August 13, 2010 – 12:27 am | by Matt Ackerson
Jonathan and Adam sat at a table in an ice cream shop. Adam munched enthusiastically on his ice cream cone while Jonathan leaned back and ruminated, his eyes darting about. A line of customers was forming in the shop.
Adam: We’re lucky we go here early. Missed the afternoon rush.
Jonathan: There’s a pattern to how all businesses operate, because there’s a pattern to how all people live.
Adam: That sounds like we’re limited by whatever we’re doing, like you’re stuck or something.
Jonathan: Are we stuck?
Adam: No, but many tend to believe it.
Jonathan: Why is that?
Adam thought for a moment and then shrugged indicating he wasn’t sure.
Jonathan: How do people get to feeling stuck in their jobs or relationships?
Adam: They believe it’s because they need to work harder at it in order to get better.
Jonathan: And it needs to get better because…
Adam: It’s not what they want, or they’re not at the “point” they want to be at in that job or relationship.
Adam crunched down on the last piece of ice cream cone as more customers shuffled in.
Adam: How does this relate to starting a business though?
Jonathan raised his eyebrows and tipped his head back slightly.
Adam: … I guess it’s because entrepreneurs get stuck too?
Adam twisted his lips and thought for a moment, unsure.
Jonathan: Look at that woman over there. She owns this ice cream shop. She works harder and stresses more than all of the others, that’s in part how you can tell that she is the owner. She believes she has more to lose, because it’s her business. But even though she has a line of customers out the door today, she’s unhappy. Why?
Adam: She is? The owner?… Yes, she is… I don’t know. Why?
Jonathan: She’s unhappy because she no longer wants to work as an employee in her own business. She feels a lack of satisfaction, and yet is not fully conscious of it. If she became conscious, she would immediately have a desire, the desire to own a business rather than work in one.
Adam: So why is she stuck? Why hasn’t she realized that’s what she wants?
They watched for a moment as she raced back and forth behind the counter, sprinkling toppings, packing down ice cream scoops, and flashing a smiling at the conclusion of each purchase.
Jonathan: It’s the same reason most of the people you know — friends, family, acquaintances — are unhappy. First, they make a terrible mistake. The believe more in the power of what they feel than in what they want. To truly want something is to desire it with action, planned or spontaneous. To merely feel something is to let internal emotions drive you. And what drives internal emotion? External circumstances mostly. But for those who want, their emotions are hitched to those true desires.
Adam: But if the owner of this ice cream shop is driven by emotion, shouldn’t she be more… crazy? She’s unhappy, but her business is thriving it seems.
Jonathan: Yes. But as I said, what she feels internally is driven by external circumstances. This includes social norms, to put it nicely, or social dogma, to put it more accurately.
Adam: Dogma? I’ve heard the expression, “trapped by dogma” before but what does it have to do with anything here?
Jonathan: Dogma has everything to do with it. We’re led to believe from an early age that if you’re not working hard, to the point of being tired or strained or boredom, something is wrong. Or, similarly, that even if the work isn’t enjoyable, you’ve got to bear through it to get to where you want to be. You can’t just be where you want to be, or do what you want. ‘No, no, there’s so many levels to get there, so many more experiences that you have to have first!’ We’re also taught to believe that giving is virtue. To sacrifice of yourself, to sacrifice your wants, is the highest of all virtues.
This is social dogma — this is mental slavery to ideas that aren’t true. You earn what you want by going straight in the direction of what you want. Entrepreneurs get trapped by social dogma the same way as everyone else. They start and run companies that have no meaning; they manage ventures that they secretly hate. They do so because it makes them feel something, positive or negative, like social acceptance — because they’re working hard, or they’re tired after a day of “struggling” to meet another challenge. They move and feel good or bad based on standards that aren’t their own.
Most people do not know what they want, they simply feel differently from day to day. Those emotions come and go, week to week, year to year. For instance, Joe feels fat, but if he consciously acknowledged this he would want to act to be fit and healthy; the shop owner feels exhausted from hustling behind an ice cream counter everyday, but what she really wants (perhaps) is to expand and grow her brand regionally and not be stuck scooping orders everyday.
When you want something you act to achieve it; when you feel first, you exist.
Ask yourself, which one leads the other?