You know, the agonizing thing about knowing you can build a business, knowing you have the courage, the intelligence, the talent, is not having the right idea. Don’t get me wrong, I have a business, and it’s the right idea, and it has been, for where I was, where I am, and for a while yet where I’m going. It’s the right idea because any business that works is currently the right idea. But you know what I mean. I mean that one idea that’s stellar, that you’ll give yourself to and promote when nobody believes in you, about which you are willing to be arrogant (some will say obstinate), even in the face of all the people that say “what if” and “yeah but” and “you’re living in a fantasy world”. I don’t know whether that’s the voice of your parents, spouse, siblings, religious group, or whatever. If all of these are supportive, you probably have it all figured out already and don’t need this article. My confidence and sense of adventure and obdurate insistence on determining for myself how to see the world painted an early target on by back. So I’ve had to pretty much work on the great liberating idea while under fire.
The idea is everything, you know. That’s what we know, those of us who are still trying to come up with it. The idea is everything. If we could just have that one idea – the one that no one has ever had, or ever followed through on or, if you settle, ever done quite right. We know what we want. We want the unprecedented. And when we have it, that idea, firmly fixed in our heads, and when we know that it’ll succeed no matter what anyone says, then we’ll act accordingly. That’s when we’ll act.
But I have a theory. It’s a theory I’m working on, anyway. My theory is that all kinds of ideas are the right idea, if you are committed enough. Put a different way, I’m not sure that the idea comes first, and that you will have that certainty, that absolute certitude, and then you will press on against all odds. Sure, it has happened that way now and then. But my theory is that perhaps, most of the time, instead of this, instead of just knowing, and so being committed, you commit first. You commit without knowing. Not just without knowing your idea will succeed – but without even knowing what the idea is. It sounds crazy, which is a word ordinary people use to mean counterintuitive – against common sense – unprecedented. But that, tonight, is what I think. At least I’m willing to explore it. I think that you commit to going forward, with and how you can, to being governed by an idea and, if you don’t have the exact one yet, to going forward anyway with what bare, meager ideas you have. You choose the one that isn’t guaranteed to make you rich, isn’t a sure thing that you can see whole and pristine against the sky. You go forward with wherever and whatever you have and, I think, you find the idea while you’re in motion, not while you’re waiting for it to dawn on you.
Now I can’t prove this. It is quintessentially the example of non-linear thinking, and I for one am not the biggest fan of what a lot of people call non-linear thinking. But what’s the alternative? The alternative is to stay put and bleed or, if you’re slightly less dramatic about it, stay put and do absolutely nothing at all. I’ve seen animals that stay completely still, because they’ve been injured in some way, and they’re bewildered – they don’t know what to do. They will starve like that, and I venture to suggest that if you’re the kind of person that responds to this kind of writing, so will you. It boils down to either paralysis and stasis or else going forward without the slightest guarantee, but more than than – without that pristine shining beacon, that mountain of enlightenment, that tinkerbell of sanity standing out in front of you like the vocational nirvana that it surely is. I think, again I’m not sure, that some of us may find what we’re looking for by feeling our way around it a bit. And besides, some of us can’t wait. When the lightbulb of all lightbulbs does go off, if we haven’t built the groundwork, by building businesses, by venturing forth bravely against the advice of others, we won’t be the kind of people that will recognize the lightbulb and distinguish it from something dangerous and threatening.
All ideas, when you’re not acting on ideas, seem dangerous, seem like a threat to our safe ground, because all of them presume the courage to change, the willingness to risk what we know for what we don’t. All ideas, at first, seem like walking out over water with nothing but faith. But when you are living in them, when you have walked among the storms already, then you know. You have the assurance of things hoped for, to quote a saint. And that’s what we mean by the certainty that the idea we alone can fully see, despite the fog of naysayers, is true, will succeed, and merits our undying effort and commitment. I think, first, before we’re entitled to that pillar of cloud going before us, showing us the way, that radiant lightbulb of genius, we must respond to the small fire in the bush, the small inklings that our lives are more than we’ve made them to be thus far, and must take those first furtive steps into what seems like the desert, and barrenness, living perhaps only on the manna of our own self-belief, and deference and humility before whatever god we think turns the dawn into darkness and strides the heights of creation.
So. So, I commit to going on, into this sandstorm. Going on when a part of me wants to cry out “where is my food going to come from?” Not insanely. I’ll gather what I can each day, and conserve and preserve all that I find like the dearest friends. But the alternative, to continue to borrow a religious metaphor, is bondage back in Egypt. I don’t know how I’m going to live in the desert exactly, a year from now. But I have food for today, the courage and commitment to go forward, and I have what talent, what intellect, and what hands God gave me. Who really, of us, has more than this when, now more than ever, all illusions of security are being shown for the false prophets and dead idols that they are? I’m not going back to chains and servitude, to the lash and the mundane ordering of my life by the clock kept in corporate board rooms, building monuments to a foreign god who isn’t my own. Remember, this is just metaphor – I’m not preaching a sermon. But the beauty of religious history is that it lends itself so readily to a perennial understanding of the problems we face.
And aren’t we already a little arrogant or obstinate (or courageous) to think we’re the special people, the chosen people, the people who will break the mold, who will conceive of a life lived outside the cubicle walls, of an economic force that comes from our own fire, our own engine, and of an ethical and metaphysical determination, freedom, and self-actualization that comes from breaking with the world as most people describe it to us – from the stories of a people not our own – like Abraham coming out of Ur. And if we are that arrogant, why not a little more? Why take one self-righteous step forward and not be willing to take another? Why shout out freedom and tremble at pulling free of the chains? Let the silent stay in Egypt. Those of us who find in ourselves a voice that dares to say Pharoah doesn’t own us, to the wilderness! I don’t see the lightbulb with my physical eyes, ladies and gentleman. I’m not a liar. But I see it, there, just where I’m going. I see it with inner eyes, and know with a kind of stretching of the imagination and creativity and desire that it’s real and that, if I press on, I will have it in my head and and in my hands and it will come out of my mouth. You can say it’s wish fulfillment but, actually, what’s wrong with wish fulfillment? I intend, I plan on fulfilling my wishes. That’s what I’m in this for.
I’m not a believer, as you skeptics are likely to label me. I’m more arrogant than that, remember? I have certitude. Obstinate surety, indifferent certainty – counterintuitive, unprecedented vision of something that doesn’t yet exist, and a theory that can’t be demonstrated to the minimal satisfaction of any empirical analysis. I have what some of you would call faith – though those of you that know me know that I don’t do anything on faith, and have no faith – but I’m not afraid to accept the analogy. For those of you who, like me, tend to shy from anything the world calls faith, I’ll give you an insight. It’s not faith at all. I know something the skeptics and critics don’t, and it’s not contact with the spirit world or a high tech ouiji board – I leave that to the economic analysts of our time. No, the thing that I know that none of the skeptics know, is myself. I know who I am. I have known for a while how I operate, and how I’m put together – how I work. Knowing how things work, that’s a kind of special interest for some of us, whether it’s for tinkering or just academic interest. I know how I work, and what I’m made of. I’ve taken it apart. And because of that, I’m not basing any of this on faith – I’m basing it on a kind of vocational insider trading, where the key component of the market is self-knowledge and self-determination. I’m betting that some of you who read this have access to the same inside knowlege and, while I don’t intend to stick around in one place to find out, it’s my sincere hope you will make use of it and corner the market on amazing by continuing to take the first steps toward awesome. I will see you, quite gladly, on the other side. I’ll see you in the promised land.