You are more than a label
“Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen.” ― Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
“Most people today are not getting what they want. Not from their jobs, not from their families, not from their religion, not from their government, and, most important, not from themselves. Something is missing in most of our lives. Part of what’s missing is purpose. Values. Worthwhile standards against which our lives can be measured. Part of what’s missing is a Game Worth Playing.” ― Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth
It’s a shame that Seth Godin (Seth) so publicly rebuked Michael E. Gerber (MEG) in his book, “Linchpin”.
I can see why he took issue with the idea of hiring the equivalent of easily programmable people (robots) to become part of the ‘system’ — “The System Is The Solution” — but, actually, I think he misunderstood a lot of what I understand MEG to be saying. Sure, it’s not very appealing if you’re the person who has to pull the levers day after day (without any sense of purpose or a bigger vision for your life) but, ultimately, his vision for the New-Age Entrepreneur is much the same as Seth’s idea of the Linchpin.
I can probably best it explain it thus:
Both of them are inviting you, qua employee or entrepreneur, to become the best version of yourself. Seth is saying that it’s still possible to do so inside the factory; and MEG is saying that you can bring purpose and meaning to your life by starting and running a successful (small) business.
And for the record, if you don’t already know, I’ve been on both sides of the fence. Or rather, perhaps more accurately, I’ve tried my hand at both, but neither worked or worked as I expected.
Is it an either or?
I think you either shoot for the moon inside a company, or you go it alone.
I’d like to think that all of us could aspire to be Linchpins, but I have grave doubts whether the system is yet ready to accommodate the whole you, even allowing for the emergence of Teal organisations. For a start, you’ve got a whole generation of leaders who know nothing different save command and control and expect you to conform in the same way that they had to. Not just that but the whole HR function is designed to maintain the status quo, not break it asunder. I know there are exceptions but they’re few and far between.
And so, given the stasis and the fact that most people lose their soul within a few years of working for a company, it’s no wonder so many people talk about and then often do start their own business. That was my position: I’d well and truly lost my mojo and thought, “To hell with it; I’m going to leap and wait for the net to appear.”
But the trouble is that most people don’t understand the problem(s) associated with growing a business. OK, a few get lucky but if you look at the stats for the number of small businesses in the United Kingdom it’s very revealing:
“In 2017 there were 1.3 million employing businesses and 4.3 million non-employing businesses. Therefore, 76% of businesses did not employ anyone aside from the owner(s).” — National Federation of Self Employed & Small Businesses Limited (FSB)
It may sound tendentious but is a business of one, really a business? Not if you understand the message that MEG has been espousing all these years. He takes the view that working for yourself is like having the worst boss in the world. Not just that but you never escape the tyranny of work; he uses the very apt description: “[You end up] doing it, doing, doing it.” That’s how it felt to me. No sooner had I completed one self-employed gig than I was back on the business development treadmill. Sure, I wanted to grow my business to something beyond just me but I never managed it.
And of course whilst all this is going on — and managing the money; always the damn money — I found myself mired in all the wrong stuff that was very unlikely to connect with something higher than the next day’s To Do List.
Don’t get me wrong. I did connect with True Self but not through the process of growing or trying to build a business but instead by being thrown out the cot, and having to go deep within:
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates
What I’m actually saying, though, is whether you ascribe to the idea that you can and should aspire to be a Linchpin or Entrepreneur, again they’re no more than labels. Yes, there’s some underlying psycho-spiritual substance but the truth is you don’t need any label to be 100% you — all body, mind and spirit.
I recognise how hard that pill is to swallow, when you ankle deep in the gloop in working for the man, but the more you try to build yourself around a set of traits or characteristics — e.g. free-thinking, extrovert or introvert, creative, artistic — the more likely it is you’ll lose connection with who you truly are.
In my case, I honestly did try, over the space of nearly 30 years, to become the best version of myself (qua employee) but all I ended up doing was being labelled part of the awkward squad. I still remember to this day a meeting I attended at one of the law firms I worked for who were engaged in the usual thigh-slapping exercise on the future of the firm. Come the end of the pitch, they asked the assembled audience of partners and associates (I was the latter) if they had any questions? Much to my surprise, no one raised their hand up; there were about 50 people in the room. So I thought, to hell with it, I’ll ask a question. It was hardly the most revelatory of interjections: all I wanted to know was whether the firm had considered a twin-track approach to branding. Guess what? I not only didn’t get an answer — “Good question, Julian!” — I was also told privately, after the meeting had finished, that the idea wasn’t to ask questions. I accept that this scenario may not be typical of most companies but it’s only one example from a bucket load I could quote where it really was a case of keeping your head down, not rocking the boat and making sure you did what you were told to the letter of the HR Manual if you wanted to stay employed.
In the end, it did for me and I decided to strike out on my own; and I did manage to stay afloat — just — for seven years but, as I’ve already said, and despite my very best efforts, I sunk beneath the weight of my own label-infested expectations.
Of course, my story is just that. I’m sure there are many other examples of people who’ve been able to connect with their job in a way that’s brought them great joy; and, ditto, people who’ve grown a world-beating business. But something tells me there are a whole slew people who haven’t and are caught on the horns of a dilemma between being a Linchpin — or some such label — and an Entrepreneur.
As I’ve been sharing on my Patreon page, my most recent ‘Ah-ha’ moment came about in finally recognising that what now speaks loudest to my soul is the act of creation and not work.
In short, I’ve made the conscious choice to now practice as an in-house lawyer, and at the same time pour my heart into writing and poetry. It wasn’t a case of giving myself permission or engineering this but I absolutely had to have something to express myself creatively, as otherwise, much like the past, I’d have given everything to work. This doesn’t mean, in case my current employer reads this, that I intend to goof around at work. Far from it. I expect to be laser-like in my attention to the job but this time there’s no need to climb any career ladder or change my job title. There’s just work and writing. One will be done on my employer’s time, and the other on my time.
What am I really trying to say?
I’m saying, it’s hard to see how a Linchpin, working within a system that needs you to conform, can ever truly develop the real you. And likewise, the Entrepreneur (of one). They’re both a compromise.
Does this mean that you too have to start some silly side project to become who you are? No. You could just as easily do nothing and simply have a different relationship with your thinking. Or you could be less ambitious and accept that what you’ve got is perfect. Or you could build a portfolio and not be subsumed by one thing and one thing alone.
The key point is you need to keep asking a more beautiful question than “What’s next?”
I’d start with:
“Who Am I?”
Oh, and you might like to read one or two books that take you beyond the ken of your current understanding of your existential best.
Here are two books that opened my eyes to a life beyond doing:
“The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle
“New Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton
Trust me, I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time you’ve got to this point you’re confused: “What’s this guy trying to say?”
All I’m trying to say is that life is a beautiful, magical unfolding — yes, there are some jagged rocks to navigate — but don’t get seduced by the label without understanding who and what you are.