 into a multi-billion dollar company all on his own. He could have sent back future financial information on stock, commodity, real estate, and currency markets, but that would be too easy. Xanatos sent himself a coin that he earned for services rendered in the past, maximizing his bragging rights. That's just how he rolls. He drags his father into the loop specifically because he wants to prove to him that he's a Self-Made Man. His dad isn't impressed and gives him a penny as a wedding present.
  • Gravity Falls:
    • Grunkle Stan had been kicked out of the house by his father for accidentally sabotaging his brother's chances of getting into a top university with only a car and a bag of clothes to his name. He was pretty much on the verge of poverty until Ford finally contacted him. After Ford's disappearance Grunkle Stan rebuilt his lab and turned it into the Mystery Shack, a moderately successful tourist trap.
    • Ford, while only being able to attend a third rate school, was able to complete his PhD and get a research grant. Three years ahead of time.
  • In the "Freaky Friday" Flip episode of I Am Weasel, Weasel is reduced to being a bathroom attendant after his brain is stuck in Baboon's body. Undeterred, Weasel!Baboon provides exemplary service (earning big tips in the process) and promotions. By the end of the episode, he has become just as beloved and successful in his new identity I.M. Baboon as he was prior to the switch.
  • The Stingers from Jem started out as Street Musicians living on nothing before slowly gaining popularity. When they're introduced they're one of the most popular up-and-coming bands. They act like Manipulative Bastards and jerks to anyone but each other.
  • Kaijudo: Alexander Carnahan is one if we can trust on what he said about building his fortune while fighting against Ray in "Gargle, Gargle, Toil and Trouble".
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Hiroshi Sato started out as a penniless kid in the slums of Republic City and became a millionaire by his twenties, all due to hard work and the foresight to see the then-untapped potential in consumer automobiles.
    • Eccentric Millionaire Varrick was a poor seal hunter's son who built up a global shipping business from a single canoe.
  • Virginia's father in Lola & Virginia.
  • Cornelius Robinson, brilliant inventor and industrialist in Meet the Robinsons who is responsible for just about all the amazing futuristic technology found in the year 2037. He is the future self of Lewis, the main character.
  • Rarity from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is one of these. From what we get from her parents, she didn't exactly grow up wealthy and refined. She got that way by working hard to improve her skills (she made five elaborate costumes using a sewing machine at the pony equivalent of 11 or 12), getting her own shop in Ponyville, and now sells clothes across all of Equestria. It isn't until Season 6 that she starts opening other stores and even then she helps start them up.
  • Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo: Curdles' background. He used to struggle with an ice cream cart and now, thanks to his hard work, owns a big ice cream business.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Frank Grimes in "Homer's Enemy" is a ridiculously exaggerated example. He was abandoned by his parents, worked delivering toys for rich kids which he would never get himself while studying in his free time, then was caught in a silo explosion, after which he had to rehabilitate himself, teaching himself to feel pain and hear again. His story touched Mr. Burns (another "self-made man"), who summoned him to work as Executive Vice President, only to give the job to a heroic dog at the last minute and send Grimes to sector 7G. Having to work with Homer (who, to put it mildly, doesn't share his work ethic) unhinges him, particularly once he learns of all the amazing things Homer had accomplished despite his laziness (having a big house, hanging out with Presidents, going on tour with The Smashing Pumpkins, going into outer space — would you like to see his Grammy? And the episode only begins to cover it.)
    • Parodied with Mr. Burns, who declares himself a self-made man, but Mr. Smithers responds by pointing out that Monty inherited his money. When Burns glares at him, he hastily adds, "Not That There's Anything Wrong with That." Of course, since Burns wrote on a medical form that the "Cause of Parents' Deaths" was "Got in my way", he still counts. He apparently had many older siblings who all died under "unfortunate" circumstances, mostly poisoned potatoes, leaving him the sole heir. He did, however, gain his entire fortune back in the course of one episode after it was taken away from him. He did this, of course, by recycling, which he still managed to make evil.
