Desire Trumps LineageFeb 25, 2014
The Sunday NYT had an interesting article this week, Your Ancestors, Your Fate http://nyti.ms/NlDTSt in which the author argues that your success in life was set long ago by the genes inherited from your great-great-great-grandfather. What rubbish. My first instinct was to write a blog that poked a few holes in the argument and then throw a rock through its windshield. But then I thought a little longer.
I found I had to agree with the author’s contention that success requires traits like a compulsion to strive and an ability to overcome failure, and that, like any traits, you can inherit a stronger or weaker inclination toward behaviors that spring from these traits. When I thought about why I found the article so disagreeable I realized that my problem was with the author’s contention that your genes absolutely dictate your abilities. And I don’t think they do. Yes, you might not be blessed with a inbred compulsion to strive, for example, but if you choose to, you can develop whatever you are born with to a whole new level.
I think that beneficial behaviors can, like your body’s muscles, be strengthened through something I call the Prosperity Cycle. This cycle leverages the satisfaction that all of us experience when we achieve—or learn—something that we have worked hard to master. It is a reinforcing cycle that motivates us to navigate it again and again with bigger and bigger goals and corresponding results. The challenge, I believe, is in finding that first spark that motivates you to begin the process of striving and redefining failure as learning.
I’ve included a diagram of the Prosperity Cycle below and you can go here to read one of my earlier blogs about how hardship or a personal vision can be used to kick off the Prosperity Cycle in your own life.
So, no, I don’t think your great-great-great-grandfather has predetermined how much success comes your way. His genes might impact how many potholes there are in your road to prosperity, but the road is there for you to pursue if you are willing to take the first step down it. In his day there were some real factors, like sketchy property rights, an uneven application of law, and unequal access to information and knowledge that would have been a real deterrent to changing your social status—but not today. Today, you just need to provide yourself with the right environment and your humanity will take care of the rest.