No one achieves their potential without help from others.
In the forward to his book Tools of Titans, the author Tim Ferriss quotes Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I am not a self-made man. Every time I give a speech at a business conference, or speak to college students, or do a Reddit AMA, someone says it.
Schnitzel (depending on where I am), as a self-made man, what’s your blueprint for success? They’re always shocked when I thank them for the compliment but say, ‘I am not a self-made man. I got a lot of help.’
“It is true that I grew up in Austria without plumbing. It is true that I moved to America alone with just a gym bag. And it is true that I worked as a bricklayer and invested in real estate to become a millionaire before I ever swung the sword in Conan the Barbarian.
“But it is not true that I am self-made. Like everyone, to get to where I am, I stood on the shoulders of giants. My life was built on a foundation of parents, coaches, and teachers; of kind souls who lent couches or gym back rooms where I could sleep; of mentors who shared wisdom and advice; of idols who motivated me from the pages of magazines (and, as my life grew, from personal interaction).”
One of the big mistakes we can make in our careers and our lives is believing in the myth of the self-made man. As Ferriss says, there is no one on the planet who hasn’t benefited from, or gotten to where they are, without the help of some sort of coach, leadership, mentorship, and outright financial support. If we forget the fact that we are always riding on the shoulders of the giants in our lives, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
Riding on the shoulders of giants is also about gathering and gaining knowledge from outside of our circle of family, friends, and other immediate influencers. It also goes for ideas and great books, learning from those who have come before us who said things that have never been said before or so well. This is why educating yourself is a great goal: always learning from the visionaries and world-changers to improve the quality of our thinking and the outcomes of those thoughts.
Ferriss goes on to quote Schwarzenegger: “Whether it’s a morning routine, or a philosophy or training tip, or just motivation to get through your day, there isn’t a person on this planet who doesn’t benefit from a little outside help. I’ve always treated the world as my classroom, soaking up lessons and stories to fuel my path forward. I hope you do the same. The worst thing you can ever do is think that you know enough. Never stop learning. Ever.”
Ferriss claims he is no expert himself, he is only the scribe and the guide, working with the materials he’s been given by others to achieve something greater than he could ever achieve on his own.
The concept of standing on the shoulders of giants has been traced to the 12th century, attributed to Bernard of Chartres. Its most familiar expression in English is by Isaac Newton in 1675: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
Once again, the past teaches us a lot about how to look at the world today, how to see further, and how to stride into the future with confidence and meaning behind everything we do.
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