The Inspirational Stories of the “Ordinary” People Who Made America Great
American Story: A Lifetime Search for Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read this year. Bob Dotson spent decades traveling all over the country, learning about ordinary everyday Americans who happen to do extraordinary things.
This book is a collection of stories Bob Dotson found about “ordinary” people that did great things. It is an excellent change of pace from the overly negative news and social media dynamic we hear every day.
The big question that the book attempts to answer is, what made America great? As Bob Woodward would say, “America was made great by ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
“We’ve always known in our heart of hearts that the best of the country was bottom-up, not top-down, and now Bob Dotson, with this superb new book, proves us right.”
Here are a few lessons I learned from those “ordinary” people.
Ego Is Toxic
“There’s no limit to what a person can do as long as you don’t mind who gets the credit.”
Today's me-me-me world can be toxic at times. Everyone wants their names in the paper, on tv, or social media. That is not inherently bad until it negatively affects the goal at hand.
Letting go of ego allows people to focus on what is essential. The important thing is the mission or goal, not your ego.
Think about someone whose accomplishments you admire. Did that person spend more time talking about themselves or others? Successful teachers, coaches, and bosses all put the goal above their egos.
Now think about somebody that you don’t like. Chances are, their egos were at least part of the problem.
How to apply it
Step one: Pick a goal
Make the goal something meaningful that helps others.
The goal should be significant enough that you will be happy when it succeeds, even if you don’t get the credit.
Step two: Put that goal above all else.
Every time you make a decision, ask yourself one question, does this get us closer to the goal? If yes, do it. If no, don’t.
If the goal is important enough, it really can be that simple.
Everyone Has Something Valuable to Say
“Our country would be better served if he listened to people who don’t have titles in front of their names.”
“Almost everyone has something significant to say.”
Our country is a lot better off when we remember that good ideas come from everyone; All walks of life, all job titles, all genders, and all socioeconomic statuses.
Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was known for asking as many questions as possible. He wanted to know every little detail about the business. He was so intense that he was once found on his hands and knees measuring the width of the aisles of a store in Brazil, afraid they knew something he did not.
If the wealthiest person in America was worried other people knew something he didn’t, what’s your excuse for not being curious?
How to apply it
“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.”
Assume you can learn something from everyone, especially when you are talking to someone you are sure has nothing to teach you. If you think the other person has nothing worth listening to, the chances are that you are missing something.
Listening to people will allow you to leave the conversation either smarter or with a new perspective.
We All Stand on the Shoulders of Giants
“Show me a self-made person, and I’ll show you a liar.”
There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman, no matter how much people with large egos like to pretend they are. We all benefit from the hard work of people who came before us.
We all benefit from some combination of our parents' hard work, early innovators in our job field, technological advancements, medical breakthroughs, educational improvements, and much more.
No team, business, or country will function without people working together. Even the most brilliant political idea only works if it can stand on the shoulders of the hard work of “ordinary” Americans.
Keep in mind
Standing on the shoulders of giants does not mean you owe them a debt. It means you owe a debt to the next generation. Improve the world in whatever small way you can so that the next generation will be better than ours.
“Successful Americans embrace failure. Fear of failing paralyzes progress; learning from mistakes pushes the country forward.”
It is impossible to do anything worthwhile without the risk of failure.
- 12 publishers rejected JK Rowling before she found a home for the first Harry Potter book.
- Bill Gates's 1st business, Traf-O-Data, failed.
- Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-Gram Studio went bankrupt.
The world would be significantly different if any of these three quit after failure.
It also applies on a smaller scale. Many people fail at different jobs before finding the one that allows them to make their mark in the world.
How to apply it
“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly — until you can learn to do it well.”
― Zig Ziglar
Don’t live so passively that you never fail. As long as you learn from your mistakes, failure can be a good thing.
Live Your Life
“There is only one genuine measure of success: to be able to live your life in your own way.”
America is one of the most diverse countries in the world. There are oceans on both coasts, big cities, small cities, farmland, concrete jungles, mountains, deserts, and everything in between.
America is also a vast melting pot of all different cultures. The fantastic amount of diversity is a tremendous strength. It means Americans can experience many different ways of life and live the one that works best for them.
How to apply it
Travel and see as much of the country as possible to figure out what you prefer. Big city, small town, near a beach, in the mountains, middle of the country, coastal state, or something in between, the possibilities are endless.
The same concept goes for every variable of life, type of job, type of marriage, number of kids, etc. Regardless of what you might hear on the news, America is a country filled with opportunities. Experiment and find the combination of options that are best for you.
If all the negative news we have been bombarded with has made you cynical about America, American Story: A Lifetime Search for Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things is worth reading. It does a great job remembering the extraordinary “ordinary” people that made America great.