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Posts Tagged “Susan Sontag”

Belgian painter Erik Pevernagie says, “In a lifeworld, where we can be what we are, and not what people expect us to be, we can escape a blank and void existence, which is linked to wrecking ennui.”

I don’t think I’ve been bored a single day since I embraced entrepreneurship in 1996. Not a day. Not an hour.

What is boredom? Bertrand Russell defines boredom as “…essentially a thwarted desire for events, not necessarily pleasant ones, but just occurrences such as will enable the victim of ennui to know one day from another.”

One of the great non-monetary rewards of entrepreneurship is the frisson it brings to each day. There is an elan vital that suffuses every breath of the entrepreneur’s day, a personalization and weight that comes with being radically responsible for your own life and for the life of the corporate entity you animate. What you do, what you decide, really counts.

I was reminded of this reading an article in Business Week five years ago. The article was entitled, “28: Grateful to be Employed, Bored Half to Death” (Mike Dorning, 6/20-6/26, 2011). It talked about the great sense of “stuckness” endemic in the millenial corporate workforce.

“From the factory floor to the boardroom, few Americans these days are willing to tell the boss shove it. Many of those who have weathered the recession with their jobs intact are now sheltering in place, either fearful of risking a change or simply lacking the opportunity. Since January 2009, an average 1 million fewer Americans per month have quit their jobs than in previous years. … That adds up to 28 million Americans stuck in jobs they would have left in ordinary times.”

I think the stagnancy and tightness of the job market since 2008 could have long-term consequences for the vocational health, esprit de corps, and creativity of traditional corporate employees, where the primary goal becomes to survive at all costs and hold tight onto what is at least a stable status quo rather than step into uncertainty, even if that uncertainty offers a potential improvement in pay or career advancement or spiritual existence. It creates timidity and boredom.

Stan Greenberg, a former pollster for Bill Clinton, notes people’s hesitancy to make any moves in the current economy, whether into a new life in a new place, or even to escape from a tyrannical boss. He says, “You’ve got 28 million people whose aspirations are being contained.”

A great, if unquantifiable, benefit of entrepreneurship is the gift of freedom. Freedom to be yourself, freedom to tell the truth, freedom to grow, freedom to laugh, freedom not to be cowed or compromised, freedom to march to the beat of your own drummer. And freedom to not be bored. The price of admission to this entrepreneurial adventure is courage and risk. Even if the entrepreneur fails, the growth of innate stature, earned gravitas, personal dignity, and moral centeredness remains. It is well worth it, whether a business succeeds or fails. And one is guaranteed never, ever to be bored.

The late Susan Sontag says, “The life of the creative man is led, directed, and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.”

Thank you, Susan.

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Susan_SontagThe American critic and essayist Susan Sontag once wrote, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”

I dislike traveling on business. Increasingly so since I reached the antediluvian age of 60. (Can I really be that old? Why do I still relate to myself as a teenager?)

Nevertheless, there are some wonderful rewards to travel that don’t come immediately to mind when thinking of the normative business day on the road. One of these is the opportunity to meet new and startling people who can broaden your outlook on life and educate you in unexpected ways. I have actually found this joy to be diminishing as people increasingly bury their heads in the virtual world of their omnipresent contraptions. (Note my Inc. column of last year, “The Zombiefication of Business Travelers”)

But I was reminded of the sweet illumination that is available to the quotidian, workaday business traveler (with just a little planning) when I was in Houston, Texas a couple of weeks ago. I had two hours between appointments and my last meeting was right off the campus of the University of St. Thomas in downtown Houston, where the Rothko Chapel is located. So I grabbed the opportunity to spend over an hour in this remarkable place–a unique artistic and religious haven I had long wanted to see.

For those who have never heard of the Rothko Chapel, it is the final major work of expressionist painter Mark Rothko (before his suicide in 1970) and consists of 14 huge black (with subtle color hues) paintings. These works are displayed in an octagon shaped brick building, also designed by Rothko, in collaboration with Phillip Johnson, Howard Barnstone, and Eugene Aubry, to create a cohesive artistic and spiritual experience.

ottavoIt just knocked me out with its affect. It was enormously energizing and thought-provoking. Yet I probably would not have gone to the Rothko Chapel, despite my interest, save for the circumstance of a convenient client meeting nearby.

