Recently I was listening to a podcast (episode 157 of the EntreLeadership Podcast, to be exact).  In it, host Ken Coleman (the best interviewer around, in my estimation) was interviewing Brian Buffini, an Irish emigrant and entrepreneur.  Buffini was relating an observation of his, that emigrants to America who went from rags to riches shared seven traits.  He went on to say that he believes in these traits so much that he seeks to instill those traits in his own children.  Those traits are:

The willingness to learn
A “do whatever it takes” mindset
The willingness to outwork others
A Spirit of gratitude
The boldness to invest
The willingness to delay gratification
Remembering where they came from

He noted that, in his studies of successful emigrants, these came up over and over.  I have two short points to make from his list.

First, his story encouraged me to look in my own family tree, where I noticed these in some of my own family.  I have seen them in my father, my mother.  I have heard about them and seen them in many of my uncles and in my grantparents.  As a matter of fact, whether directly or indirectly, my parents taught us these principles in life.  While they were not themselves emigrants, they did not have to look back far in the family tree to find emigrants.
My wife has told me stories of her father, who came to America from a communist country as a stowaway on a ship, and when I think of those stories, I see these principles played out in his life, in the things he did.  He knew the opportunity he had and he worked hard to take advantage of it.
The attitude of those forebears enabled us to be in America to take part in its potential and prosperity.

Second, Buffini zeroed in on the 7th trait (“remember where you came from”), and asked two questions:
1. What would your ancestors think of your opportunities? Someone paid a price for you to be where you are. More to the point, what would they think of your effort? How proud of you would they be?
2. And what would your ancestors do with your opportunities?

All our ancestors paid a price for us to be here.  Some fought wars, some walked away from family and security to find and create a better opportunity.  Some endured great hardships just to have a shot at a better life.  Because of that, we have a great accountability to them, to their legacy.  We would do well to ask ourselves how proud they would be of what we have done with the opportunities we have, to ask what they would think about the way we have handled what they left to us.

And then, with the mindset they had, ask what they would do if they were given the opportunities we have.  We sometimes squander our resources in laziness and self-doubt.  It is doubtful they would do the same.  What would they do with the potential that we have?

Those questions and the responsibility they carry should give us great motivation to make our lives anything but mediocre.