Last week, I spent my lunch break walking through some beautiful neighborhoods. Many of the gorgeous houses I passed had that midday hushed look with the windows darkened and the stillness that indicates emptiness. In many of the yards, though, there was a buzz of activity as landscapers and groundskeepers raked dead leaves from the bushes, trimmed hedges, mowed lawns, and made themselves busy beautifying the properties in their matching shirts and cargo pants. The driveway of one home was being pressure washed, while at a neighboring home a man balanced precariously on a ladder as he painted the front door of a stately residence, his work truck parked nearby. A woman in blue scrubs lugged a vacuum and a bucket of cleaning supplies through the front door and carried them to her car while I thought She has to bring her own vacuum?!
I was at that point in my exercise routine where I want to give up and sit down but can’t so I busied my mind observing and thinking about my observations. I wondered if the owners of those fine homes appreciated the work of the people I watched beautifying homes that did not belong to them. I wondered if they took their luxury for granted, giving themselves credit for the pristine conditions of their gardens, driveways, doorways, and floors. I imagined some of the homeowners were also business owners which started me thinking about the term ‘self-made man’. I hear that term thrown around quite a bit, especially in discussions centering on the crossroads of politics and economics. The more I thought about it, the more I believed it to be an erroneous concept, nothing more than an illusion more than a few of us accept as reality.
The truth is not one of us is self-made. For better or worse, our lives are not lived in vacuums. We are who we are because of the communities we belong to. I may not have someone mowing my lawn for me or pressure washing my driveway, but I have friends who build me up and beautify my spirit by their interactions with me. There are people in my life who have shaped my attitude and actions because of what they have said or done for me. I am a product of the people I spend my time with. Do I take them for granted? Too often, the answer is yes. When the good starts to flow out of my life, it is easy to be proud of myself and the work I have done to become a person I like. But there are tons of people behind the scenes that inspired me, helped me, listened to me, cried with me, laughed with me, challenged me, frustrated me, and affected the changes in me that I enjoy today.
While it is ultimately up to us as individuals to decide who we want to be and live out who we are, we need to recognize how many people are actually involved in the process of our becoming. The credit for our success does not belong to us alone. We are who we are because someone somewhere gave us a kind word, a hand up, a moment of their time, a shoulder to cry on, or something equally as valuable. Not one of us is solely self-made. So, when you’re feeling good about your progress, your success, or your life, go ahead and pat yourself on the back for being awesome, because you really are awesome, but don’t forget to pat your friends (and sometimes not-friends) on the back, too, because they’ve helped you become your awesome self.