Is Anyone Really Self-Made?

Have you put yourself through school?

Have you become a success without a formal education?

Have you “made it” against all odds?

Self-Made.  This is a term often used to refer to people who have started with little or nothing and ultimately became very successful.  We celebrate these rags-to-riches stories.  There is even a prestigious society that honors it with the Horatio Alger Award.  I have always been duly impressed by its recipients.

I share this quick story with you not out of a desire for self-promotion, but for the purposes of perspective.

I have often thought I was self-made.  My father died when I am 17.  My first job after college was selling rags even though they were referred to as industrial textiles.  After 14 different jobs and living in 14 different cities, I ultimately became the CEO and Chairman, and major shareholder, of the leading conference center company in the United States.  Our company had 1,400 employees and we hosted more than 6,000 business meetings a year with over 150,000 participants.

As Paul Harvey used to say, “so here is the rest of the story”.

After I had achieved this success, I thought I would take some time, actually a whole year, to travel around the United States and foreign lands to express my deep gratitude to those who had influenced my life in important ways over the years.  It was the most profound experience with regard to personal enlightenment and the deepening of my relationships in all aspects of my life.

One of the many things I learned in the process was how many people had been there for me and made a difference in my life. Family members, friends, colleagues, and advisors, just to name a few.     It was both humbling and deeply gratifying.   I felt so very blessed and it made me reflect on the question about being self-made.   I came to the conclusion that self-made was not an appropriate label or an accurate depiction of my life.  Is it yours?  Are there people in your life who made it possible for you to achieve what you did and acquire what you have?

Acknowledging those who have made an important difference does not diminish my achievements nor will it diminish yours.    By being more conscious and explicit in my recognition of others’ contribution to my life, it was life enhancing, not life diminishing.  It makes me feel proud and blessed that I was able to encounter these people along life’s journey.  In good times and challenging moments, they chose, for whatever reason, to be there for me.  This does not take away from my accomplishments.  Just the opposite.  It is another remarkable achievement.

In his book, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Robert Emmons, PhD, writes “We can be proud of our accomplishments yet simultaneously realize they would have been impossible without help from others.  This realization is the soil that permits gratitude to germinate”.

Are you really self-made? Take a few moments and think about those who have been important to you.  Be explicit about what difference they have made in your life. Begin by thinking about just one person. This is the first important step on your journey to capturing the power of expressing extraordinary gratitude and enriching your life and others in the process.  I would love to hear your stories of those that have made a real difference in your life.

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