As many of you out there know, I’m pretty politically active in my spare time and I truly enjoy following and studying politics, both national and otherwise. Today, of course, is a momentous day in that arena, as George W. Bush peacefully hands over the presidency to Barack Obama.
Regardless of how you feel about Bush or about Obama, there is little question that in many ways this is a very profound change. I think my mother described it best – it’s more than just a shift in leadership, it’s a shift in generations, too. She identifies Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as being presidents from her generation – but Barack Obama is the first president from my generation.
What personal lessons can we take from this moment in time?
The United States is an amazingly stable democracy. For most Americans, the peaceful transition of power seems like a normal, common, and expected thing. Yet, over the course of human history, such peaceful transitions of power are the exception rather than the rule. Revolutions, wars, coups, and bitter transitions are the rule in most areas of the world, and the strong-armed changes that other people face undermine the stability of day-to-day lives. Currencies become worthless. People are driven from their homes and lives. Personal property is “nationalized.” In the United States, we are quite lucky that we don’t have to face such situations – and our safety from those situations is part of what gives us such prosperity.
Today, as Obama simply and quietly takes the reins of leadership, recognize that this transition isn’t taking place at the barrel of a gun – and it’s that stability and safety that plays a major role in the stability and safety in our own lives.
Our choices today do not have to be tied to the preconceptions of the past. Consider where race relations were fifty years ago. In many parts of the United States fifty years ago, segregation was in full effect, with different lunch counters and different water fountains and different bathrooms and different schools and different buses for people based entirely on the color of their skin. Such segregation seems utterly ludicrous today.
In the light of such profound changes in society (and I don’t think anyone would argue that such changes aren’t positive), it’s worthwhile to look at our own lives and ask ourselves what changes we could make. What aspects of our lives are being held back by a preconception that isn’t really true? Why are you working at your current job? Why do you buy the car that you do?
When I watch Obama take the oath of office today, I’ll be thinking about how much the world has changed since my grandmother was my age. The mere thought that an African-American could become president was ludicrous back then. What preconceptions do I have now that will be ludicrous in a year? In five years? What can I change about myself to reflect this?
You can forge your own path. The two people standing on the stage today – George W. Bush and Barack Obama – followed two substantially different paths to reach the presidency. Their courses had almost nothing in common – different childhoods, different schools, different career choices – but both wound up reaching their dream and reaching the pinnacle of what their profession had to offer.
What can we learn from that? There are a lot of different paths to the same dream, no matter how big that dream is. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it. Don’t tell yourself that your background keeps you from doing it. Don’t tell yourself you don’t have the skills – you can learn many of them. Instead, look at the example today offers – two completely different people from completely different backgrounds who rose to the top. You can rise up, too.
The Obama administration represents new opportunities. From the moment Barack Obama steps to the podium and delivers his inaugural address, he’ll be pushing this country in a new direction. What does this mean for you? It means potential investment opportunities if you’re an investor. It means areas where you might want to move your career. It means subtle societal changes that you’ll gradually notice over time.
Listen to what Obama has to say. What industries is he talking about? What major social programs is he introducing? Right off the bat, you have clues as to where growth is going to be in the near future. Now, what can you do in your own life to take advantage of it? Could you buy some stocks? Could you sharpen your skills in a particular area? Could you even get directly involved by taking advantage of a major new program? Pay attention – and think about how things can directly affect you.
Unsurprisingly, I’ll be spending today watching the inauguration festivities, including the inaugural address. Hopefully you’ll watch (or at least listen) as well – and give some thought as to what this moment actually means for you.