Self-made?


The sunrise view from my vacation rental is spectacular. The photo here doesn’t do the scene justice, but I offer it to you as a sense of the wonder it commands. I can’t help but be mesmerized by the shifting colors and increasingly warm sun, especially on another frigid cold February morning.





As I stared at the horizon and drank my coffee, my thoughts sparred back and forth. The conversation started with my recognizing that the spectacle of the rising sun happens every morning around the globe and has since before the existence of humankind. Not that I often witness the sun rise from my usual location, unfortunately. Like most of us, I’m usually busy getting ready for the workday, and the sun rises without my taking the time to acknowledge and appreciate the gift that it is. But here, today, and for the next couple of days until I pack the car to return home, I intend this view to be my reminder that we all step into a ready-made world.


The sun, sea, and land of my sunrise view were all in place to welcome our ancestors, and more so the modern person, one stream of my thoughts offered. Who among us doesn’t step into a ready-made world? The hospitals where we’re born, the houses where we grow up, the schools where we’re educated, the interstate highways that we drive, were all here ahead of us. Likewise, the parents, doctors, home builders, schoolteachers, and paving contractors were in place and did their work without our help. We simply benefit from and enjoy their labors and the labors of countless others, not unlike simply enjoying and benefiting from the sun, sea, and land in my view.


But, an opposing stream of thought interrupts, what about all those people who lay claim to being self-made? Those men and women who are at a better place later in life than where they started, aren’t they self-made? Myself for example, those thoughts insisted. I paused to drink in the view and more coffee before pushing back and questioning whether any of us are really self-made. Did we really achieve by just our own efforts? Certainly, our individual efforts play a part, even significant part, but we undeniably had help on the way. Remember those parents, doctors, home builders, schoolteachers, and paving contractors? To that list we can add the names and faces of friends and enemies, coaches and tutors, counselors and mentors, bankers and financial advisors, lawyers and accountants, spouses and children, employees and clients; this list really never ends.


My streams of thoughts settled into an eddy of recognition and clarity. Those of us comfortable if not proud of any self-proclaimed status as self-made men and women need to reevaluate and refine that perspective. We have to begin with the recognition that self-made is a myth. With that recognition I’m not advocating we minimize much less deny our accomplishments or achievements, but that we recognize and acknowledge the reality that we didn’t accomplish or achieve in a vacuum. To do so is, literally, impossible.


In my experience and most of the people I know personally, the further we’ve risen from our beginnings the more likely we had good help from experienced people with partnership mentalities. The contrary experience is those who have increased their wealth or status at the clear expense and to the detriment of others. We have seen plenty of examples from both ends of this spectrum, and far too many of the latter.


What’s the benefit of recognizing self-made is a myth? A significant benefit is the insight will help lower if not remove the barriers we erect in our efforts to protect our successes. Make no mistake, unless you know you’ve done the work of seeing and removing those barriers, they’re there. Removing those barriers will help us recognize the other people in our ready-made world. Those to whom we owe debts of gratitude, our peers with whom we can and should partner with, and our successors who are more recently stepping into their version of our ready-made world. We can and should mentor and partner with our successors, who need good help from experienced people with partnership mentalities. This is a theological and philosophical insight that leads us, individually and collectively, to better capitalism.


I’m comfortable setting aside the myth of self-made. I can relish my achievements and accomplishments as brightly but silently as the rising sun. I can take joy in shining helpful light into the fledgling dreams of others, not unlike the rising sun cresting the dark side of the earth. This insight puts me in the right frame of mind to partner with others for the purpose of improving our ready-made world for the newer arrivals, like the sun does every day. I am confident this insight will serve you equally well.


My thoughts are settled, at least for this morning. My hope is that in my sharing, your thoughts are sufficiently ignited to carry you to a better understanding of our ready-made world and a curiosity of what is yours to do to make it a better experience for yourself and as many as possible.


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