“There are some rules I’m perfectly willing to obey,” explains Howard Roark, the protagonist of Ayn Rand’s 1943 best seller, The Fountainhead. “I’m willing to wear the kind of clothes everybody wears, to eat the same food and use the same subways. But there are some things which I can’t do their way.”
Howard Roark is nominally an architect. But his unwillingness to “think the way of company men” is what makes him the quintessential entrepreneur. It’s his entrepreneurial nature that makes him a beacon for those of us who have experienced the soul-numbing conformity of a corporate job - and given us the courage to strike out as an entrepreneur.
Have you ever experienced a toxic work environment where creativity takes a backseat to conformity and productive achievement is trumped by political ploys? Once I worked for a popular New York hotel during a time of reorganization. I had a dual reporting line to two executives -- call them Pointy Boss and Round Boss. Pointy Boss told me to “buy this software.” A few days later, Round Boss told me to “cancel this software subscription.” Basically I was set up to fail. Pointy and Round were engaged in an office power struggle -- neither were focused on what my skills were or how to best use them to improve the company’s earnings.
By contrast, entrepreneurship is about that sensible, pointed focus that gets things done. It’s about resourcefulness and ingenuity, industry and efficiency. It’s also about integrity.
For me, The Fountainhead helped me realize my true spirit as an entrepreneur. My “aha” moment came in one of the most poignant scenes, when Howard Roark reflects, with compassion and empathy, on the plight of his friend, the shunned, modern sculptor Steven Mallory who suffers because “he can’t do the work he wants to do.”
When I first read that line, the words jumped off the page and smacked me across the face.
“That’s it! That’s exactly how I feel!” I thought to myself.
“What I’m creating is like a fire shut up in my bones.” Not being allowed to get this thing inside of me out to the world causes an ache that the average corporate job can’t alleviate.
There’s a reason for that ache. “The basic need of the creator is independence,” Roark said. “The creator served nothing and no one. He lived for himself.” Now, no creator creates in a pure vacuum — and for the entrepreneur, without a customer or audience, you can’t get very far.
But the difference between the entrepreneur and the ordinary worker is that the former desperately yearns to be the majority shareholder of his productive achievement.
Let me put it this way. One of the things I’ve always hated about working at a regular job is the fact that I’m making someone else rich. Think about it. You slave away, 8, 9, 10 hours or more, every day, at a job which probably doesn’t fulfill you — and you do all that to make someone else rich?! And in today’s world, where 50% of all jobs are contract, temp or permalance, company execs are giving less and less and expecting more and more.
I want to be clear here: it’s not only about the money or the benefits. It’s fundamentally about self-esteem. I’ll tell you the truth: I would rather work 80 hours a week making $40,000 a year doing something that’s mine than work 40 hours a week making $80,000 a year doing something that’s someone else’s.
Because nothing brings a creator as much pleasure or makes him feel as good about himself as his own masterpiece.
“Men have been taught every precept that destroys the creator. Men have been taught dependence as a virtue,” Roark said. “The choice is independence or dependence … Man’s first duty is to himself. His moral law is never to place his prime goal within the persons of others.”
Now please don’t mistake me. I’m enough of realist to know that someone has to work those 9 to 5 gigs. In fact, most of us have to do it, myself included. Even Roark had to take the quarry job when business dried up. I’m not putting anyone down for where he works, and there can be nobility in all work.
I also realize that this is not true of all corporate work environments. However common mediocrity is in many companies, some companies operate in a way that encourages independence over conformity, achievement over politics and image. (Jim Collins profiles some of them in Good to Great.)
All I’m saying is, if you’re an entrepreneur, chances are that working for others will not be enough to satisfy you — and, in fact, may do more to harm you than help you, psychologically.
The desire for independence is one of the deepest forces within the entrepreneur, and it’s the main theme of The Fountainhead. This desire is why we entrepreneurs find it so difficult to work for others. There is something deep within us, in a place almost too sacred for words, that yearns for freedom and independence and refuses to settle for anything less.