Learn English – What does “standing on someone’s shoulders” really mean


I'm translating the following passage, which is said by a black woman living in America:

But the doctor was right: I was depressed. Like most people in my
community, I had the misconception that depression was a sign of weakness,
a character flaw. But I wasn't weak; I was a high achiever. I was too
ashamed. I didn't think I had the right to be depressed. I had a
privileged life with a loving family and a successful career. And when I
thought about the unspeakable horrors that my ancestors had been through
in this country so that I could have it better, my shame grew even deeper.
I was standing on their shoulders. How could I let them down? I would hold
my head up, put a smile on my face and never tell a soul.

I need to know what the sentence I was standing on their shoulders mean? Does it mean I had to continue the way they had started? Does it mean I had much better conditions than theirs?

Best Answer

It is an idiomatic expression:

stand on someone's shoulders :

benefit from the previous experience of (a predecessor in your field).

In the passage it refer to the fact that she was in a better position compared to those who came before her and had fought for civil rights.