A Non-Entrepreneurial Slap of Reality

My buddy Peter Bregman just wrote a commentary for CNN.com advising people to embrace the recession as a chance to reconfigure their careers in line with their passions.

The interesting thing about this article turns out not to be the article, but the comments by CNN readers. Some are wildly favorable, and the ones that aren’t are downright hostile.

For example:

"Someone throw this guys off of the roof of Harvard Business School. People are starving to death looking for work and they’re supposed to find their inner child?"

"You are a jerk and should keep your trap shut until you learn a thing or three about hard work."

"Is the author’s passion in life to write stupid articles? Or does he do this for the money? I’m guessing he wrote this to get a paycheck."

"I think it’s great when people with high paying jobs and a big savings account tell us not to worry. Bite me, Peter."

"This is (nearly) the stupidest article I have ever read on a news website. CNN is supposedly a news network, not kumbayah, feel good, ideological bs. Work isn’t necessarily fun, which is why it is called work."

And those are the nice ones… ;)

The response is so polarizing, it’s like people are responding to two completely different articles. Other responses thank Peter for his inspiring words. Several readers say that this philosophy is backed up by their own experience.

Why the Anger?

So what’s going on? Why are so many folks so resistant and angry at the idea that work can be soul-fulfilling?

My guess is, folks who read my blog will resonate with Peter’s message. If only because you’ve seen that it’s possible to make a good living online. Whether you sell industrial equipment or massage or coaching or travel advice or radio-controlled toys or juggling equipment, you don’t think that entrepreneurship is simply "pie in the sky" positive talk by delusional ex-hippies or meaningless advice from the wealthy to the impoverished.

We’re entering a new phase in human history. The internet is part of it. The unsustainability of our assault on our planet is part of it. A stirring of the soul – a wave of common recognition that life is more than molecules and atoms – is part of it.

And saying it ain’t so ain’t gonna make it not so.

Ironically, the commenters who decry Peter’s lack of "realism" are the ones with their heads in the sand, in my opinion. They’re looking at the world saying, "This isn’t how things should be." Rather than looking at what is and asking, "What’s the opportunity here?"

Those of us who’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug know that we humans can dream a reality into being. And that if we don’t, we’re abdicating our responsibility by colluding with the consensus reality that seeks to minimize and disempower us. That wants us to be good little consumers and not passionate seekers and boat-rockers.

Of course, entrepreneurs are not the only ones who understand this powerful and esoteric truth. But we’re the ones who get to test it out in the world of molecules and atoms. And when we succeed, our advice is sought by others who want to follow in our footsteps, and scorned by those who don’t dare to hope of a better world ("Bite me, Peter").

My mentor and good friend Perry Marshall writes in defense of entrepreneurs on a regular basis (his latest post is a particularly eloquent and inspiring example). I confess, sometimes I’ve felt that he goes overboard in seeing "anti-entrepreneur" sentiment almost everywhere. But wading through the anger and nastiness (and outright threats) that cover up the fear of the abandoned, I’m reconsidering.

It’s important to recognize that the irrational anger is simply misplaced and projected fear. The fear is understandable. So don’t think that I’m looking down on those caught in its grip. When I’m afraid, nothing anyone says or does matters. The fear projects its own rules upon reality, and anyone who tells me the monster isn’t real is just trying to get me killed. Hence my anger. It’s self-preservation.

Tentative Takeaways

So what’s the takeaway here? I’m not sure. Here are a few contenders:

1. If you’re an entrepreneur, realize that no matter what happens to the economy, you’ll be in a better position than almost anyone to land on your feet. (See my post from yesterday on the 8 Magic Words of marketing.)

2. If you’re doing well these days, keep your mouth shut. Most people will not celebrate your good fortune.

3. Don’t give advice to anyone who doesn’t ask for it. Heck, who doesn’t beg for it. The only people you’ll be able to influence are the When Harry Met Sally Crowd: the ones who look at you and say, "I’ll have what she’s having." Not the ones who envy your money, but the spirit you bring to your work and life.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. Unless you want to throw me off a roof…


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  1. #1 • Perry Marshall said on March 16 2009:
     

    Howie,

    I thought Peter’s article was one of the best I’ve read in a long time. A week later I found myself discussing it with a group of people. Peter’s ideas got hearty agreement.

    One of the things I do NOT like about the Internet is how acceptable people think it is to just rip other people to shreds. Especially in public.

    Often, the people who are the angriest about things in the present are the people who were the least thankful when the good times were rolling.

