Passion and practice
Q: One did time in prison. Another was raised by migrant farmworkers. All came from humble origins. One recent night, Oprah Winfrey, Merle Haggard, dancer Bill T. Jones, Broadway composer Jerry Herman and a guy named Paul McCartney received one of the world's highest awards for artists: the Kennedy Center honors. What does this tell us, if anything, about the will to succeed, the importance of personal history and the theme of the American Dream?
Our hero-focused culture often invites us to look outward at the stars who rose from humble beginnings to make it big. These stories of personal achievement are inspiring, and communicate the potential of the human spirit. The dream is indeed attainable with passion, practice, and a lot of hard work.
These stories are most powerful when we bring them inward, when we ask ourselves what dream we seek and what we will do to pursue it. When I look across people who I consider most successful, I tend to see three interwoven factors that have shaped their lives.
First, there is talent -- an inborn set of tools that a person carries within. Personality, intelligence, drive, and talent come in many forms, and shine in many ways. Successful people use the gifts they are born with to seek the future they want.
Second, there is experience -- our upbringing and our personal histories. These experiences help shape what we believe is possible, our assumptions about what we can and cannot do, and our ability to ask for and receive help from others -- and to help them as well. Each life experience informs how we view the next experience. Together, these stories weave a fabric that is uniquely our own.
Third, there is circumstance -- being at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. Many call these social factors -- others call them luck. What doors are available in the same time and place that we stand? We know the adage: When a door closes, find a window. Good advice, but it helps to be near a building with both.
The most successful people also care about other people's stories. One need not go to the Kennedy Center to hear stories of people who have overcome both humble beginnings and horrendous pasts. Our coworkers, our friends, our customers: They all have histories that shape who they are. These stories make their successes more inspiring, and their faults easier to forgive. Listening to these stories helps us to understand our own, and to find the grace that moves us all forward.
We all have stories, and we all have dreams. The dream, though, is not only an American dream. It is a human dream. It is the dream of finding meaning and connection, of leaving the world better than we found it, and of achieving both success and our own sense of peace.