    • Herb Powell, Homer's illegitimate half-brother, grew up in Shelbyville Orphanage, washed cars for his college classmates to pay for his education and became a car manufacturer, with said classmates being now his board of directors. Homer ruined this, sending Herb to the poorhouse until he invented a device that translated baby talk. Despite the invention being a success back when it was made and the Simpsons having a baby, the device was never seen in any other episode. In later episodes, Herb was confirmed to be poor again.
  • Eugene Krabs, of SpongeBob SquarePants fame, was born poor, but thanks to the power of the Krabby Patty now owns a relatively small, but very profitable, restaurant in the Krusty Krab, which he converted from a failing retirement home originally named the Rusty Krab. His impoverished background partially explains his Money Fetish.
  • Mr. Ridgemount in Stōked — according to the "Golf Caddy Speech" that he gives to his kids whenever they've done something really bad (such as setting a boathouse on fire or throwing a huge party that got way out of control), he worked his way through college as a golf caddy, and the work ethic he developed ultimately led to him becoming the founder/owner/head of Ridgemount Resorts, an international chain of luxury hotels (the flagship of which is world-renowned surf resort).

  • Parodied in this joke involving Upper-Class Twit woman Pollak von Parnegg, trying to make small talk with an American.
    Frau Pollak: Do you have a father?
    American: No.
    Frau Pollak: Do you have a mother?
    American: No.
    Frau Pollak: Oh, you're a Self-Made Man!
  • This parody article is about a man that literally did everything by himself in his entire life to the point of being a Memetic Badass. Examples include delivering himself from his mother's womb, teaching himself how to walk, teaching himself how to read from books that he, himself, had written, etc.

    Real Life 
  • In history and reality, the very idea is heavily mythologized, exaggerated, and in some cases entirely fabricated. It's a common motif in Propaganda Piece and Cult of Personality. There are moments however where this legend does coincide with fact.
    • The vast majority of millionaires, at least in the United States are this. Less than 20% had parents who were wealthy albeit most of them came from stable middle-class families, rather than poor ones. So, less romantic than the ideal, but still notable.
    • At this point, it's worth explaining the page quote. Benjamin Disraeli wanted to go into politics. This was expensive. So he became a bestselling novelist, just to pay for his political career. He ended up as Prime Minister of the UK. Twice. It didn't hurt that he also married a very rich woman. (Happily, he also loved her as a person.)
    • U.S. patriots owe a lot and pay homage to Benjamin Franklin. According to Wikipedia, "he exemplified the emerging American nation. Franklin was foundational in defining the American ethos as a marriage of the practical and democratic values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment."
    • Abraham Lincoln as per myth (and in real-life) was born in a log cabin, and historically ranks among the lowest-income holders of any US President coming into office. He also did not go to elite educational institutions unlike other Presidents before and after him, being almost entirely self-taught and autodidactic. He worked as a teenager chopping wood and later as a bartender, and studied independently to qualify for his bar exam before building a very successful law practice. By the time he arrived on the political stage, Lincoln was reasonably well-off, married into the wealthy Todd family and had what we would now call "social capital".
    • Harry Truman is in a similar boat, being the last US president without tertiary education, the son of a farmer who did various odd jobs until he got himself elected. After he left office, he subsisted mostly on his small army pension (not helping things was a series of failed business ventures Truman entered into). Notable in that he himself had ensured public servants got generous retirement packages, but at the time, this did not extend to the president. The Former Presidents Act of 1958 was specifically passed so Truman would have a generous retirement, as unlike most previous presidents he was not independently wealthy.
    • Many figures in The French Revolution were this. Maximilien Robespierre, Georges Danton, Louis Antoine de Saint-Just were mostly nobodies with middling careers in law who in the course of the Revolution gradually became famous across France and Europe. Since there was no political career and opportunities before the Revolution, all of them made their careers on their ability at oratory, their education and their dedication and hard work, qualities that made them and other Jacobins promote the idea of meritocracy and insist on people earning their ranks in army and political office.
