By Chuck Violand

December 7, 2015

When my younger daughter was a junior in college, I found myself engaged in a conversation with her about some of the experiences she was having at school. She was enjoying her time and doing well academically (thanks to her mother). But, being a very insightful young lady, she mentioned how some of the other kids in school seemed to be wasting their own college experiences with late-night partying, skipping class, and general lackadaisical attitudes.

Never one to waste a teachable moment, I commented on how her experiences in college, even her ability to go to college, were like being given a half-lap head start in life. It’s not the lead you’re given, but what you do with it that counts.

Naturally, I think the same principal holds true in business. Yet, in the agony of our struggles or the arrogance of our success, it’s easy to become self-absorbed and overlook the half-lap head start each of us has been handed with little or no input on our part.

Let’s start with the blind luck of our birth. As Warren Buffett once mentioned, being born in North America is like hitting the lottery…and we weren’t even the ones who bought the ticket! Being born into any first-world country offers advantages that simply are not available elsewhere. And, in spite of all the whining we may do about how bad things seem at times, comparatively speaking they’re pretty sweet.

From a health perspective, consider the availability of advanced health care, education, and a reasonably inexpensive food supply, and our half-lap head start just got bigger.

Not everyone was given the even bigger advantage of growing up in “Ozzie and Harriet-ville,” but if you were lucky enough to have a reasonably stable and remotely functional family, your lead increased even more. Although, while I have no hard data to support my claim, nearly thirty years of working with business owners has suggested to me that the ultimate success of a business is determined more by the owner’s drive and desire than it is by the family dynamics they had growing up.

If you were born white and male, there’s no doubt you were handed an even bigger head start, but one that evaporates quickly in our current business climate where the disadvantages once dictated by gender, race, age, intellectual prowess, or even socio-economic standing are again trumped by a person’s drive and desire. The half-lap head start those two things bring to the game should never be underestimated.

Let’s stop the whining and the bragging! Let’s start the thanking. Every business owner in North America has had advantages of birth and upbringing that they had little or no control over, yet have contributed to their success. In the same way, every business owner has had obstacles placed in their paths that have caused headaches and sleepless nights, and taken grueling work to overcome. These are givens in business, not exceptions. But, just as with the half-lap lead we’ve been given in life, it isn’t the headaches or the obstacles that matter. It’s what we do with them that counts.