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The Birth of Strategy

December 10, 2009

Craig had an excellent post on existentialism that got me thinking once again about the trajectory of my own life and career, something I think we all need to do more often. For those of you who are looking at rough waters on the sea of jobs and paths out there, congratulations for having enough perspective that no choice is easy. Take the time to chart your course. The best advice I’ve ever gotten is that there are two things you need to do to make yourself happy in life: 1) know exactly what you want, and 2) know exactly how to go about achieving it. So simple, yet so often overlooked. To paraphrase Ward Elliott, “The most profound wisdom seems the most obvious in retrospect.”

I’ve personally put myself through an existential dialectic of justifying the primarily inertia-determined path I’ve been on since high school and rejecting that well-worn path with half-hearted attempts to break out of it, starting emotionally and intellectually but very rarely with any concrete digression away from that path. Inertia is the most difficult force to deal with as an existentialist who cares for the people around them and how other people perceive them. Of course, most existentialists would probably say that such a person is not yet an existentialist. Schumpeter would have said that some “creative destruction” is required to move beyond the horizon of opportunity that you somewhat arbitrarily start at before you have the awareness to go anywhere else. Breaking down other people’s expectations of you, when they themselves have not cared to analyze what those expectations entail, and clearing your path is a necessary demolition project for those who want to be free, and the longer one puts off that demolition the harder it becomes. Hence, inertia is the existentialist’s greatest enemy.

The unavoidable conclusion is that I have to take more active, concrete steps toward a demolition project for myself. More steps toward what I would want to remember myself as having done, less opportunities I would regret (Craig’s poignant identification of existentialism’s biggest fear) having passed up because I was “too busy” or “distracted” by something for which I didn’t have the same level of passion. Less inhibition preventing me from taking bold risks that I will have always wondered about if I just followed the well-lit tunnel toward an ultimately tried-and-true, if boring, end.

Nietzsche might have said I was caught between the Dionysian and the Apollonian. While it sometimes seems indisputable that one is not achieving his or her fullest potential by squandering much effort on the temporal, physical, Dionysian pleasures (that I’ve become adept at of late) because these pleasures are ultimately temporary, the existentialist would remind you that you only have one life to live and if you don’t enjoy the ride, you’ve lost the game. Then there are the Apollonians, attempting to make their personal influence immortal by sacrificing their physical lives for the sake of making some larger, more eternal contribution or imprint on those around them. The existentialist point is valid against the Apollonians as well because even if your influence lives beyond your life, where are you to enjoy that continued influence? Six feet under.

So, I’m caught between these two impulses to act with an eye toward greater glory and simultaneously greater self-satisfaction. Would I be most satisfied with a posthumously successful career as a writer/philosopher? Do I even think that posthumous success will exist once the world’s velocity of knowledge and thought evolves past the need to scrutinize those who have nothing more to contribute? What does it take to break out of the paths that are so well-worn by the rest of society? How willing am I to be called crazy for a while? How much do I trust that I’m not being philosophically over-dramatic or, more accurately, that I don’t care if I am by someone else’s definition?

“Ever go a day without a rationalization?”

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