When I posted last Fridayâ€™s blogpost, making the point that â€œNo-one will look after you , you have to manage your career yourself,â€ my wife reacted by saying â€œWow, David, thatâ€™s tough! You usually write upbeat, inspirational material. Whatâ€™s going on?â€
Kathy is right that there was a different tone to last weekâ€™s post, but Iâ€™d like to try and reconcile what I said then with the (more inspirational?) things I have previously advocated in my books and articles.
The key message is that the willingness to take responsibility for what happens to you, and to make things happen, is the beginning not only of healthy thinking and exciting productive careers, but also of a life of integrity, standards and relationships. These things, I believe, are connected.
Ayn Rand was (and remains) a major influence on my thinking, although Iâ€™m not sure she would recognize and endorse even a small fraction of my current thoughts and writings.
For those who need an introduction, Ayn Rand was an author who wrote â€œThe Fountainheadâ€ and â€œAtlas Shrugged,â€ two novels that communicate her philosophy of â€œenlightened self-interest.â€ She also wrote non-fiction books about her philosophy — objectivism — but itâ€™s the novels that have had the biggest impact. I first read her books when I was 17 (and met her briefly when I was 18.)
It would be hard to summarize an entire philosophy in a few words, but one way might be to say that she thought that each person should stand on their own two feet.
This doesnâ€™t mean you never help others, nor accept help from others — just that you should never EXPECT it as a matter of rights or obligations. Others may choose to help you, and you may choose to help others — but the key, is that itâ€™s a matter of choice. In a truly free society, nobody has a â€œclaimâ€ on your efforts, nor the â€œobligationâ€ to help you — unless they choose to.
When taken up to the societal level, this leads to a political philosophy of â€œlibertarianism,â€ but I donâ€™t want to discuss politics or political philosophy here. This is a blog about business, professional life and professional services.
Contrary to what many people think at first, â€œno-one owes you and you donâ€™t owe anyoneâ€ is NOT a pessimistic message of dog-eat-dog, where weâ€™re all against each other. Itâ€™s a point of view that says â€œNot much can be done unless I get people to help me, but I have no CLAIM on their help, so I have to learn how to make them WANT to give it freely.â€
If you start from the assumption (or the real-world observation) that everybody else is a free agent, you canâ€™t expect others to give you what you want unless you deal with them in ways that make them WANT to give it to you.
That means the only way to really succeed in a society of free people is to be a person of integrity, honor, skilled at earning relationships and trust — to be someone others want to work with.
If no-one OWES you anything as a matter of right, then you need to work at making them want to give you things — and that means giving them what THEY want, in fair, enlightened exchange. And that means being consistent, dependable, intimate and not too immediately self-oriented: All the things that make up the trust equation in THE TRUSTED ADVISOR.
This is meant to be GOOD news, not sad news. If the negative aspect is that you canâ€™t rely on any one else to clear the path for you, the optimistic, positive, healthy thing to say â€œIâ€™m in charge of me — I can make things happen for myself if I accept the responsibility to do so.â€
As Ayn Rand would point out, thereâ€™s great liberating power in that way of thinking (especially in contrast to an opposite which begins by saying â€œI canâ€™t achieve things because other people donâ€™t give me chances.â€) People who think the world (or their firm) â€œshouldâ€ be looking after them will probably fail to develop important attitudes and skills, as they wait for others to act. As Ed Kless wrote on my blogpost: â€œWhen are we going to recognize that Ayn Rand was right in a lot of ways — â€˜The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.â€™
As I see it, thereâ€™s nothing in the â€œTake responsibility for yourself and expect that of othersâ€ that prevents you from being a generous person — with those you choose to be generous with.
So thatâ€™s my argument. Itâ€™s the very fact that you ARE on your own that leads to the conclusion that you need to be an honorable, caring, high integrity, relationship-building person. Being generous, kind, trustworthy, attentive to others and a person of high integrity is not, I believe, inconsistent with the philosophy (and the REALITY) that you must take ownership of what happens to you, but a logical consequence of it.
But maybe, in the eyes of some readers, Iâ€™m trying to have it both ways. I start from the proposition that I donâ€™t OWE anybody anything (and they donâ€™t OWE me anything) and end up saying that FOR THAT VERY REASON those who will succeed are those who take the initiative to build bonds of relationships with the bosses, clients and employees that you CHOOSE to have relationships with.
- Does anyone out there have a different view of all this?
- Are there others out there who were influenced by Ayn Rand and have struggled to live by her principles (pure or modified) in their daily lives?
- Or those who have rejected her philosophies as a guide to personal and business life?
- Do you agree that Ayn Randâ€™s core philosophy is not only consistent with idealistic, high-standards behavior, but can be (is?) the cause of it?