    • One of the beneficiaries of the above is Napoléon Bonaparte. Napoleon made meritocracy part of his mystique, with the idea of soldiers being promoted Up Through the Ranks and earning their titles via achievements, a myth that he occasionally did live up to. In actual fact, Bonaparte came from a family of minor Corsican nobility, and who on account of mere chance, became a French citizen at birth, and got to study in an elite military institution in France. However, Napoleon faced considerable racism in France for his origins and his accentnote  and would never have received rank and advancement had it not been for the Revolution and the army reforms of 1793; and later the support of wealthy patrons like Paul Barras. Napoleon's achievements were immense and prodigious but it owed a great deal to luck and "a little help from my friends".
    • Toussaint Louverture, the leader and hero of the Haitian Revolution is a bigger example than any of his French contemporaries. He was born into slavery into the Caribbean plantations of Sainte Domingue who on the outbreak of revolution, despite limited education, and zero military training and education, became the military commander and leader of the revolution, defeating many professional armies and becoming an adept politician who could moderate various factions. His downfall came out of underhanded betrayal and low cunning from Napoleon rather than any mistake by Toussaint.
    • Mahatma Gandhi was the son of a middle-class lawyer's family and had very little family connections, and was far more modest in background and bearing than many of the other elite politicians in the anti-colonial movement. And yet he became the Icon of Rebellion for India and the man who made Independence an issue of national struggle, through his strategies and tactics for protest and his writings.
  • Many famous artists and writers are this:
    • William Shakespeare was the son of a village alderman in an unremarkable small town who had no university education, no noble connections or military career (unlike other playwrights of his generation). Yet thanks to his incredible talent and genius, and his popular success by the time of his death, he had acquired a reasonable amount of wealth, property in London, a coat-of-arms and a title for his family.
    • Leonardo da Vinci was the illegitimate son of a minor nobleman who would not have inherited much by virtue of being a noble bastard (his surname Leonardo da Vinci signified the village of his origin, Vinci, rather than actual family connections). He apprenticed with the artist Verrocchio who admired his talent and patronized him. By the time of his death, he was renowned across Italy for his talent, genius, and skill and ended his career as an artist-in-residence for the King of France.
    • Charlie Chaplin, poor East-End street kid who became the world's first movie star and became one of the defining figures of the 20th Century.
    • Stanley Kubrick was a self-made autodidact who didn't go to college, worked as a photographer on the streets, taught himself film-making on the cheap, and step-by-step made himself into a world-renowned film-maker without ever working for a great deal of time in Hollywood, without working in other media, or coming from independent wealth.
    • George Lucas was born to an average middle-class home and had no background in arts and cinema, and initially became an anthropology student before going to film school. He went from a lowly college intern on the set of one of Francis Ford Coppola's earliest films, to set film-maker, to second-unit film-maker (on The Godfather), to feature director of a flop (THX 1138), before making his first hit (American Graffiti) and then banking it all on a film that many producers and some of his cast and crew didn't believe in, and which if it had failed, would have entirely finished his career. The result was Star Wars whose mammoth success made him the richest independent film-maker ever, all as a result of his own ideas, conviction, determination, and talent.
    • A good recent example (one taught in some schools in fact), is Jay-Z; who over the course of 20 years went from being a drug-dealer in Brooklyn to being one of the most successful rappers ever, as well as the CEO of a media empire (including his own record label); with a net worth estimated at around $500m. Famous in that he did not do this alone, however his business partners (who are mostly now at best moderately successful and at worst in prison) have not reached the same heights — so he must've done something right by himself.
  • Madame C. J. Walker is considered the first case of a self-made woman in the USA.
  • Oprah Winfrey. From humble beginnings as an illegitimate child in rural Mississippi, Oprah became the driving force behind a $2.5 billion media empire and a political kingmaker (she may have delivered as many as one million votes to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign). Oprah is currently one of the wealthiest women in North America.
  • Scientists and mathematicians owe most of their achievements to their remarkable brains and insight.
    • Albert Einstein for instance was born into a family of middle-class businessmen who fell into hard times, and who showed remarkable prodigy in his school and college examinations but struggled to find a post to better support his long-term research. Most famously he worked for two years at the patent office in Switzerland during which he wrote his first prominent papers.
