While I was at the gym this morning, I was unfortunately keyed into the current political drama around the president’s saying “you didn’t build that.”
In case you’ve had the good fortune not to know about it, here’s the president’s actual statement that’s causing all the rage:
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
All of the drama hangs on the amphibolous meaning of ‘that’ in “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” It context, it seems rather clear that the ‘that’ that’s being referenced is about the broader conditions. (Really? This is what it’s come to?)
Politics aside, I think this is a great time to reinforce that we need to remember that what we build is determined largely by preexisting conditions.
You didn’t build the schools that taught you, nor the roads that took you there.
You didn’t build the wealth (or poverty) of your parents that enabled you to thrive or struggle.
You didn’t build the ground you built your house or business on, nor did you build the historical actions that made that ground available.
The egg didn’t build the chicken.
This in no way marginalizes the actions we do take and the greatness we are building or have built. Some do a lot with little, others do a little with little, some do a little with a lot, and some do a lot with a lot. As I’ve said before, it’s a mixture of history, luck, and intention.
It seems to me that it’s much better for us to focus on what we are building. How are we taking what’s available and leaving it better than we found it?
So, what are you building today? What will you have done by the end of the week? Focus on what matters.
It’s interesting, I wonder how much of the political debate could have been neutralized if he had simply added one more word to his speech… alone. Think about it, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that [alone].”
We don’t live in a vacuum, and we certainly don’t build our businesses in a vacuum… without the influences we grew up with, the mentors and peers who support us, and (let’s especially not forget!) our customers, there would be no business.
As I work on my own business, it’s easy to have those moments of feeling ‘alone’; for me, focusing on what really matters makes all the difference. Because ultimately, I’m doing what I do to help others – they are what matters! When I focus on ‘serving my customers’, as opposed to ‘building my business’, I feel much less alone and much more inspired.
(Not that building the business isn’t also important! After all, the systems and whatnot do support me in serving my clients 😉