What percentage of your success do you attribute to your individual contributions? Over the past year, I’ve asked numerous classmates this question. Often people asked for clarification – “What is considered internal vs external?” You decide. Go ahead, take a minute and come up with your own percentage. Got it? Good, remember it for now.
“You didn’t build that,” President Obama, in a 2012 election campaign speech.
This was a bad line that was quickly viewed as an attack on capitalism and the free market. Commentators went back and forth about the government’s role in either supporting or hindering prosperity. Setting aside that debate, the essence of Obama’s point was this: nobody makes it on their own. This point, based on an online survey as well as dozens of conversations with Boothies, seems unequivocally true: nobody claimed to be 100% responsible for their success.
Our opening question was kept purposefully vague precisely because it is difficult to determine what is an internal/individual contribution (I-Con) versus what is an external/environmental contribution (E-Con). Among responses, the three most common I-Cons Boothies cited were: hard work, intelligence, and strength of character (e.g. grit/resiliency/tenacity). As one responder noted, “I struggle with whether to label these internal factors though because I was born with them.” Take Intelligence – a 2015 paper in Nature Scientific Reports found that 54-65% of test achievements were explained by genetic factors, with exam results highly correlated with IQ scores. After controlling for intelligence, they found other inherited traits —possibly including mental health, personality, and motivation—seemed to explain between 45 and 58 percent of the difference.
This finding seemed to be acknowledged by Boothies, who cited family and luck as their two primary E-Cons. Family was credited in many ways, whether it was by providing encouragement and support or the basics of food/shelter/stability. It is less clear what responders meant by luck, though presumably everything could fall into this: the society we grow up in, the families we are born into, or even the health we enjoy. Are we simply the beneficiaries of several lucky breaks?
More importantly, why does this matter? Who cares how we got here, let’s just enjoy it right?
Well, society doesn’t just happen. It is easy to believe in the notions of the “self-made” person while failing to recognize the institutions we benefit from. All around us, societies are struggling, whether in South America, Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia… not even the United States is immune. We have the privilege of attending one of the best institutions in the world, and cannot ignore the responsibility that comes with it. Over the next several years, we will dedicate many hours to our careers. Let’s be similarly devoted to our communities. At the end of the day, you can be the hardest working person in the world, but it won’t matter in a society that can’t value your financial, marketing, entrepreneurial, or management skills.
Israel is grateful to have a diverse Booth community to help expand his horizons. He hopes his children will as well.