Leef niet andermans leven, zegt ondernemer-filosoof Eric Bartels. Om echt succes te hebben moeten personen en ondernemingen hun eigen verhaal leven. Dat begint met niet luisteren naar de klant.
In Western societies individuals are increasingly searching for fulfillment, happiness and meaning in their lives. In my personal life, people who know what I do for a living also tend to approach me for the same reason. There is a fascinating common theme in their personal biographies. They all seem to be living someone else’s story.
We are each born in a specific context. Our fathers and mothers raise us, our friends and family influence us and the culture we live in determines how we live. From day one, other people tell us what to do and, more importantly, what to be. Parents, friends, lovers and societies all project their own stories onto us. As a result, we slowly start to become reflections of others. We start to become what others want us to be. Or rather, what we think others want us to be.
Every organism, whether human being, animal, plant or organization, has an inner story to actualize. What the famous psychologist Dr Abraham Maslow calls ‘self-actualization’ is, in fact, the actualization of your own inner story. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle calls this inner story the ‘inner demon’, from the ancient Greek word ‘demon’, which represented one’s divine nature. According to Aristotle, God is neither an old man with a beard nor an intelligent designer, but a state of perfect action. By this definition, someone who actualizes the self is someone who actualizes their own inner story: someone who lives his or her own story and not someone else’s.
People who live their own stories are people who live lives full of direction, meaning, fulfillment and happiness. They live their lives in harmony with their inner demon, their inner genius, their inner spirit. Or, to use Buddha’s words: they have found what they should do and they are doing it.
Are these people always happy? No, of course not. Don’t believe all these self-help authors and coaches with books and brochures that promise you everlasting happiness and bliss. They are lying, selling you hot air. Don’t let them Tony Robbins you.
This brings to mind a very nice story about the Buddha. One day, as the Buddha and his monks came into a small village near the Nepal border, a farmer ran towards the Buddha and threw himself at his feet. The Buddha helped the man to his feet again and asked, “What can I do for you?” The farmer looked the Buddha in the eye with great admiration and said: “Buddha, everyone knows you are a holy man, a master, a divine creature.” The Buddha interrupted the man: “My friend, I am none of these things, at least no more than you are. But please go on!” The farmer looked puzzled, but continued: “Buddha I am sure you can help me with my problems. I have 87 problems and I want to get rid of them all! Please help me get rid of them!” The Buddha looked him straight in the eye and said: “Sorry friend, I cannot help you there.”’ The farmer looked bewildered. “But, but, but - you are the Buddha, the enlightened one!” “Yes, that is true,” said the Buddha, “but I still can’t help you with your 87 problems.”
Now the farmer grew irritated. But before he could say anything, the Buddha said: “But I can help you with you 88th problem!” “My 88th problem? I don’t have an 88th problem!” “Yes, you do”, said the Buddha, “your 88th problem is that you do not accept the fact that you will always have 87 problems, very much like any other human being.”
What the Buddha meant was that problems are unavoidable. The real question is how to deal with them. Do they drag you down, or can you detach yourself enough from your problems that they don’t distract you, hurt you or disturb your neurological state? The Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl, who was Jewish, was captured and shipped to the German concentration camp Auschwitz. He later wrote a book about the experience entitled Man’s Search for Meaning in which he described how the Nazis attempted to de-humanize their prisoners by destroying their dignity. But the one thing the Nazis could not touch was the way people dealt with their circumstances. It is this freedom that the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre wrote about: the freedom to choose how you deal with whatever life throws at you. (Zie video van Frankl hieronder)
Most self-help books and coaches are rooted in the traditional capitalist assertion that anything is possible and that people can create all their own circumstances. This is typical industrial-age thinking: we can mold, make and break anything we want. It is The Secret (another famous self-help book and film); the message that you need only start thinking about 100 million dollars and the universe will give it to you. And should the money fail to flow in, then you and only you are to blame. Self-help gurus create their own markets. You buy a book, read it, try it, and if it doesn’t work then you feel bad because, according to them, it’s your own fault. So you buy another one, and another. That is the way to create a multi-billion dollar industry!
John Lennon’s famous lyric “life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans” is much closer to the truth than positivity guru Tony Robbins’ statement that we can bend the universe and create anything we desire. Does that mean we are slaves of circumstances? No! On the contrary. First, we have the freedom to choose how to deal with our circumstances, just as Victor Frankl did in Auschwitz. And secondly, very importantly, we can connect to our inner genius, our inner story.
Typical industrial and dualist thinking is that a rational thinker can make or break anything he wants to. We are the industrialists who can bend, mold and create nature and our personal circumstances to our own benefit. This is a conditioning that we acquired as a result of the Western Enlightenment, which also brought us the industrial age and capitalist societies. But it is only a cultural conditioning, a specific mode of perception. And it is less and less relevant to our lives today. We are now moving into a new arena in which a new mode of perception is required. A non-dualistic mode of perception. System thinking. Holism.
We must not try to mold reality with our cognitive left-brain thinking we can be anything we want, but look inside and find our natural inner genius, our natural inner story. Even as we do that our problems will continue to come and go; we will have worries and setbacks; we will occasionally feel disappointment, pain and sorrow. But at least we will be living our own story and not someone else’s. And at least we will have the freedom to decide how to deal with that disappointment, sorrow and pain.
When people ask me for help, I always ask them: “Do you think you live your own life, your own story?” And they always look puzzled at this. But somewhere deep in their eyes I see that they know what I mean. Helping people find their own stories is very rewarding and very fulfilling. I see people change when they find it and start living it. They still experience setbacks, pain, sorrow and problems, but it is much easier for them to cope when they feel connected to their inner genius. To their own inner story.
For human organizations like companies and institutions, the same holds true. In the old (but still extant) industrial-age mode of perception and thinking, companies look outside themselves and ask their customers what to be. The prevailing thought is that a company is no more than a reflection of the needs of others. This is the same way that individual people organize their lives around what they think others expect from them.
I think it is fair to say that the majority of people and companies in industrialized capitalist societies are living someone else’s story. People do it because they want to live up to the expectations of others as well as the mores and needs of society. And companies do it because they believe that a company is an automaton which exists only to fulfill the needs of customers, rather than a living organism with its own inner story.
Master organizations like Apple Inc have actualized their inner genius and do live their own story. And because they do so, customers feel attracted to the Apple proposition. Apple has never asked customers what it should be. It just knows. And because it knows, it is authentic and real. This is a whole new way of thinking and being. It is the way of thinking and being that will grow rapidly in the coming years.
?Eric Bartels and his company The Plan Principle are helping people and companies find, activate and live their inner story.
Viktor Frankl: Why to believe in others