Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, January 11, 2021
How do you begin to think about the gap between what you think you know about yourself and have told yourself for all these years and the uncomfortable realization that maybe the you that you think you are is not the real you?
Innovation and entrepreneurship are held up today as talismans, as badges of independence and dedication and individuality. I frequently meet a young person, man or woman, who introduce themselves to me as an “entrepreneur” — as if the word conjured a set of skills like a lawyer, doctor or plumber. Those are professions that have a basic book of learning that is required to get a license to practice, to attach that title to your business card. There is no such thing with the big E.
Hello, my name is Joe Blotz, and I’m an entrepreneur. Wow, that is a lot of weight to carry around.
In the halls of the MBA, the glib speak is about passion. Well, are we good — maybe and maybe not? So, I turned to a new book, “The Passion Economy” by Adam Davidson, a New Yorker staff journalist. His book tries to shed some light on the difference between what he calls “the widget economy” of the 20th century, where you were expected to take one for the team and “suppress your nature” for the corporate greater good, and the passion economy, where you follow your heart and soul and find “how do I fit in the world?” Religious individuals explore that every week at church, in a mosque or in a synagogue.
Davidson supports finding passion. He says, “You’re not born with it, you discover it over time,” and it will be at an intersection of multiple interests, not just one. Do I take the corporate job with safety, or do I blast out there with a co-founder, because I care deeply about something?
Allow me a bit of darkness. What I frequently see is that “something” is code for making a lot of money and getting rich. And my experience as a coach suggests to me if that is the passion, the odds of success become greatly diminished.
You tell yourself that you are different, that you don’t want to fit into the corporate model, but what if the truth is that you fit there best? What if this idea of being an entrepreneur is in conflict with who you really are? And then, can you find passion in that corporation, doing good work, but with your own individual nature and skill sets, “providing value that no one else can?”
At some point, each of us must come to terms with our gender or our sexuality or our personality. It is a major recognition, and to the extent that it is “different” than the expected, standard-issue, suit of clothing, that we were sure fit us perfectly, a suit that we always expected to wear, then there is the conflicted nexus of expectation and reality. Passion doesn’t figure in the equation. Would it be OK to have a job with a large corporation and actually like what you do each week? Is that really the end of the earth?
Look, I love, admire and support the entrepreneurial spirit. Davidson argues for pursuing your passion, making clients actually want your service, rather than reluctantly needing it (think CPA at tax time or your smiling dentist). But I am beginning to lean into thinking that the either/or of this passion thing; that you either have it or you don’t is just not rational, and certainly not in one’s millennial years. You need to find your story, and that takes time.
Davidson supports exploration and process; it is acceptable to have multiple jobs on your resume. I agree completely. This “seeking thing” can take a lifetime. The only deadline on that one is death.
Being the CEO can be a seductive trap, particularly if you do not really fit that model. And if it is an uncomfortable fit, it will lead to failure or being fired. Why subject yourself to such disappointment or even disgrace. Who needs that?
Very few of us will ever be Elon Musk, but we could be one of the 48,016 people who currently work there, and who are also currently changing the world.