Today I want to talk about those people who seem to do whatever they want. You probably have one or two of them kicking around your life. And I’m not referring to trust fund kids, retirees with a variety of fulfilling hobbies, or babies. (Babies obviously always do what they want—in their pants or in the grocery store, restaurant, etc.)

I’m talking about the people I’ve come to call the builders. Once in a while I’ll meet one of these rare creatures around my age and income bracket, and I’ll watch them like some kind of glorious, bright mandarinfish in a tank. How do they do it? What is their secret key?

After some study, here is what I have uncovered.

First, these people seem to have the kind of self-belief that is intrinsically generative. Maybe this self-belief has been reinforced in them since the days when we all began on an even footing, doing what we wanted in our pants. They might have had profoundly affirming parents. Or they might have developed this superpower over time. Whatever the origin, and even when their aptitude is in question, these people believe in themselves to the detriment of self doubt.

I remember my first taste of failure and self doubt when I was a kid. The details are lost to me now, but the feeling-memory is indelible on my tongue… a bitter, puckering sensation where my sense of worth had been just a moment earlier. Maybe I didn’t have someone there at that moment to tell me I was worthy no matter what. Or maybe there was someone there saying these things, but I didn’t believe them.

Second, builders make their own positively reinforcing parameters. As a teenager I used to think people who made a lot of money were very, very smart. You had to be beyond smart to make money, obviously. My dad was really smart and he didn’t make much money, so one essentially had to be a mythological genius to bring home six figures. I remember the day that myth burst on me as well, though that is a story for another time.

Builders make money if they want to. Climb mountains, run races, try out for cooking shows. They reinforce themselves not by the world’s reaction to them, but by their own set of achieved successes. They celebrate the small steps with the big ones, and for that reason they are masters of momentum.

Third, and maybe most important, builders craft their lives choice by choice. Failure is restructured into opportunity. A set back is a chance to reflect. Builders are not victims of circumstance but the creators of the moments that make up their lives. There is a sense that they can make anything they want to make. It emanates from them like resounding whale song.

But we began the same, me and the builders. I like to remind myself of that. And what would they say if I read this aloud to them, what would they do? Applaud themselves? Twerk atop their obscene mountain of successes?

Could be. Or could be they’d beckon and show the way.