Very often these days, I read about young people who have come up with a great idea and then turned it into a business. These people then become millionaires or billionaires in what appears to be a very short period of time.
This causes me some jealousy of course – the financial stability of millions or billions of GBP or USD is something that many people desire – the jealousy also comes from my own resentment from the fact that I haven’t achieved the same success, and that I am not in their position. So what would I have to do to be in their position?
Are these individuals special?
I think, from what I’ve read and heard, that because of our nature as individuals, that we all perceive that we are the only ones who think and feel the way that we do. Many of us feel that we have a fate, a pre-destined path that we will follow regardless of what we ourselves plan to do; and that we are somehow special and destined to leave our mark on the world in some way. This is a kind of solipsism; we walk around in the universe of our own minds, in a bubble.
Even though we walk around inside of our bubbles though, we each compare ourselves to other people in order to measure how much we conform and how much we differentiate, how successful we are and how much we still need to achieve to meet our personal objectives and goals.
So when I read about these other people who have achieved great things, I naturally have questions. What about me? Am I special? Do I have a destiny? Can I do great things? Do I matter? Will I matter? Will I leave my mark on the world, or have I done enough to achieve that already?
I think that the reason why I, and so many others imagine that we have a destiny, and that we are important or destined to be so comes from three main factors.
The first factor is our perception of ourselves as individuals. As individuals, we are as compelled as amoeba to survive, we want to increase our chances of surviving and passing on something of ourselves (generally our genes) by way of securing our immortality (or the immortality of our genetic selves). It is for this reason that we seek out mates, and why male humans (along with males of many other species) engage in such activities as seeking out resources, preening and generally demonstrating our suitability for the females so that they choose to breed with us. It is our need to breed, I propose, that is behind our feeling that we are important and that we need to leave something of ourselves behind (preferably children plus legacy, if not then children, if not then legacy); it’s part of our natural drive to perpetuate our genetic selves. How special are we? We can define this by how we feel, what others tell us, what we perceive and what we believe. We might decide how special we are based on our usefulness; every talent, ability or strength can be useful to others, no matter how useful it is to us as individuals, no matter how tangible or intangible, no matter how relevant it is at any given time to any given situation or set of circumstances.
The second factor is our perception of societal norms. What is everybody else doing? Despite our proclivity for being unique individuals and being in our own bubbles, floating within our own perceptions of things, we are always within groups of like-minded individuals; yes we are unique, but we want to have similarities with others in order to be able to conform and to have others validate our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Why do we need to conform? Why do we need validation from our peers? We need to conform and be validated so that groups will accept us. Why do we need to be accepted by groups? Because there is strength and breeding opportunity in groups. Groups have a higher chance of locating and making use of resources and solving problems (two heads are better than one). Group members can warn of approaching predators, and if you are in a group then maybe predators will eat one of the others and not you; and groups keep each other safe from other groups which might resent themselves (and therefore your group) if they don’t have the resources and breeding opportunities that your groups has.
The third factor is our perception of precedent, and therefore probability; destiny, or fate, is our way of telling ourselves that things will happen in a given way. Why do we tell ourselves this? That depends on the situation, we might give ourselves a negative destiny if we are feeling pessimistic or a bright future if we are feeling optimistic. We might tell ourselves that our feelings of individual importance are proof of our optimism, or we might call those feelings self-delusion because our destiny is really to be unimportant and just to be born and die without leaving any mark on the world.
So now we come back to how special we are, and how special other people are, and how rich and talented they are, and…you and me.
Young people who come up with successful business ideas have a number of things in common.
- Yes they are intelligent, intelligent enough to come up with those ideas in the first place; however they needn’t be polymaths with eidetic memories
- Their ideas are often based on observing that there is a need for a product or service (having needed that thing or encountering others who needed that thing, or observing patterns in consumer behaviour which led them to believe that people would probably want that thing); having said this, their ideas can stem from how they feel about a given issue faced by society or societal groups
- They seem to feel so passionate about their idea, it seizes them so totally, that they are driven to make it a reality by any means at their disposal, no matter what that takes; there are no insurmountable obstacles and all challenges are opportunities in disguise
- They focus on making a business to make their idea a reality and infect others with their passion, so that family, friends, acquaintances, consumers and other stakeholders and investors buy in and help to make it happen for them
Do you see the fundamental point here? Yes these people are millionaires, billionaires, but they don’t set out to make that kind of money, and they don’t measure their success on those terms (at least, not at first). Because they are focussing on making their idea a reality, they are not focussing on money; money is merely a pleasant side effect.
What of those people who have natural abilities, and those who seem to be really good at cool or useful things? What about those who are good at lots of things? Everybody is naturally inclined to be good at something, even if it takes longer for people to find out what they’re naturally good at, and some may find it easier than others to reach a given level of what is interpreted as success. In addition, some people might find that they’re good at something and enjoy doing it, and others find that they’re good at something and yet not enjoy doing it; lots of people enjoy doing things that they aren’t particularly good at, and this makes them happy.
So what is success? When can you and I be content? Should we be content, or strive to achieve more? One might be said to be successful when one has achieved the realisation of their objectives or goals, no matter how fundamental or ambitious. Again, one might be said to be successful when one is happy and content with oneself; for, how can a person be happy if they are rich but unhappy or discontented?
I think therefore that, as much as many of us might want the proverbial eureka moment and to be overnight millionaires and resent ourselves for not having achieved this, we might want to consider what we would do if we were millionaires, and why. What would you do if you were a millionaire, or a billionaire? After you’ve bought the houses, boats, cars, aircraft, clothes, accessories, gadgets, given money to friends and family, given money to charities, travelled all over the world, met your soul-mate (or a gold-digger), had kids, got pets, bought them everything and taken them everywhere, raised them etc…what then?
If I were to list all of the things that I want to do, which I want to achieve, and which I would do if I had the financial security, then you would see that a good number of them are achievable without being a millionaire or billionaire. I for one, would be happy to achieve those things and get the lifestyle that I want whether I won the lottery or not, whether I discovered a talent or opportunity and made lots of money that way or not. The lifestyle I want certainly doesn’t need millions or billions to fund; all I need is to find somewhere in the world I can find affordable housing and access to paid work at a salary that would afford me a good life, and then have the ability to travel to visit my family in my country of origin. We are living in a global society after all.
Perhaps success, and destiny, is just a matter of perspective.