Today Ayn Rand would have been 107 years old. While she’s no longer with us, her sense of life is perhaps more popular today than ever. What would the author of the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have to say our ability to reach out goals? Here’s one simple idea.
Of all the quotes from Ayn Rand – who wrote hundreds of articles, years of newsletters and nearly a dozen books on her philosophy Objectivism – one stands out in my mind as most relevant to today’s world. Whether you’re worried about your own family, the school in your town, the local housing market or the national economy, I think the world’s foremost champion of individual rights and reason would sum up today’s state of affairs with one of her favorite phrases:
You asked for it, brother!
Now, before you dismiss her as simply another snarky observer of society, I want to suggest that she wouldn’t have said this with any malice. Rand was committed to the philosophy of objectively seeing the world around her. She didn’t aim for sarcasm (better left to the Mark Twain) nor did she aim to bring people down with her observations. Her most basic point was: look clearly at the world around you. The answers are all there.
That’s why, of all of the quotes we might pull from her writings, this simple phrase seems to sum up the world around us today. You don’t need me to break it down into little chunks about our politics, economics, entertainment and civil society. You can do that for yourself. Just ask yourself whether you asked for it, or not.
You see, Rand’s quote works both ways. If there’s something you like about your family, your business, your country, it’s likely because you asked for it to be that way. More likely, you pursued it, worked towards it, made it happen. Rand celebrated this central feature of a free society: if you want to make something happen, you have the right to pursue that yourself. Every achievement – great and small – has come from someone asking for it to happen, and then making it so.
Likewise, if there’s something you don’t like around you – your job, school, government – it’s also because you’ve asked for it. Somewhere, along the way, a blind eye was turned. We remained seated when we should have stood. We abdicated rather than led the charge. Very few things simply “happen to us” – and although they do, Rand reminded us that the universe is generally not out to get us. It’s more the reverse that lands us in trouble.
One of the great opportunities of my career is to travel the world and work with many different organizations. Some today are crumbling; others thriving. Yet both results can be analyzed with Rand’s simple quote: You asked for it, brother! Companies that grow, attract customers, generate value, build careers and contribute to society do so for one reason: They intended to do so. People who rise through the ranks, make the sale, meet their financial goals, and delight customers don’t stumble across their success. Nothing is more inspiring than to meet the salesperson who is having their best year ever – in the midst of the greatest recession in a century – not because they were lucky, tech savvy or well funded, but because they committed. Organizations that break with traditions, kick sand in the face of industry bullies, or simply reject that it has to be that way because everybody has always done it that way, represent the true sense of life that Rand wrote about. Our mentors, the Davids and Rogers and Marthas and Steves of the world, who challenge us to ask more of the world, and of ourselves, propel us to our next achievements.
So more than a century after the Russian Radical was born, and during times that make us wonder if we’re living the pages of Atlas Shrugged, it’s perhaps this simple phrase from the thousands Rand wrote that we should bear in mind. Whether we’re successful in any of our endeavors, whether we create a better or worse world for our future, whether we remember that the Dark Ages were dark on purpose, depends upon our sense of living life intentionally.
Whatever it is you get in life, it’s because you asked for it, brother!