    • Marie Curie was a Polish scientist born when it was part of the Russian Empire, and she had to study underground in the "Flying University" in Poland before coming to Paris and studying physics while being a poor student living in bad housing with no heating. Her passion for science nonetheless allowed her to proceed undaunted, becoming the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the only one to win two.
  • Invoked with the eldest son of Joko Widodo (7th president of Indonesia), Gibran Rakabuming Raka. Despite his father being the president, Gibran just decided to make his own catering company which enjoyed local success, stating that he'd rather not depend on his father's name and carve his own way to success. A lot who heard of him praised him for his self-sufficient mentality, and Jokowi himself fully approved his son's path of life.
  • Barack Obama caused controversy by calling this trope into question — so much so that the Republican slogan for their 2012 National Convention was "We Built It!" This, however, was Quote Mining his full statement about the myth of a Self-Made Man.
    Obama: I hear all this, you know, "Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever." No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
    • This also emphasized the contrast between Obama, coming up from a modest upbringing by a single mother to be President of the United States, and his opponent, Mitt Romney, a multi-millionaire venture-capital investor whose father was the Governor of Michigan and CEO of American Motors Corporation.
  • Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, the youngest woman in history elected to the US House at 29, was born to a working-class family and worked a number of odd-jobs when she challenged incumbent Joe Crowley in 2018. She mustered $192,000 from small donors against Crowley's $3.4 million and defeated him in the primary in an underdog victory. This was especially shocking given that Joe Crowley was a high-ranking ten term incumbent who was in a position to become the highest ranking House Democrat. In November she easily defeated her Republican opponent and won a seat in the House, and pointed out that she couldn't rent an apartment in Washington DC until after she got her salary, as compared to many other candidates and representatives who get funding from backers, donors, and other pre-political ventures.
  • Adolf Hitler proved you don't have to be nice to be self-made. Hitler was born to a lower-middle class family of a low-ranking official. His mother and father died before he turned 18 and he ended up homeless for a while. With no higher education (he applied to an art academy twice, only to be turned down both times) and only military experience gained in World War One as a Gefreiter (a rank somewhere between PFC and Lance Corporal the US Army), he became a prominent political figure and rose to rule Germany. Hitler's lack of previous rank was lampshaded by some of his generals who privately called him "The Bohemian Corporal".
  • Likewise with his arch-rival, Joseph Stalin. Stalin was born even poorer, to an alcoholic cobbler in Russian-ruled Georgia whose alcohol shakes cost him his small business. After dropping out of a religious college he joined the upstart Bolsheviks, then maneuvered through the party infighting and cunningly made himself the effective head of a superpower for decades.
  • Sean Connery was born in a working class family in Edinburgh, Scotland, dropped out of school at 13, and worked many jobs including as a milkman, a coffin polisher, a lorry driver, a lifeguard, served in the Royal Navy, then worked as an artist's model before entering bodybuilding, which led him to acting and eventually his breakthrough part: Bond, James Bond in Dr. No, and his portrayal of the sophisticated secret agent propelled him into international superstardom.
  • Themistocles, an Older Than Feudalism example. Son of a not very conspicuous man and a Thracian woman, making him "an outsider", he rose to prominence in the early years of the Athenian democracy. Preoccupied, even as a child, and preparing him for public life (Plutarch reports that while all the other boys were outside playing, Themistocles was making speeches), his teacher once told him: "My boy, you will be nothing insignificant, but definitely something great, either for good or evil." And, oh boy, how! He is often considered the man most instrumental in achieving the salvation of Greece from the Persian threat.
  • Deconstructed and Defied by The Governator himself. The full quote can be found in Quotes page, but the TL;DR:
    “This is so important for you to understand. I didn’t make it that far on my own. I mean, to accept that credit or that mantle would discount every single person that has helped me to get here today — that gave me advice, that made an effort, that gave me time, that lifted me when I fell. It gives the wrong impression that we can do it alone. None of us can. The whole concept of self-made man, or woman, is a myth.”

Alternative Title(s): Self Made Woman