    I like your takeaways. There are a lot of people who resent other people for doing well and it’s very sad. You will also find as you succeed that some friends you have had who you would have thought would be happy for you, are jealous of you. There’s nothing you can do about that.

    Howie you are absolutely right, the ones who are bitching about Peter’s article are the ones who are blind to opportunity and will suffer the most in a recession.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Perry Marshall

  2. #2 • GabbyGirl said on March 17 2009:
     

    It has so far been my observation that those who are complaining (to me, at least) about the recession are people who have been laid off from large companies. You’re either an entrepreneur, or you aren’t. I’m one type of entrepreneur, and there are many others, but we all have a few things in common; creative thinking, the ability to take rejection well, and a relentless (shameless?) sense of self-promotion.
    The internet is part of the revolution you mention, but even strictly brick-and-mortar businesses (yes, there’s still a few left) can make it if they are agile enough.
    It’s about not letting your ego get in the way of the market you *think* or *assume* you can target – and obeying the numbers instead.

  3. #3 • GabbyGirl said on March 17 2009:
     

    By the way – love your blog: where’s your RSS feed link? Am I looking right past it?

  4. #4 • Jessica said on March 18 2009:
     

    Thank you Howie. Your words mean a lot to me. I was recently laid off and am in the process of learning as much as I can about affiliate marketing. Currently, I’m re-reading Adwords for Dummies (and reading every word because to miss a single one would be to miss out on your amazing ability to make Adwords a fascinating subject). I can see why your grade school teachers told you that one day you’d become a writer.

    Best wishes to you and your family,

    Jessica

  5. #5 • Howie Jacobson said on March 19 2009:
     

    Hi GabbyGirl,

    The RSS feed link is on the sidebar.

    Actually, it’s there because of your comment – it’s been on my list for months, and you pushed me to get it done. So thanks!

  6. #6 • Howie Jacobson said on March 19 2009:
     

    Jessica, thanks for your kind words. I wish you the best in jumping into affiliate marketing and prospering.

  7. #7 • Howie Jacobson said on March 19 2009:
     

    Perry, your comment about the nasty tone people feel free to adopt online reminded me of one of the Four Agreements of Don Miguel Ruiz: “Don’t Take Anything Personally.” Since I hopped onto the web 10 years ago, I’ve had to learn this the hard way. Being online is a lot like driving on the freeway during rush hour – people feel free to unload all sorts of hostility on whoever triggers their fear. It used to crush me.

    When I remember to approach online marketing as a spiritual practice, I can see how much of what other people think about me is about them, not me. A giant projection. Which in turn helps me remember that I’m not a bad person just because someone projects their crap onto me.

    And when I’m really in a spiritual groove, I can look at my own anger and disapproval of others, and see it for the projection it is.

    And some folks think this business is about money… ;)

  8. #8 • Jim said on March 19 2009:
     

    When the student is ready – the teacher will appear. Some people will absolutely not be denied their God given right to be miserable, and feeding frenzies on message boards seem to be where the bulk of them hang out. (except for Howie’s of course – LOL)

  9. #9 • Aron said on March 19 2009:
     

    A year ago St.Patricks Day, I was discussing a few things with a close old friend (college roommate close). He got flustered during the conversation and told me, “Whatever man, call me when you get a real job.” Nobody wants to think their friends look down on them, but I’ve learned many people just don’t understand entrepreneurs, they haven’t been through it, and it’s unfair for us to expect them to understand it. I couldn’t imagine wearing dry cleaned clothing to sit at a desk all day, and I once thought I wanted that. A year later, juggling a lot less active friendships, my business is taking off. I’ve learned that what my friend said basically means this, “I don’t understand what you’re doing, but what you’re doing is making me think more about what I do, and that is making me uncomfortable.”

  10. #10 • Jon Price said on March 19 2009:
     

    Hi Howie,

    I’m with you on this one. I read Peter’s article with interest and tried to put myself in the place of the angry mob who wanted to lynch him. I can see how they may have been offended, but only because I can see how they lacked the imagination to see new possibilities for themselves. The truth is, we can bring anything into being with imagination and only our self limiting beliefs hold us back.
    What will these people do to help themselves when things get bad? They will almost certainly hide in there own comfort zones, whilst blaming everybody else for their predicament. Forty years ago human imagination sent mankind to the moon. That to me says we should be unstoppable. It’s a shame these guy’s can’t see how imagination could help them. But perhaps they are the same guys who think the moon missions were faked. They feel the need to place their limitations on others who can see beyond the mundane.

