It's probably as unlikely that you would nowadays become as rich and famous as Bill Gates,
as it was unlikely in the 17th century that you would accede to the ranks of the French aristocracy.
But the point is, it doesn't feel that way.
It's made to feel, by magazines and other media outlets, that if you've got energy,
a few bright ideas about technology, a garage -- you, too, could start a major thing.
The consequences of this problem make themselves felt in bookshops.
When you go to a large bookshop and look at the self-help sections, as I sometimes do
if you analyze self-help books produced in the world today, there are basically two kinds.
The first kind tells you, "You can do it! You can make it! Anything's possible!"
The other kind tells you how to cope with what we politely call "low self-esteem," or impolitely call, "feeling very bad about yourself."
There's a real correlation between a society that tells people that they can do anything, and the existence of low self-esteem.
So that's another way in which something quite positive can have a nasty kickback.
There is another reason why we might be feeling more anxious
about our careers, about our status in the world today, than ever before.
And it's, again, linked to something nice. And that nice thing is called meritocracy.
Everybody, all politicians on Left and Right, agree that meritocracy is a great thing,
and we should all be trying to make our societies really, really meritocratic.
In other words -- what is a meritocratic society?
A meritocratic society is one in which, if you've got talent and energy and skill,
you will get to the top, nothing should hold you back. It's a beautiful idea.
The problem is, if you really believe in a society where those who merit to get to the top, get to the top,
you'll also, by implication, and in a far more nasty way,
believe in a society where those who deserve to get to the bottom also get to the bottom and stay there.
In other words, your position in life comes to seem not accidental, but merited and deserved.
And that makes failure seem much more crushing.