crap shoot paid off? yes. no crap shoot, no payoff. it took a lot of time, and it took keeping the goal in mind. i am neither a little guy nor a big guy. i am an example of the American dream. it's not a gift. it's something you work toward.
3 generations ago, my great grandmother came here at age 14. she had one suite case and was in search of family that she knew were here somewhere. we suspect she lied about her age to be able too travel here alone :-) she was a feisty lady up to her death at 101. i knew her well.
her generation was poor. her children did much better, but them came the depression and the war. they lost everything and they started over. the next generation, my parents, were ok. we were the last of our friends to get a TV. it was very exciting, and i'm sure it was a sacrifice to buy it. they were able to buy their home, and feed their children, but there was nothing left over. they could not buy us cars or pay for a college education. my generation has done better, but not because we had it given to us. one of my brothers lived in his car for awhile. now he makes a 6 figure income. another of my brothers didn't get his degree until he was 40, but now he works for google and makes google money.
it's all about choices. bad things happen. sometimes those bad things are not in our control. how we deal with them is up to us. if we sit around and whine about what others have, we will have nothing.
you seem really focused on what others have. if you continue to worry about the mean old rich, you will never be one. life is no harder than it ever was. some of the hardships may be different, but i can tell you that it is far better right now than it was in the 70's and 80's. it was better then, than during any of the depressions that have hit this country.
you asked how people become successful. we told you. if you think that makes us judgmental about peoples choices, so be it. bad choices will never lead to success.