Three Kinds of People

There are three kinds of people: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, “What happened?” – Casey Stengel

I emigrated to the United States in 1979 with my family (from the former Soviet Union). My father, 30 years old at the time, spoke only a few words of English. When he started to look for a job to support our family, he included the above quote in cover letters sent to potential employers. At the time (I was 9), I didn’t understand the quote. When I was a teenager, I thought it was corny. I get it now.

Most of us have become far too complacent, far too comfortable, and far too lazy to make things happen. We complain about our jobs. We complain about the industries we work in, as if we’re somehow the only people entitled to work in those industries. We complaint about the world. We complain about our sports teams. We complain about our spouses, our girlfriends, about our friends, about the store clerk, about our computers, about our clothing, about other people, about other countries, and about politicians. But mostly, we just complain. About everything. We don’t like the software we use, we don’t like our doctors, we don’t like our bosses, we don’t like the movies shown in theaters, we don’t like our shoes, we don’t like taxes, we don’t like high gasoline prices.

If we’re lucky, we watch things happen. We read about new inventions. We buy new gadgets. We watch other people become successful. We pass the time.

But – there are those who don’t simply watch and who have long ago recognized that they can either complain like everyone else or try to change the world (even if only a little bit). And you know what? We respect such people. We listen to them. We support them. And we recognize how special they are.

Susan B. Anthony was not content to simply watch when women were denied the right to vote in the United States. She fought for women to have those rights.

Nelson Mandela did much more than complain about apartheid in South Africa. He made the world take notice. He helped lead the transition to a multi-racial and democratic South Africa.

Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech after the New Hampshire primary was notable for many things – but perhaps none more important than its main theme – stand up and take charge. Make things happen. And voters who previously were content only to watch did just that – they stood up and took charge.

How many of us have complained about the software we use every day? Most of us. We blame Microsoft. We blame Oracle. We blame everyone but ourselves. But there are some who’ve stood up and made things happen. 37signals was dissatisfied with existing project management, contact management, and group tools and made their own. Simple, thoughtful products that work well. We use them, as do over one million other people and businesses.

Linus Torvalds did more than complaint about the lack of a good operating system. He initiated the development of the Linux kernel.

We can’t all fight for the right to vote, fight to overturn a long history of apartheid, lead the ticket for a presidential election, or write software. But, we all have an opportunity, every single day, to decide what type of person we are, and what type of person we want to be. In everything we do. Let’s not waste that opportunity.

There are three kinds of people: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, “What happened?”

Which one are YOU?