Looking Out to 2017
I usually measure my life not in terms of what I have, but what I have learned. This approach works for me, particularly as I have very little except a pile of books, but there is one problem with this approach: It does not necessarily tell me whether I am moving forward.
Learning more should be good, but then one can argue that one can not live without learning, and therefore, learning, by itself, is not a benchmark of progress. Put another way, the question to ask is not whether I have learnt new things, but whether I learnt enough. This is indeed a more difficult question to answer.
Take, for example, the year of 2016. Even when I struggled in the past, I would usually feel good about doing better year-on-year. But, in comparison, I am approaching the end of 2016 rather bleakly. The year itself has been one of waiting. Last Christmas, I was hoping for some dramatic change, which failed to materialise. And even while I gave up on the plans I made, I was not able to develop something else immediately, and instead, meandered around in my comfort zone and in conversations which gave me hope but not much else. So, expectedly, at the end of the year, I am at the throes of this mini despair!
So, I did what I preach not to do. I indulged in comfort zone thinking, I failed to take the leap and to act and to change my life when it needed to. And, indeed, I did the other things that I should not have, like blaming my earlier failed experimentation for my risk aversion and the steady stream of bad geopolitical news for me being on the defensive. What I did not do, and the point I want to make here, is to step back and reflect, and come up with a better plan for 2017.
Despite my despairing mood, however, it would be wrong to write off 2016. On a better day, I would have labelled this an year of experimentation, a time of germinating ideas and reimagining who I am. And, to be sure, I have had quite a few discoveries along the way, and started a few things that may, in time, change my life.
Take, for example, this whole belated realisation that while I live a creative life in general, life of an entrepreneur is not for me. This should have been obvious to other, smarter, souls a long time ago, but it became belatedly to me. I was perhaps blinded by the rhetoric of entrepreneurial life, that of ideas, of world-changing ambitions, but missed one essential ingredient that makes an entrepreneur - the love of money! In fact, entrepreneurship is first and foremost about love of money than about ideas and ambitions to change the world. Coming from where I came from, the new Asia, the two somewhat looked the same, but they are not. If there is a way to make money without changing the world, and even worsening it perhaps, the entrepreneur would, and should, do it; and, indeed, there are other ways of living a life of ideas, and changing the world, without being an entrepreneur.
I did have a single deja vu moment in 2016, quite recently, when all this became clear. This was about an attractive offer, which I wrote earlier about (cryptically, as I would usually do in this blog), to run something which was traditional. It was, in fact, an easy play, and that excited the investors. While I was looking at the same asset, I was looking at a different thing - to leverage the asset to build a potentially new kind of education - and they were quick to point to the flaws of my ways. There was a clear and present opportunity, unexciting except the prospect of making money, that I was missing. I was indeed unexcited - did I want to go back to marketing a feel-good education - despite the money on the table. And, this, failure to be opportunistic, failing to be excited by money alone, disqualify me as an entrepreneur.
However, this realisation also spawns an existential crisis of sorts. If I am not an entrepreneur, what am I supposed to be? I lived my life in a series of experiments, and my CV is surely enough to make the Corporate types look the other way. There is very little hope that I shall ever fit into a 'Person Specification'. For all the talk in the world for T-skills and innovation, the HR departments have not been set up to find people who have, for all their lives, wanted not to be boxed. And, even if one is kind enough to view my experiments and explorations, as they really were, as a series of compromises, they would quickly spot that I have failed to compromise into anything in particular.
A kinder view of my 2016, which I hope to be able to afford with a long view, a few years hence, would perhaps mark not just the end of my search for an entrepreneurial bliss, but the beginnings of an experiment that leads to a new professional identity. Notwithstanding the depairing tone at the beginning of this post, I have made a number of new starts, distinctly outside my comfort zone. For once, I have started saying no to investors and opportunities, and rather, resumed my commitment, which once was central, to one big goal in life, something that is exciting enough to keep me focused, but big enough not to ever have been fully achieved in a lifetime. This has also made me think about my writing and research more seriously and more committedly (strange though that this has reduced the frequency of my blogging) and I have taken the leap of going back to school to study something I wanted to study all my life. And, I have taken time to live within my stories, making them come true even if for a short while, reaching deep in search of that creative departure that may truly change my life.
So, back to the current moment and habitual blogging, one good thing perhaps is that I am dreaming better for 2017 than I ever did for any of the previous years. My projects are now bolder, and my approach more courageous, not at the mercy of men with money but dedicated to truer departures. I may indeed start new enterprises, but will now do so without being an entrepreneur; I shall write without trying to sell my ideas; and, I shall go through 2017 without counting my successes or failures, but in commitment to one final, unwavering, goal.