My husband came home last night and declared that President Obama had just insulted me. Apparently he'd heard a quote from a July 13 speech in which Obama claimed that those of us who ran small businesses hadn't "done it ourselves." The much-quoted clip stated, "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Someone else made that happen."
Well, I'm happy to say that the President didn't actually insult me, my business, or all the folks I know who run small businesses. In fact, the snippet cited above was deliberately taken out of context. Here's what Obama actually said:
This statement truly resonated with me as a writer. It seems to me that just about every writer I've ever talked to has a story about the person who helped. Each of us has a story about a defining individual, or moment, that made the difference in moving our careers forward. Dawn, for example, keeps pointing her finger at me, as the editor who bought some of her first articles for my British travel website. I look at people like Debbie Ridpath Ohi, founder of the Inkspot website, who took me under her wing and turned me into a "web writer."
I suspect we can all remember a "great teacher" -- though that teacher might not necessarily have come to us in a classroom. Some of our teachers were friends, coworkers, peers, partners, or parents. Sometimes, all it took was a single word of encouragement or advice to set our careers in motion. (For me, it was the day my husband encouraged me to take a job as a magazine editor, for which I felt woefully unprepared and unqualified, by saying, "You'll never know whether you can do it unless you try.")
Is there a writer among us who doesn't remember that first sale? The first time an editor or publisher chose to take a chance on an unknown writer? I still cringe at the memory of my first formal "query letter." I'd picked up a copy of a quilting magazine and noted that it didn't have any articles on crazy quilting -- so I typed up a letter extolling the virtues of crazy quilts and offering to write a piece. I didn't even know, then, what a query letter WAS, and it never occurred to me to check back issues to see if, perhaps, they'd covered that topic in the past. Amazingly, despite my ignorance, I got the assignment -- my first in a national magazine.
However, I would still have taken issue with Obama's statement if he hadn't included one key point: "...when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative..." Obama's speech is aimed at emphasizing the power of working together, and that's great. He's right; none of us got where we are today alone. Teachers and infrastructures and government investments are vital tools, and without them, it's true that none of us would, probably, be where we are today. But teachers and infrastructures and government investments are not enough, in themselves, to make an individual successful. At the end of the day, it still comes back to the individual.
Any teacher will tell you that the ratio of those who are willing to be taught, vs. those who are just sitting there waiting for the bell to ring, is exceedingly small. At Writing-World.com, our whole purpose, really, is to "teach." We've posted nearly 700 articles that cover a vast array of writing topics, absolutely free to anyone who wants to take the time to read them. And we still get lots of e-mails from people who can't be bothered to do so.
I imagine these would-be writers as standing on the side of a road that is clearly marked "To Success." "But it's a long road," they complain, "and I don't have a map. Won't you give me a map?" OK, here's a map... "But it's a complicated map, and I don't know how to read it, and anyway, I don't have a car..." At this point, I guarantee you, if someone drove up with a brand-new car, got out, and handed this person the keys, the next complaint would be, "I don't know how to drive, won't you drive me?"
The point is, while we all have someone (and probably many someones) to thank for our success, we also need to remember to thank ourselves. Because in reality, if someone took a chance on you by accepting your query or article or proposal, you had to have taken a chance first -- by sending it in. If someone gave you good advice that pointed you in the right direction, you had to take that advice. If someone suggested that you try, you had to have tried. If someone opened a door, it was still up to you to walk through it.
It may not be Thanksgiving yet, but it's never too early, or too late, to give thanks. So by all means, take a moment to thank a teacher, or a friend, or a loved one, for helping you get to where you are today. And then... take a moment to thank yourself, for choosing to follow the path instead of standing on the sidelines.
For the full text of President Obama's speech, visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/07/13/remarks-president-campaign-event-roanoke-virginia