In the NY Times today they had a long article on minority groups that have been very successful in the US, and they briefly describe three traits that they ascribe to these positive results.
Successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex - a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite - insecurity, a feeling that you or what you've done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.These traits find resonance with me as I try to summarize the world-view of those that I know who are successful and / or to be admired (sometimes you have bad luck). Of all the three traits, I do see insecurity as a key element - I wouldn't call insecurity a feeling (as if I'm not good enough, as they say above), but a force pushing you to do more, to plan better, and to be prepared for a negative outcome. This drives self-sufficiency, and also a "network effect" of making relationships that you can rely on "if the chips are down". Many of us in the Midwest have changed jobs, changed careers, or changed our lifestyles in order to reduce our reliance on a particular employer or increasing overseas competition, or changes in the job market. It is a "help yourself" doctrine in that you don't want to ask for help except as a last resort, and living this way implies that first you take all the steps you can to prepare for the downside even if it takes lots of extra hours, toil, deferred fun, and sleeplessness.
Impulse control is closely related to insecurity, in that you can't just let yourself fall apart and you can't be negligent in your "core" duties. You need to show up for work every day, regardless of whether or not you aren't feeling well or if you've been out late the previous night. You need to take your passions seriously, or you are leaving your friends out to dry. And you want to stay away from things that are terribly stupid, although you may have built up a network of defenses through preparation that can help you get out of a jam.
Exceptionality is part of a pride in getting things done, and knowing that we can make it work. Sometimes this belief is beyond your town or job, because things can fall apart, and sometimes you have to move on. You can't just hold out until the bitter end.
I'd be interested in what the other people on this blog think of these three items. Once you take away insecurity as an internal feeling of validation and make it a positive theory of preparation, I think these ring true. And values that you'd want to pass on to your extended family, and be a personal example of living those values.