Many first-generation successful people across the world are often showered with the typical "Oh, he is a self-made man. We are so proud of him." This typically happens with people who have not had a family history of 'success' in the same field. This showering of praise is, in fact, so typical and regular, that people start getting accustomed to it, and some actually start believing it, i.e. they start believing that they are "truly self-made".
Believe me - nothing is further from the truth. THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A TRULY SELF-MADE MAN in this world.
The truth is - we are all mere reflections of sum total of all effort that has gone into our making by tens, or maybe hundreds of other individuals who are part of our lives. Our family, relatives, community and friends. Each one of them shapes a certain part of our personality, and without knowing it, we start owning it as if "we" built it in the first place! These individuals who affect our lives, are in turn, a product of many more such individuals who affected them, and so on. It's a really long chain!
The more successful you are, the more "polished" a reflection you are of the sum total of this aggregate effort of others. (Yes, this means that your effort is going into shaping others, at the same time.)
What kind of efforts go into the shaping of us, as human beings? I feel 4 most important factors are:
- Aggregate Human Evolution Effort - Lacs and lacs of humans have lived and died before us, and their entire learnings have gotten codified in some or the other format into us. Yes, "into us". There are two basic ways this codification happens - genes, and memes. Genes are the biological tools through which eons of cumulative group learning of mankind is passed onto the coming generations .. so like it or not - your parents' genes that were passed onto you, had eons of wisdom gathered at the cost of millions of human lives. Similarly, cultural learnings that are passed onto us, are memes. They are as profound, if not more, than genes. So we find that right from birth, we are inescapably tied to our past - and our personalities and character have strong links to everything that's preceded us. Of course, rationalists often contest this view, finding it too demeaning to accept. But I am sure of the importance of this singularly important fact - we are but just a reflection of our past humanity. Interestingly, this "toll tax" paid by humanity through the deaths of millions of humans by diseases (over millennia) has resulted in the fantastic immune system we carry within our bodies. To find out what happens without it, just watch the Hollywood blockbuster "War of the worlds". So, full credit for these basic codes (which we simply inherit without any effort) goes to our ancestors, not us.
- Deep Scientific Impact - The alphabet and the seemingly basic cultural memes are elementary tools that help us stand up in modern society as "humans". But there are refined versions of these tools, like scientific theories and facts that help us evolve really fast as "modern complex humans" able to live in a technological society. You may take pride in your scores and marks in the school tests and college exams, but who designed the theories you are using so effortlessly? Did you invent ANY ONE of these? Or even a part of any one of these? NO. It's a one-in-a-million chance that YOU will invent/discover anything of lasting value to mankind. Yes, your contribution will help things improve incrementally, but chances are rare that you will do something that totally changes things. Individually, we all are pretty feeble creatures. Our wonder lies in our cumulative wisdom, the sparks amongst us that shine so strong that they illuminate everyone around, howsoever mediocre. Albert Einstein famously said - "All I have done is stand on the shoulders of giants who came before me and look farther afield than would have been possible had I done it all by myself." So it is true that all we do is take what is already available in society, make it our own (by paying a price - time or money we spend) and move on claiming full "ownership" of that knowledge. But that knowledge is not ours! Even copyright and patent-holders are not truly the owners of what they have made. Come to think of it! A significant part of their incomes must be donated to charity as a mark of respect for the generations (that came earlier) and contributed towards the basic tools that enabled these people to build something bigger and better. Could Google have existed without the alphabet, the University system, the decimal system, the microprocessors, the legal system, and the pioneers of the algorithms? Sergei and Larry are lucky they had all of that handed over to them on a platter while they were growing up.
- Immediate Societal Acceptance - no man (and woman) is anything or anybody unless the existing society accepts his/her creation and applauds it. So the brutal truth is - no matter how good you think you are, if others do not think so, and express so, you are a nobody! So who makes whom here? Are we making "ourselves" or are others making us? Anyone rude enough to feel he has made his own destiny, is missing the whole point. Steve Jobs is the king of the corporate world only because we think he is uber-cool, not because he thinks so.
So if all this is correct, why do people not see it this way? Not anyone's fault really. We humans are so caught up in our day-to-day affairs of existence, that it is very difficult for most of us to see the bigger picture that lies ahead. So forget about the big picture that lies behind! Just pick up the newspapers on first of January 2010 and see the headlines - they all will talk of "inventing the future" in the next 10 years. Very few will talk about how we reached here (that will have no value for advertisers!). Nothing wrong with that. This is human nature. We always look ahead, and it is too much to expect people to keep remembering the past!
Honestly, I can guarantee that there are at least ten more Rajkumar Hiranis out there who are more talented than "the" Rajkumar Hirani, but they never got the chance, the break, or the good luck to showcase themselves. Same holds true for Sandeep Manudhane as well.
So, should we lose all internal motivation, now that we have read all this? Not at all. Human history has been one of continuous striving. From the Egyptian pyramids to the Harappan civilisation, and Alexander's conquests to the European Renaissance.. we always strive no matter what. Our destiny is tied with this inner urge to strive. And the "achievers" amongst us those who have this sense of striving exhibited publicly the strongest. Yes, if we agree with what's written here, then we will surely feel a "different sense" of accomplishment every time now. We will not ascribe 100% credit of our successes to ourselves, but to the "collective ourselves", and I think that'll be a fairly good idea, given the modern context of global cynicism and chaos!
I know this post will force a lot of "achievers" to shift in their chairs, but I wrote what I strongly feel, and will love hearing critical comments! (Will more than love hearing praises, as this was a self-made blogpost. Ha ha!)
Cheers - have a wonderfully positive year 2010 ahead.