I went to the opening of a marvelous business movie this weekend. It’s called The Company Men. Go see it.
The film is filled with uniformly wonderful acting by the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck, Craig T. Nelson, Kevin Costner, Chris Cooper and Maria Bello, among others. As an old failed actor, as well as an entrepreneur, I was knocked out by such a generous and artistic ensemble effort. The movie made me feel particularly grateful for the gift entrepreneurship has bestowed on me.
To describe it briefly, The Company Men is a sad and somber film that poignantly dramatizes the human costs of corporate downsizing and white-collar redundancy in our current fragile economy. It is a recounting of how the lives of three seemingly impregnable and successful company executives are jolted by the unexpected elimination of their jobs. It communicates eloquently the ashen hollowness and stomach wrenching sadness of a sudden overturning of life-long assumptions and the tragic repercussions that result.
But my personal reaction to this film was overwhelmingly one of deep thankfulness that the accidents of my life have made me a small business owner. With all the struggles most of us have encountered just surviving in the last couple of years, there is a great gift that is bestowed by entrepreneurship. And that gift is freedom. That gift is the unique dignity offered by personally creating something from nothing.
It’s a changing world. The dependable sinecures of corporate employment are disappearing. The gold watch corporate culture is no more, often replaced by a cold, perhaps corrupt, Kafkaesque bottom-line dystopia. As challenging as it is to awake each day to once again have to slay the small business dragons of ROI, of sailing the business seas alone, or of the never absent risk of bankruptcy, dealing with employees, the government, and the IRS–entrepreneurship is a spiritual and existential gift.
(This was brought home to me very personally in the last two years as I’ve had to helplessly watch my own wife Patti, a pre-motherhood successful corporate executive, go through the harrowing and humbling process of trying to reenter the corporate job market. Though her process finally has proved fruitful, the toll on family, relationships and self-esteem has been heavy indeed. Not unlike the protagonists of The Company Men.)
The most heroic figure in this small film epic of corporate callousness is the character played by Kevin Costner. Costner’s character owns a small construction firm. He’s an entrepreneur. He struggles. Yet he is free in a way none of his big shot corporate friends will ever be. He is a man of faith and innercenteredness (without the fatuous sentimentality of his earlier character in the movie Field of Dreams.)
Albert Einstein said, “Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.” (Out of My Later Years-1950) This is the special gift that entrepreneurship gives to its committed practitioners.
Thank you, Albert.