  11. #11 • Darren said on March 19 2009:
     

    Excellent post Howie. I just recently pointed this out to my young son as a life lesson. After seeing the extremes played out on the news recently like the man in California that destroyed his entire family behind a job loss or the recent one in Alabama is so dis-heartening.

  12. #12 • jackie caggz said on March 19 2009:
     

    Howie –
    Unfortuneately, there is a large percentage of people who literally hate what they do for work – every single day – and the poor economic situation brings them to the forefront. And then Peter comes along and writes about a positive way to re-position yourself for what lies ahead? How dare he ruin my nasty outlook and bad attitude!
    I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a dual-entrepreneur parent household – that’s a DEPH (pronounced deff) – what, you never heard of a DEPH? So support and encouragement (and a few pointers with an I-told-you-so) has always been there along the way – thankfully.
    ps. Perry’s piece was excellent – and reflective of the ideals my parents taught us.

  13. #13 • Chris Horner said on March 19 2009:
     

    Howie, that’s just unbelievable. These are unprecedented times economically. Things that people used to have a lot of trust and faith in – corporate 9-5 job, maybe a pension, certainly a 401(k), health insurance for the family, stability, and a mobile path upward – are gone. I’m not trying to be a pessimist but the days of depending on someone or some company to come through for you are over. If you’re going to make it these days by and large you’re going to need to do it yourself. Entrepreneurs realize this and look at these times as a golden opportunity. Many times I find the people with the negative attitudes, like the ones who made the comments, feel they are entitled to everything with little or no work and effort. During these trying times, they’re the first to complain and look down on others’ good fortune when they don’t have the drive to make their own situation better.

    When the economy turns around, those that will benefit will be the ones who have been and are working on their own dream/business to make it and seize the opportunity that is presented now. Watch and see.

  14. #14 • Jordan said on March 19 2009:
     

    What to say.
    A very interesting article, but for the open minded. Definitely not for those with little imagination, and the anxiety of losing in front of them.
    I can understand how they feel, however I believe that we have an easy life here in the U.S. up to the present. People are forgetting about the rest of the world, and how little this crisis is affecting us compared to many other countries.
    Perry said, “Howie you are absolutely right, the ones who are bitching about Peter’s article are the ones who are blind to opportunity and will suffer the most in a recession.”
    This is also true because they fail to realize what an opportunity they have in this country, even in the worst of times.
    I say this because I read stories all the time about entrepreneurs in third world nations who start a SUCCESSFUL business with $200, $100, or even $50. There is no getting a $40,000 loan to start a venture. You are going to do it with $100 or you go under.
    I think these times are an absolutely awesome opportunity to take an idea and run with it.

  15. #15 • Dawn said on March 19 2009:
     

    This division between entrepreneurs and others also exists within homes. My husband LIKES working for a wage. To him that is security. To me, it seems the exact opposite.

    Whenever we discuss my ‘fooling around on the internet’ I can see that he just can not take that leap of imagination to see where it might end. I truly believed that once a little money started coming in that he would be able to see the enormous opportunities that I can see. But he can still only see my income set forever at its present level. The fact that it has risen from zilch TO that level means nothing.

    So, although it’s difficult to understand how people could be so angry about an article, I can see where it is coming from. They simply can not believe that an opportunity for something better is possible for them.

    Sad.

  16. #16 • Chris said on March 19 2009:
     

    Hi Howie,

    Thanks for directing us to the article and your subsequent post. I agree with your views wholeheartedly.

    I’m currently working for a relatively large company, while pursuing my passion of internet and affiliate marketing “on the side”. It’s something I absolutely LOVE to do! And it just kills me to have to go to “work” each day. I say that I “have” to go to work, only because that job pays the bills and I’m not quite where I’d like to be with my internet marketing business…but I’m getting there, (thanks to you, Perry, Terry Dean & a host of others ;)

    There are rumors of layoffs & pay cuts at our company, and I sit there watching and listening to how truly frightened people are. On the other hand, I sit there and sometimes think what a blessing it would be if I were to be one of those laid off! It’s just the attitude I have these days because I KNOW I could make a living doing what I love, if I were forced to do so.

    And like Dawn, my wife always asks if I’ve been in there, “playing on the computer”, like I’m playing video games or something! I have to laugh and just say…”yes dear..I’m just playing on the computer”. She’s one of those that believe you go to work every day, you put money in your 401k, and you retire at whatever age it is now…and you try to survive the rest of your days on whatever you have in savings. I just can’t comprehend doing that! There is certainly nothing wrong with doing that if thats what you want to do…but for me, there is something much better out there! I could go on for hours…but I’ll spare you!

