Regaining American Exceptionalism — Part II: 6 Essential Characteristics

D.M. Lukas is an author, entrepreneur and contributor to The Brenner Brief.

D.M. Lukas is an author, entrepreneur and contributor to The Brenner Brief.

This is part two in the series taken from the book, “Hope is Not a Strategy:  Leadership Lessons from the Obama Presidency.” Read Part I from yesterday regarding “successful victims.”


It all starts with the right leadership, and a dose of tough love.  We cannot let the “victim mentality” become a “victim identity” for those we can influence.  We must recognize the three victim clues and stop them immediately, even if we find ourselves tempted to use one of them.  This will be painful to not only us, but also to those we are trying to help; however, it is a necessity.


The success of America and the “greatest generation” was built on entrepreneurship, hard work and sacrifice required to find success.  In only the 20th century did working for someone on a mass scale become the norm.  What most people fail to realize is that we are all unique in our ability to function as an entrepreneur in some area(s) of our lives.  Whether we own a business, start a small business on the side while working elsewhere, or champion a cause about which we feel deeply, we all have an ability to tap into our innate entrepreneurial spirit.  This spirit — a uniquely American, can-do spirit — must be recognized and reinforced over and over.

Help Yourself and Others to Become Resourceful

Along with tapping into our individual entrepreneurial spirit, we must always look for ways to make ourselves more resourceful.  Today many people wait for someone else to take care of things for them.  That is why, as I write this, over 50 percent of Americans receive some form of public support or assistance.  This quickly becomes debilitating to a person and causes them to undervalue their potential.

America initially prospered because Americans had to be resourceful. They had to “find a way,” no matter what.  Nowadays, with too many things so easily available and the government willing to help us in exchange for a little more of our freedom each and every day, this American resourcefulness has begun to fade.  We must remember and teach others not to give up so easily, but to use their mind and talents to “find a way or make a way.”

The proliferation of internet access and instant gratification has worsened this tendency.  So much information is instant, and readily available to help you find anything we need to succeed.  However the internet is both a blessing and curse.  It has conditioned us to get whatever we want, right now, whether it is good for us or not, and if we can’t get it now then we just give up.

At the same time, the internet offers us an amazing opportunity to be more resourceful than at any other time in our history.  It is our responsibility to realize the difference and use the internet to improve ourselves and what we can do, and not as a waste of time on mindless distractions.

Teach Others to Seek Failure and Learn From It

We must seek out the lessons learned from failures, upon which to build our future successes.  There is nothing wrong with failing.  It means we did something, we took a risk; we got out of our comfort zone.  It is in failing that we can grow and learn the most.  At the same time failure helps to teach us, and demands that we be more resourceful so that we can find the ways to overcome obstacles and avoid new failures.

Do Not Accept Excuses

We must neither accept nor provide excuses for not achieving what we seek, or, for falling short.  We must learn to have faith in ourselves and resolve to try again.  We must accept responsibility at all times for our actions and results, and teach others to do the same.  If we truly want to be in control of our own destiny, we must take responsibility for it.

We Must Celebrate the Individual

Americans used to be called “rugged individualists.”  We must learn to celebrate that characteristic again.  We must celebrate the ability of the individual, not of the collective, because it is through individuals that truly great things happen.  There is no such thing as “collective salvation,” because each person finds salvation in his or her own way.

By salvation, I mean a person’s own form of success, happiness, and fulfillment.  It does not come from a group.  Even if our success is as a part of a team effort, we are each unique and can never be defined by a label bestowed upon us by others or by being forced into a group or class.  Remember this at all times.

The six characteristics above are simple, but are essential to what we are and can become.  Many have forgotten them over time, but they are always there.  Our job is not only to remember them to guide our daily lives, but to help bring them out in others and foster them every chance we get.

By doing this both individually and with others around us, on each and every day, I believe that we will start to see the changes that we all are looking for so desperately and desire so much.

I know deep down that everyone wants to see themselves, and America, be incredibly successful.  Each of us longs to imagine living in our shining house, in that shining city, high atop that shining hill.  Each of us has the power to create that reality for ourselves and for our country, both now and in the future.

Here’s to our journey and to the future — regaining American exceptionalism!


  1. Exceptionalism has two sides. One is to keep alive all the ideals that we hold dear, and consider them to be unique and special. In a word, it’s what makes us exceptional. On the other hand, exceptionalism has fallen into improper use as a justification for arrogance and jingoism. It all too often mistakes “exceptional” for “superior.” Such a point of view (as explained in this article: ruins the former by being dishonest, and is part of the reason why the exceptionalism which made this country great often falls by the sidelines.

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