How Far Can You See?


The number of people who feel confident that they can get on by their own abilities is steadily declining. You will recall the saying that Napoleon’s soldiers were inspired by the belief that each of them carried a marshal’s baton in his knapsack. Perhaps this was not really the case. But certainly it is one of the secrets of success of any efficient régime not to allow the feelings of self-reliance and self-help which exist in a nation to go to waste. America has managed things better in this respect than have the nations of the old world. In Germany, the self-made man is no longer the ideal of the people.


Erich Koch-Weser
Minister of Justice of the German Republic

April 1931

Published in “Foreign Affairs”


Self-made…would the same be said of us 84 years later?


I’ve written numerous times that a central tenet of Critical Doer philosophy is a belief that the only future we have is the one we’re willing to make for ourselves.  Although we need help and partnerships to accomplish meaningful things, we are the initiators of the action that cause forward movement as opposed to those who would believe that others are obligated to be the source of first movement on their behalf.

When the opening quotation was penned in 1931, it foreshadowed the rise of Hitler who was more than willing to think and act on behalf of others.  A decline in critical thinking and self-reliance paved the way for arguably one of the darkest chapters in history.

Today we debate the obligations of a social contract with a pendulum that swings to and fro between the poles of entitlement and self-reliance.  The same debate also occurs in corporations, civic organizations, and even our own homes.

The critical thinking question that can help guide you through the debate of what should be done for you versus what you should do for yourself is “what choices do I forfeit in exchange for having something done for me?”  Thinking broadly and deeply past the obvious to consider second…third…fourth order effects of putting your fate into the hands of others is essential to balancing the demands of the day while preserving the choice to have a future of your own design.

I challenge you to think reflectively about your situation at work and home to see if you are following a self-made philosophy to define your own future or limiting your future through accepting the choices of others in exchange for convenience.  The road to self-made is rugged and fraught with risk, but it’s also the only path to a future on your terms.

Self-made.  Tell me again…how far can you see?


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Updated: September 16, 2015 — 11:49 am

1 Comment

  1. There is a corollary to the premise that being “self-made” is a vital but dwindling aspect of those who seek “success” in our society. My life experience tells me that there is an increasing number of those who continually seek outside themselves to find answers for their own inability to succeed. And they are dangerously unhealthy. Often the danger is to themselves, finding refuge in drugs or alcohol. But there are also those who must identify a classification of people they can hate, and these are the most dangerous.

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