Folksinger Harry Chapin recorded a lovely song in 1972 titled “Greyhound.” It’s about a man ruminating on his life and on traveling and it concludes with this line: “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there, that’s good.” So even with business travel.

I don’t know about you, but traveling sometimes can bring out an almost overpowering neediness in me. If you are like me on the road, you are often hungry, lonely, and tired. It’s so easy to want to fill an aching void with escapisms like excessive eating, alcohol, or thoughts of meaningless sex. At the end of a brutal, emotionally and physically draining day, a merciful oblivion may seem compelling. Yet such things also empty one of meaning and focus by proffering an ersatz grace, which in reality offers a vitiation of your true and soulful center. It’s just easy to say fuck it and fall into the arms of a seemingly blissful respite, which is in reality an existential dulling.

It can seem like just another chore to prioritize a renewing mindfulness into our travel day. But experiencing the multifaria of art, nature, music, theater, etc. in their many regional incarnations (like the Rothko Chapel) is a true grace that that can be a special gift to the traveling entrepreneur, at least with a little preliminary planning and a good GPS.

Healthy entrepreneurship is a vocation. At its best it is a pathway to a good and meaningful life in equal proportion to its ability to, hopefully, create a living in the world. It should be no less a noble spiritual vocation than the calling of a priest or social worker.

Henry_Miller_1940The geographical accidents and cultural opportunities of our sometimes peripatetic business process can facilitate growth and new thinking, if it is baked into our travel planning. Mindful travel locations are infinite, be they art museums, symphonies, historical battlefields, theaters, or even baseball parks. (I’ve always wanted to see Camden Yards in Baltimore and Wrigley Field in Chicago.) They can be the Grand Ole Opry or the St. Louis Zoo or the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Each new landing-place has the possibility to be an oasis of growth, insight, knowledge, and new thinking.

Novelist Henry Miller once wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Thank you, Henry.

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I don’t think I’ve been bored a single day since I started my firm in 1996.  Not a day.  Not an hour.

One of the great non-monetary rewards of entrepreneurship is the frisson it brings to each day.  There is an elan vital that suffuses every breath of the entrepreneur’s day, a personalization and weight that comes with being radically responsible for your own life and for the life of the corporate entity you animate.  What you do, what you decide, really counts.

I was reminded of this reading an article in Business Week last month.  The article was entitled, “28:  Grateful to be Employed, Bored Half to Death” (Mike Dorning, 6/20-6/26, 2011).  It talks about the great sense of “stuckness” endemic in the young corporate workforce.

“From the factory floor to the boardroom, few Americans these days are willing to tell the boss shove it.  Many of those who have weathered the recession with their jobs intact are now sheltering in place, either fearful of risking a change or simply lacking the opportunity.  Since January 2009, an average 1 million fewer Americans per month have quit their jobs than in previous years. Through April, the most recent data available, that adds up to 28 million Americans stuck in jobs they would have left in ordinary times.”

I think the stagnancy and tightness of the job market since 2008 could have long-term consequences for the vocational health, esprit de corps, and creativity of traditional corporate employees, where the primary goal becomes to survive at all costs and hold tight onto what is at least a stable status quo rather than step into uncertainty, even if that uncertainty offers a potential improvement in pay or career advancement.  It creates timidity and boredom.

Stan Greenberg, a former pollster for Bill Clinton, notes people’s hesitancy to make any moves in the current economy, whether into a new life in a new place, or even to escape from a tyrannical boss.  He says, “You’ve got 28 million people whose aspirations are being contained.”

A great, if unquantifiable, benefit of entrepreneurship is the gift of freedom. Freedom to be yourself, freedom to tell the truth, freedom to grow, freedom to laugh, freedom not to be cowed or compromised, freedom to march to the beat of your own drummer.  And freedom from boredom. The price of admission to this entrepreneurial reality is courage and risk.  Even if the entrepreneur fails, the growth of innate stature, earned gravitas, personal dignity, and moral centeredness remains.  It is well worth it, whether a business succeeds or fails.  And one is guaranteed never, ever to be bored.

The late Susan Sontag says, “The life of the creative man is lead, directed, and controlled by boredom.  Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.”

Thank you, Susan.

 

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