I’m sure you’ve heard it before: One person argues that the reason this or that individual is such a success (or failure) in sports, wealth accumulation, academics or whatever is because she was born with superior (or inferior) genes while the other person contends that it is not any result of being born that way but the environment she was nurtured in. It’s the whole nature vs. nurture argument.

So which is it then? Are you a product of nature (your genes) or of nurture (your upbringing and environmental conditions)?

Actually neither. You are a product of choice.

Now obviously I’m not suggesting that our conditioning or the conditions surrounding us have no influence in our lives, but to say that we are determined by them, is to say we have no control over that influence.

The thing is, every self-made successful person (successful people in the truest sense of the word are all self-made) has come to the realization that they have the power to direct their own lives; And they let that realization power them through the struggles and challenges that they face on the road to their success. They’ve learned that their lives are not a function of their conditions but rather, a function of their decisions.

There are many examples of people who have risen above genetics or environment to become a tremendous success. One such example is Christopher Gardner, whose life inspired the film “The Pursuit of Happyness (actual spelling).” Gardner became a self-made millionaire, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and philanthropist despite struggling with homelessness while raising his toddler son.

Gardner often scrambled to place his child in daycare, stood in soup lines, and slept wherever he and his son could find safety: in his office after hours, at flophouses, at parks, and even in a locked bathroom at the Bay Area Rapid Transit station in San Francisco. All-the-while, Gardner worked as a trainee for Bear Stearns, struggling to make ends meet with the hope of one day achieving his dream in becoming a successful stock broker. This he did, eventually establishing the brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co, in Chicago, Illinois and becoming a multi-millionaire.

The greatest example of someone who overcame their conditions and conditioning can be found in the life of former Nazi death camp survivor Viktor Frankl. In that place of endless suffering, where all earthly possessions were stripped away, and being left with only his bare body, Frankl discovered something very profound. He realized that their captors may have had the power to take away all that he owned — even his liberty — but they weren’t able to take away the last of his human freedoms: his ability to choose how he would respond to his circumstances. Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

Within this purely human endowment — the power to choose your response and direct your life — you will find the real key to success.

In conclusion, success is not determined by your genetic make-up or where and how you were raised but is entirely based upon how you respond to those influences and the decisions you make as a result.

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