We want purpose, meaning, autonomy, happiness, and all the rest of what career and personal enlightenment have to offer. We also want getting them to be safe, easy, and certain. We don’t want to rock the boat. We want to be able to look around and know where we are. We want to be able to do the things we’ve always done, think the way we’ve always thought, but just be happier about it.
In other words, we want enlightenment to be different, but we also want it to feel as safe as the life we’re trying to leave behind.
Where in the world did we ever get such an idea? From ego. From the survival instincts lodged in the most ancient part of our brains. From our brains’ embedded practice of maintaining status quo. And from the collective expressions of those things in the organizations, cultures, firms, and other institutions that make up the milieu of our lives.
Challenge all that in the name of greater satisfaction and happiness? Better think twice. It’s not going to go well. Status quo gets old, but so does constantly having to create our chaotic new lives in the name of making them better. It’s fun at first, but eventually it feels like all we accomplished was to trade one kind of stress for another. It’s possible to get past that point, but a lot of people never do, it’s just so entirely demoralizing.
For some crazy reason, life is set up so the pursuit of enlightenment is optional. We can get it, but it’ll cost us, and the cost is high: we have to end the reign of ego. Most people won’t do it. Most people probably shouldn’t. Better for them if they don’t turn pro in the enlightenment game. Better if they keep the day job, don’t cash in the 401k.
That’s not cowardice. Nobody says you have to do this. After all, ego and status quo are effective: they get the job done, pay the bills. We challenge them at our own risk, and the people who do aren’t exactly good role models.
Ever notice that so many of the people we admire live unbalanced lives? It costs a lot to do be who they are and do what they do. They’re the creative fringe, the radical, aberrant few. They left the safe center of the bell curve behind long ago, and now they’re statistically irrelevant, three or more standard deviations out. They’re out there on the edge, delusional by any standard of normalcy. They’re no longer productive citizens — at least not as status quo measures it. They take irrationality to new extremes, become a danger to themselves and others. They think “getting a life” is overrated. They work too hard and don’t know when to quit. They’re often not likeable or fun or safe to be around.
They’re also the creative leaders we’ve always needed in our world, and need again right now.
And who knows, you might be one of them.