Put yourself out there, no matter the endeavour, as nothing matters more than aiming high.
Most people want to improve themselves. Maybe just for the self, maybe for others, in truth it matters not. And in truth, it matters little where you start, or ultimately the progress you make. We all do love a success story, but the truth is, more people fail on the path of life than make it, and I want to celebrate those who fail but never stop trying.
When I think of the differences between Europe and the US in particular, but also those two groupings compared to areas with economic hunger, whether Asian, African or South American, there are many interesting tidbits that emerge that have to do with the things we want and what we are prepared to do to get them.
In my family I am known as a rapacious capitalist. The reality is far more nuanced. I am white, male, and had the benefits of a great education. The sacrifices that my mother made to allow us to fly became the shoulders I was able to leap from. And that already put me in the 90th percentile. I may plead hardship because I had to work all the time, even as a child [my mother even forged my birth certificate to lower my working age so I could get a job as a bus boy at an IHOP]. But, boy, do I not regret the work.
I remember working as a dishwasher in fancy pizza restaurant in the US when I was 17. Above ground everyone was white. If female, they served tables and were rather fetching. There may have been one man up top, master of all. Below ground everyone was black or latino…everyone except me. I didn’t live a life of striated society, of a racist society, so I was shocked to talk to my colleagues about just how racist it was to live in America. I couldn’t believe it…first it was hard to imagine that people would make the distinctions that lead to racism, but second, I was living in a white-wash society, pretending that this corrosive reality didn’t exist. I’ve never stopped thinking about what my fellow dishwashers and busboys told me.
In Europe, the racism is not as acute as that. We don’t have the same history of slavery, the same depths of depravity, or the ongoing nonchalant commitment to institutional racism that the US has. Ask any non-white if I’m wrong.
And it is bad. On a recent job search, supported by a head-hunter, my brief to the agency was, “I’d like to see women and not just white people on your short list please.” One of my board members asked me later if I was serious. Are you kidding me?! The short list included only white males.
Okay, Europe is not as institutionally racist as the US. But racism still exists.
There is, however, something beautiful about the US that no other place in the world has to the same degree. It is a willingness to fail and to try again. Indeed, to never stop trying. I don’t know where this comes from. Was it bestowed upon us by the hard-scrabble life and religious persecution of the pilgrim Mothers and Fathers? Perhaps. Is it a quasi-cultish religious zeal that American culture forces us all to imbibe as a consequence of living here? Is it just this relentless hope and optimism that things can be different if you just keep chipping away at things?
I don’t know, but I sure love it.
Indeed, if there is one single most important reason for the relative success of the US, it is this relentless desire to try again, this willingness to fail and to brush it off after. I think of it as very Shakespearian.
- “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…”
You just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. (Indeed, those are the lyrics of an American song).
The privilege I was born with has given me tremendous advantage. I do not credit overmuch any achievements gained along the way for that very reason. Indeed, what I admire most in my fellow humans is a willingness to take on all odds, and to just keep trying. Perhaps you have a big idea, or fundamental beliefs. You may not like how things are…the reality of it, the values of it. Heck, fighting it may be just a fool’s errand. But I’ll tell you what. If you believe in you, we will all believe in you.
My commitment is to not just hero worship, but to worship those people who toil in silence. Those people who just try, and who keep on trying. The ones who never give up, even when faced with defeat. That is the gift of the American psyche to the world. Let’s never forget it.
But also, let’s never not live up to it. I say this because the value is and should be universal. No wimps allowed. Everything worth achieving is hard. Nobody admires someone who coasts. Even more so a person who coasts when they were born with advantages.
Be committed to supporting the downtrodden, the creation of equal opportunity, and a relentless search for truth and justice.