In your mind, you may be living a certain age, but in community, you are forced to live in your physical age. In society, we not only live in our physical age, but also in different roles at different stages of life. You are not an “adult” yet when you are a “student”, expected to respect the “teacher”. In your first job, you learn to play the role of the “employee”, who’s a “team player” and to respect the “boss”. On the personal front, you start as a “son/daughter”, graduate to later roles of “boyfriend/girlfriend” and “husband/wife”.
Society is structured around roles, as if it were a taxonomy classifying individuals. There are a few people who don’t fit comfortably into these role slots. They struggle with role-playing of any kind and choose instead to live their lives just as they are, what they think, and what they wish. It takes gargantuan effort. It often means being obsessed with a lifelong goal, an ideology, or a dream towards which no obstacle seems insurmountable. These people turn out to be the ones we watch movies about or read about in history books. Their achievement is stupendous, glorified, and history judges them as pillars who catapulted society ahead in time. The Abraham Lincolns and Martin Luther Kings, the Stephen Hawkings and John Nashes.
Achievement of any significance seems to require superhuman effort that involves the refusal to play roles and the courage to withstand attacks and confrontations from the community. Why have we, as humans, created such an almost insurmountable barrier in the way of significant, meaningful achievement?
What about those who’re not heroic in any way, but are just struggling in their refusal to play roles while living within the community? They are in the millions but nobody talks about them, nobody writes books or makes movies about them. They often have a dream, they often have disruptive ideas that can change human society forever. They face seemingly insurmountable challenges, but lack the heroic strength to surmount them. They pay a heavy price for the disparity between what society expects of them and what they themselves wish to create.
They dance to the rhythm of a different beat, one that society isn’t able to hear yet. They imagine possibilities the community has not thought about yet. Their ideas are ahead of society, and they are mostly alone facing rejection because of not successfully playing the roles society expects of them. They are often unsuccessful students or failed husbands, women who don’t want to be mothers or professionals who don’t want to be employees. They are alone, just themselves. With an idea.
They are the startup entrepreneurs of today.
Only a very select few of them go on to make million dollar deals and come into the spotlight. Society rewards them suitably in several ways. The majority of them suffer their pain silently, struggle in invisibility, cling to anything that reinforces their belief in themselves, and mostly live in obscurity. The difference between the chosen few and the majority is not really as great as society seems to think.
This post is to salute the silent majority. As we begin 2014, I urge readers of my blog to join me to be more empathetic to startup entrepreneurs, attempt to listen to the beat they dance to, expand our vision to perceive their dream. Here’s wishing a great new year to all startup entrepreneurs!