Ronald Reagan asked the question in his closing remarks in his final debate with Jimmy Carter in October 1980.  The question has been with us every election season since.

Forget politics for a minute.  This is still a great question to ask yourself.  Are you doing better?  Are you setting personal goals and achieving them?  This is Self-Improvement 101.  We should always be looking to improve and be better than we were yesterday.  If we can continuously improve, we should be light years ahead of where we were 4 years ago, even if we hit a few bumps along the way.

Now let’s reinsert politics.  When Reagan asked, “Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?”, he was suggesting that the difficulties you had in life were the result of President Carter and his policies of the previous 4 years.  It was a brilliant political move for Reagan as it quickly framed his opponent as responsible for the nation’s economic woes while setting up a clear distinction with his message of America as the “shining city on the hill”.  It turned out to be a clincher statement just days before the election.  Carter had no opportunity to sufficiently respond.  Reagan went on to victory and the rest is history.

But really, how much of your success or failure in life is directly tied to a political leader? 

If you believe the challenges you are suffering in life are directly the result of who the President of the United States is, then I would suggest you need to re-assess your situation.  You are putting entirely too much responsibility for your own life in someone else’s hands.  You are not looking within to hold yourself accountable, but instead looking outside yourself to blame another.

Normally the debate about a person’s position in life is Nature vs Nurture.  Nature being the family you were born into, the location where you were born and the genetics you inherited upon birth.  Nurture, on the other hand, is how you were raised, the morals and values instilled upon you as a child and the education you gained along the way.  Of course, these have an impact in your life.  But the Nature vs Nurture argument leaves out one critical variable:  Free Will.

You can choose.  You make choices everyday involving finances, career, health, relationships, family life and more.  Nature and Nurture play a role for sure, but Free Will is far more impactful on your life.  There are some rare exceptions to this rule, but they are rare.

If you are in a tough spot, it’s likely your own fault.  I know that is some harsh medicine, but there is almost always some set of personal choices you made along the way that put you in the place you find yourself today.

On the other hand, if you are experiencing great success in life, I would suggest much of that is also based on the good quality of your decision making.  Some will chalk it up to luck, perhaps in an effort to be humble.  But really, your choices put you into a position to capitalize on opportunity and experience success.

Quite often politicians will work to distort markets and make economic growth difficult. They may make it hard to start a business or make it difficult to compete.  Yet people can be successful in spite of the difficulties politicians lay before them.  With the right business strategy, the right work ethic and good decisions along the way, great success is possible.

So, when you hear a politician ask you “Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?”, then take the time to assess your own journey in life.  When you are done with your own self-reflection, then then tell the politician to buzz off.