It’s easy to accept other people’s definitions of how you should live your life, what you should aim for, what you consider to be a worthwhile achievement. Perhaps it’s the house in the suburbs like your parents have. Perhaps it’s the promotion that your boss says would be good for you. Perhaps it’s just the money to buy all those novelties and gadgets that the adverts are telling you that you want.

But real achievement doesn’t come from accepting the aims of other. It comes from finding your own definition of what is worth achieving, and there’s no more powerful example of that than the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.

Independent achievement

By the standards of the time, many of the Founding Fathers were already high achievers. These were people who had successfully founded colonies and businesses in the New World, who were building towns and cities in what their fellow Europeans saw as a wild and dangerous space. Many were successful businessmen, politicians and thinkers working within the established colonial system. By the standards of their peers they were well on the path of achievement, and success on that path lay in continuing to collaborate with the British authorities.

But they were not content to accept achievement on those terms. They saw that they could aim higher, achieve more, be independent from the aims and structures set out for them. Embracing that aim was the first step towards achieving it.

Redefining leadership

The Founding Fathers were not content to just replicate the old structures in a newly independent country. The created a whole new system of leadership for a whole new country. Authority was held by the separate states, collaborating through rather than dictated to by a central government. There was no monarch or aristocracy, the structures used to govern every state in Europe. This was a whole new approach.

Part of this new approach was letting go of control. The Founding Fathers enshrined in the constitution the principle that everybody should be free to pursue happiness, to define and work towards achievement on their own terms. The principle of defining achievement on your own terms was not just one that the Founding Fathers lived by, it was one that they believed should be there for others to follow, that they made a part of their nascent country.

The Founding Fathers, emerging from a tradition of monarchy and centralized authority, created something entirely new. A nation built on innovation, on compromise, on the principle that everybody’s voice should be equal, that whoever you are your own voice is one worth listening to.

Learning from our ancestors

Somewhere along the line, many of us have lost track of these lessons. We all pursue happiness, but we usually do it on others’ terms. We work hard, but in the structures given to us by past generations. We strive to do the best that we can within the limits set for us, not to set our own limits.

Learn from the Founding Fathers. Think about what you really want, what achievements you are working towards because others set them rather than because they are yours. Are you really interested in that promotion and the responsibilities that come with it? Do you want that house in the suburbs if it means giving up on your city life? Do you actually want a bigger TV or better games system? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but the aim should be yours.

Start your own revolution. Achieve on your own turns, as the Founding Fathers did.