Thursday, May 12, 2016

1/100: A New Kind of Enterprise

Today is the first day of rest of my life. I have written this line before, and write it again now. This quote, whoever it is from, is some kind of tag line that describes how I live fairly well. 

It is true that I feel like being at an inflection point. I have lived far too long in a survival mode, licking my wounds for a past adventure and unsure of when and what I should embark on next. As it always comes with failure, I had the endless re-run of the past in my mind - if only I did that - but also what Emily Dickinson would call 'precarious gait', experience, that told me I am not ready yet.

But, then, one is always ready. The sense of failure that I describe, a combination of re-runs and caution, is too attached to living a past life. Life, however, is lived forwards, and the secret of being ready, as this very moment signify, is to stop living what has been lived, and start living what is to be lived from this point on. This is not about wiping out any memory, but recognising the memory and moving on.

The biggest gift that comes with such recognition is indeed the clarity of freedom. And, freeing myself fully from the past failure also frees me from this tortured sense of survival that I lived with, all of last two years, and, all of a sudden, recognise the promise of what may lie ahead and see what I do today as a building block of that future. And, this change, all within myself, without a single drop of rain touching the earth or a new plant sprouting, is as significant and world-changing as any transformation to rewrite the world history could be, in the private world that I build for myself.

So much for that, but this is why I write this. I always wanted to keep this blog as my Commonplace Book, the nineteenth century practice of keeping a scrapbook of ideas, but of late, I have been forced - forced because I was just surviving - to turn this into some kind of professional billboard, projecting to show off 'thought leadership', despite my distaste for the expression as it claims to turn 'thought' into property and a game of oneupmanship, and not, as I believe, a shared opportunity to be human.

This freedom, then, returns me to banter, to write as it comes, to bare my feelings and to write without expectations. This writing without restraint, showing off my deepest inconsistencies and vulnerabilities, is the opposite of the polished pretence of thought leadership. However, I would deny that this is some kind of release, 'transference' of own hope and frustration into a public display, a sort of massive game of virtual sympathy. It is rather for me a conversation, one with many, the kind of connection I sought out when I started writing at all and chose a blog to be my platform: It is reaching out, not to anyone in particular, but the metaphorical human soul, to everyone, and to everytime.

In a sense, this act itself defines the very breaking point that it seeks to describe. Stopping by - no woods or snowy evening here, but a just a sunny, warm, suburban spring morning - I steal a moment to recognise I have no time to stop and look back, but just chart a new path ahead. That failure that may have marked my past would not define my future; the meekness and indecision that I lived with in the present should not depress or cloud what I do in the future. 

In practical terms, what this means that I stop being an entrepreneur. This has been my quest of the past, and I sure tried as intently as possible. But the quest of that label obscured to me the variety and multiplicity of human enterprise. This life-form, endowed with gloamour in modern imagination, somewhat dominated my thinking and ruled out the other possibilities that existed before me. As I claim to be innovative and imaginative, refused, in search of authenticity and happiness, the boring idea of becoming a company man, the accepted role-model of my childhood world of suburban Calcutta. However, while I wanted, and chose, to be different, that label itself became conventional, a straightjacket ruling out all other possibilities of living a life of making a difference, replacing excitement for authenticity, glamour for understanding and in the end, an all-purpose illusion to destroy the creative possibilities.

This is not just about my entrepreneurial failure though: I tried and failed to make money, true. But I overlooked, in the process of my sulking, the variety of ways I lived, all those small acts of difference that extracted me from the constricted world of limited possibilities to now, when, by the very act of being able to start again, I authenticate myself. This apparently meaningless blog, spreading over 10 years and more than 1600 posts, worthless in terms of entrepreneurship as it never made money (though that is not true) but an essential enterprise, a building block of what I am, a signature of my progress. The obsession with entrepreneurial reward may have been obscuring all these other possibilities that were open to me.

Like, being a teacher. Or, taking writing seriously. Or, doing something I have always wanted to do, to study history. Or, just to up anchor and being a nomad. True, all these need sacrifices, compromises, reining in one desire or another, but what determines the worth of anything. And, this is indeed true enterprise - balancing desires and making sacrifices to achieve the one true goal! However much one may take to heart the Silicon Valley slogan of making a dent in the universe, one that I clung to since I came across it in the 1990s, it is a woolly dream not to recognise that this is a product of a given setting at a given time, and spending my life in the elusive quest of such may have the real risk of becoming empty sloganeering, which it indeed may have become, or worse, ruling out other possibilities of enterprise, like setting up a small school that really makes a difference to a small local group of people but never scale to change the world, that could endow a deep meaning to life.

Therefore, 1 of 100: I set myself on a hundred days plan to change. This is not about starting another business, which I conspire to do all too often, but to go back studying history and writing meaningfully, building connections and friendships with an altogether new world of people who are very different from the world of business that I have lived in so far, and accepting the compromises that signal I shall perhaps never become an entrepreneur. 

 

 


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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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