What Does Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps Mean?

Pull Yourself up by Your Bootstraps Meaning

Definition: To improve one’s situation through hard work and self-determination, rather than getting assistance from someone else.

Origin of Pull Yourself up by Your Bootstraps

This expression originated in the 1800s. It refers to the ability of a person to lift himself or herself up by pulling on the laces of his or her boots. Of course, this is impossible, so in order to do it would take very hard work.

The idiom refers to the fact that sometimes it takes hard work to overcome something or become successful, and sometimes the only person who can do that hard work is yourself. At some point, no amount of help or assistance can help someone. You simply need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

Examples of Pull Yourself up by Your Bootstraps

pulling yourself up by your bootstrapsA man is trying to motivate his friend.

Dan: Kira, I see that you look so unhappy all the time. I’d like to give you some advice.

Kira: Thanks, but I don’t really need advice. I already know what is causing my problem. My boss hates me and won’t give me a promotion or a raise.

Dan: That’s what I thought at my old job, too. But then I realized that I couldn’t let anyone hold me back! I needed to take control of my own life and pull myself up by my bootstraps. I think you should do the same.

Kira: I appreciate that you want to help, but, trust me, I’m already doing everything that I can to work hard. I work 80 hours every week. I don’t get help from anybody. It doesn’t matter. I still can’t get any recognition at my job.

Dan: That’s too bad. Maybe you should find a new job.

Kira: I wish that I could, but there aren’t any other jobs available.

pull yourself up by your boot straps idiomThe following example involves two women discussing someone they know.

Gertrude: I’m so sick of seeing Karina complaining about not having money for rent. Why doesn’t she get a job?

Ruby: Well, the job market is really tough right now.

Gertrude: I respectfully disagree. There are countless places hiring right now, yet Karina refuses to get a job.

Ruby: I guess that is true.

Gertrude: Yes, if you’re in a tough situation, sometimes you need to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and stop blaming others.

More Examples

This excerpt is about conservative causes.

  • Network spokesman James Davis said 200 of those assembled were first-time attendees. The three-day gathering, organized under the theme “A Time to Lead” will emphasize some of the network’s top priorities, including promoting what officials call “free-speech” on college campuses and projects aimed at supporting anti-poverty, up-by-the-bootstraps programs. –USA Today

This excerpt is about a movie plot.

  • Affleck hoped what would come through was the vision of immigrant life as the foundation of America, with often-separate groups trying to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, but often working together. –USA Today


The saying pull yourself up by the bootstraps is another way to say get a better job or a better lifestyle through one’s own hard work, rather than receiving help from others.