    Thanks again for the inspiring post,
    Chris

  17. #17 • Donna Templeton said on March 20 2009:
     

    Howie –

    The whole subject hits so close to home. In Jan 2008 I quit a job that I hated (but paid really well)to find a career path that I can enjoy. Then the economy went to hell and a handbasket and I’m doubting my decision…still think it is the right thing to do and am learning everything I can to pursue my dream of becoming an Internet Marketing guru. Having never been an entrepreneur I can understand peoples hostility when they feel trapped and don’t see the options…I don’t understand how people feel it is OK to spew hostility to others though.

    I’ve enjoyed your book AdWords for Dummies – it was one of my first books on my journey to learning about Internet Marketing…and prompted me to jump in with both feet. When looking for a formal program to learn more I came upon a Master Certificate program in Internet Marketing offered by the University of San Francisco. I love it and would recommend to anyone who wants to learn or enhance their knowledge on the subject.

  18. #18 • Moe Muise said on March 20 2009:
     

    Another great post, Howie.

    I think this situation calls for a bit of compassion and empathy – because some people simply don’t have the self-esteem (or stubbornness) to think like entrepreneurs.

    Your post reminds me of an experience I had in grade 11. I was taking a class on entrepreurship, and had received a good grade on a paper. When one of my classmates learned of my grade she said, “You’re so lucky. You’re going to be rich when you get older, and I’ll be stuck working at Sobey’s” (which was the name of a local grocery store). I can remember feeling shocked at her comment – that someone so young had already decided their lifelong fate. It’s that kind of fatalism and hopelessness that is probably behind the attacks on Peter Bregman.

  19. #19 • John Chancellor said on March 21 2009:
     

    Howie,

    You are right on target.

    Your #3 take away is so important. When we learn/discover some truth we are often hell bent on sharing it with others. It never works. The most disappointing results I have had in life have revolved around trying to help those in need rather than those who are ready, anxiously seeking to be helped.

    All entrepreneurs could save themselves lots of time and energy if they would focus their efforts on those who are truly ready for their help and guidance.

  20. #20 • Leah Inaba said on March 23 2009:
     

    Howie,

    I agree with you, Peter’s article is well-written and inspiring. As you said, I do think that your readers will resonate with it because it only speaks to a certain group of people. The wider populous is so afraid right now that they are screaming at anyone who doesn’t see their situation as “poor me.” Some of them are too busy throwing a pity party to be more open-minded and see the opportunities that this may present. I’m not saying that people who have jobs need to be laid off so that this can happen. I’m talking about those who already have been. It’s already done and blaming people and being down in the dumps isn’t going to change it. And of course, a terrible thing happened, it’ll put anyone down in the dumps for at least a short time, but picking oneself up and being open-minded to the possibilities is what is going to turn the mood and the economy around. The “this sucks” attitude in the air isn’t going to get us anywhere.

    Just like you said, Peter’s article will resonate with entrepreneurs because they are always looking around for better opportunities and aren’t afraid to take the risk.

    But the other piece of this puzzle is just how risky it is right now. Entrepreneurship is risky enough when the economy is strong, but right now it’s even scarier to think about starting a new venture, but on the other hand there are many ways and many industries which allow you to start small with little overhead. These definitely aren’t as risky. I think that’s where we need to start looking, at least for those who are very worried about the risk. When I started my tutoring business years back, the only start-up expenses I had were a couple of textbooks, a business license, phone bill and the gas for my car.

    Anyways, my point here is that the emotional environment of the country is very very fragile. It’s like trying to tell someone who’s mother just died that they need to see the opportunity here rather than the sadness, fear and anger. Some people are still in the beginning stages and others may have just gotten to the open-minded phase and unfortunately some may never get there. When worries of homelessness, starvation, foreclosure, divorce, etc. loom in the distance it is hard to keep a steady and positive mind.

    You and I and Perry and Peter and the rest of your readers know the truth that Peter speaks, but as for the general populous, it’s obvious that they’re not read for that yet.

  21. #21 • Mike from Salisbury said on March 23 2009:
     

    Hi
    I cmoe across it all the time, pople ripping people apart online. I have even tried to help someone and answer a question in a forum once, he decided to rip me apart and start shouting.

    Makes you feel really uncomfortable.

    Great blog

    Mike

 

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