“Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey.”
― John O'Donohue
What is truly unique in the world? We live in a time where advertisers can cross reference thousands of data points to target specific consumers with freakish levels of accuracy, where marketing committees go to great length to guess trends and hide their intentions in the sheep’s clothing of signaled virtue and pretense, where human ingenuity is restricted and set at the task of driving up shareholder returns at the expense of real purpose and genuine fulfillment. The cleverest branding in the world can serve to mimic quality, imitate excellence, and pretend to be something other than what a thing really is, but at the core of all of this is a quiet, hollow void where something is meant to reside:
Each of us has within us from our birth a thing that makes us individuals. It animates us like the breath of Life, it sits quietly and observes our every action, our joys and sorrow, each compassion given and every judgement levied, and only rarely do we notice that it is even there. That still, soft voice, that gentle whisper which beckons us towards hope, the dare to dream and believe in the inherent goodness in the world, in others, and in ourselves- that is the voice of the soul. There are many names for this- the divine spark, the clear light, the Atman or the Brahman, the Holy Spirit, or the True Self (as I prefer to call it,) to name a few. This is the simple being of our consciousness, the subjective is-ness that allows us to be conscious of our reality and which makes up the experience of our Self.
It is the unfortunate state of the world we live in today that this Self, this soul, is something that most are taught to deny and ignore from a young age. Our parents, our teachers, our employers, our friends, our leaders, all the world seems predisposed towards the denial of our hearts and our very being. We crush the individuality out of the innocent like the juice from grapes in the wine press, and when it’s done, the processed remains fit neatly in uniform bottles, labeled and ready for sale.
Perhaps this is the way things must be- in a world built on the sale of trite commodities, the genuine has no place. It can’t be measured, sorted, or ordered, and it doesn’t fit neatly into a balance sheet or a shareholder report. If everyone was able to chase their passions and live a life true to themselves, who would work in the factories? Who would stock the shelves? Who would buy back a plastic replacement for the life they truly wanted with the wages earned from hours of trading their precious time for the illusory security that such a mechanical life promises?
If this is the way the world must be, then this is no world for me, and so be it, I will accept that. However, stubborn as I am, I refuse to lay down and die before finding out the truth myself. I believe that we have within ourselves the power to change this- our birthright, if we would only do what it takes to claim it. I do not believe the world is hopeless and immutable. Life itself is evidence enough that harmony with the world is possible, and I cannot believe that what we are, beings endowed with the capacity to seek meaning, to love and to create and to build and grow, is fundamentally wrong. No, I believe that this manufactured world we inhabit is one built on the many choices we’ve taken out of fear- fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of being different, fear of being vulnerable.
The fear of being genuinely ourselves.
If you look at all of the greatest people in history, the ones that people genuinely admire, seek to emulate, and are inspired by, you’ll come to realize that these people are those who refused to let the world take their soul from them. The saints, the martyrs, the innovators, the revolutionaries, these individuals who stood for something both within themselves and beyond themselves- these are the ones who move the world.
Each of us has the potential to do something wholly original. There is something in each of us that we are uniquely qualified to do, simply because we are more interested or passionate about it than any other person. That innate interest, the foundational drive and curiosity that we have at our core, is the keystone from which our greatest contributions to the world are constructed, the first brick placed when we follow the blueprint of our destinies- we need only listen to the voice which calls us onward.
We tend to think of ourselves as unique, wholly original people- however, even though we are distinct individuals, much of who we are, especially in the modern world, is an identity provided to us by the culture or purchased from the consumerism we find ourselves ensnared in. High school comes to mind- the cliques are easily distinguished by where they shop, what they wear, and what varieties of media they consume. Personality can be purchased, for the right price.
External forms of identity are not enough to separate us from the crowd. If a person bought the same clothes as you, would they become you? If you can be reduced only to the external items you buy, you’re not really unique.
What can’t be bought? What can’t be copied, imitated, reproduced, or stolen?
Just as a man’s life is a reflection of his character, a business is a reflection of its founder. Crossfit is controversial because its founder is controversial by nature. Tesla is imaginative, technical, and occasionally a bit head-in-the-clouds because it takes after Elon. Apple was precise, dominating, and enthralling because of the perfectionism and charisma of Jobs- and contrastingly, Microsoft may have world class technical skill, but it will never fail to bore because Gates is a rather unassuming, quiet person.
If our soul is the origin of our destiny, then the soul of the founder is the soul of the company- and you can see that when the founder of a company leaves, the first thing to go is the soul is almost inevitably the soul. Apple may still be a technical and financial powerhouse, but the tides are turning and the fervor and admiration they once had is now an echo, overpowered by the numerical, profit-driven nature of their CFO-turned-CEO, Tim Cook. He may have kept the ship afloat, and to the eyes of most, amplified the company’s success exponentially, but the creeping decay that comes with soullessness doesn’t bode well for a company that once dared to think different.
What drives you? Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up as a child? Do you remember seeing the world through innocent, hopeful eyes, before the cynicism, practicality, and “reasonable” thinking told you that your dreams were unrealistic and that you should get a real job like a responsible adult?
If you’re a founder, I’d be willing to bet that that spark, that drive, that small glimmer of innocence within you has not been extinguished completely. You’ve protected it and kept it alive like a candle cupped in your hands on a stormy night. To those of you who will not let the fire die, who keep the flame in a world that so often seems to welcome the dark and shun the light, thank you. You are my people and to you I offer my respect.
That flame that you’ve kept all these years, the ember of passion that you’ve nurtured and fed with fleeting moments of hope, small successes, and sheer, stubborn drive when all else fails, that is your Alpha- your why and your reason for doing this.
That Alpha is not just the reason why you are doing this, it’s the reason why what you are doing is worth doing in the first place. You may not be able to articulate it or explain it- perhaps it’s just a feeling lingering just beyond the edge of what words can capture, but when you can capture an ounce of that feeling and give it back to the world, you connect with people on a deeper level than all of the marketing research, targeted ads, and sales techniques in the world will ever be able to reach.
If you have kept your flame burning, you’re not in this to seek wealth or pursue fame- depending on what your purpose is, those may be necessary steps on the path you’re meant to walk, but your true purpose will never be satiated with attention and a mountain of gold. Too often we leave the path up the mountain of purpose to settle for the false rewards of status, power, and affluence. However, status cannot make people love you, power cannot make people respect you, and affluence cannot buy the knowledge that you have lived the life that you were meant to and that you offered to humanity that gift which is unique to your very being.
It’s easy to imagine that a purpose has to be some grand, extravagant thing, but the truth is that our purpose can be as simple as a life lived in quiet service to others, excellence in an honest trade, or labor well-executed with discipline and skill.
Dr. Martin Luther King once said:
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
This is a description of someone who has lived a life true to their soul’s calling- can we say the same of ourselves? What is the task that has been laid before you?
Each of us has a task like this to fulfill, and a passion within us that needs only to be heard. That flame never goes out and remains with us always, but it withers and shrinks when we stop feeding it. It is never too late until it is too late, so trust that small voice and take the time left to you to warm this cold world with the heat from your heart and hearth- well-tended, defended, and fed with action.
Find your Alpha- seek the purpose within you and pour that purpose into everything you do. The world deserves to see your potential realized, for this is the greatest gift that you can give to humanity- the hope that their passion is not in vain.
We know that a man can have a soul.
Show us that business can have soul, too.