OK, so I’m going to say it: I don’t think Susan Boyle is the world’s greatest singer. (Please don’t hate me.)
She’s good, but if you just heard her karaoke rendition of "I Have a Dream" on the radio, without the drama surrounding her triumph, you probably wouldn’t rush out and search for the album.
And yet Ms. Boyle has become an instant sensation. Her performance has been viewed about 100 million times on youtube. You can hardly find a Facebook page without a link to her performance. And the media and blogosphere are having a fabulous time deconstructing Susan and telling us what she means.
And now, so will I.
The Recession and the Rift
This recession has revealed a psychological rift in the world’s consciousness. A lot of people are scared and angry. They’ve lost their jobs, their businesses, their insurance, and in some cases their self-worth. They feel victimized by events, by elites, and by entities. So they bob up and down, waiting to be rescued by a government or a hale wind or a friend. They hunker down into a form of abdication of self-responsibility because it feels better to be justified in misery than vulnerable in power.
And the interesting thing about this first group is how threatened they are by the second group.
This second group of people may be suffering just as much in real terms as the first group, but they refuse to see themselves as victims. Instead of giving up and waiting for rescue, they are scrapping and hustling and retooling. Starting businesses. Taking risks. Flexing muscles they may not have fully understood or claimed before. In crisis they are making opportunity, and in the process, taking responsibility for making themselves. Tending to the inner landscape, the "Spirit Lake" within.
This second group discovers something amazing about work: that it really isn’t about the money or the power or the status. In other words, not about the external rewards. Those are nice (actually, they’re awesome when received in the right way), but the real reward of work, or entrepreneurship, is the flowering of passion. When we take responsibility for our contributions to this universe, we discover that work truly is, in Khalil Gibran’s words, "love made manifest."
The Acorn Theory of the Soul
A wonderful book, The Soul’s Code, by James Hillman, presents the "acorn theory" of the soul. In Hillman’s understanding, our souls arrive on this planet knowing their destiny, and they do everything they can to give us the experiences – both seemingly good and bad – that prepare us for this destiny.
Yet our big brains often short-circuit the call of the soul, and we wallow in Thoreau’s "quiet desperation" punctuated by weekends and evenings of addiction and distraction.
I have to admit, I don’t know if the acorn theory of the soul is literally true, or just a useful construct. When I’m in such a quandary, I generally settle it by asking myself, "What are the implications – positive and negative – of believing this story?" In the case of the acorn theory, it’s all good. It puts a positive spin on all the pain and suffering and confusion I’ve experienced (it all sensitized me, taught me, and prepared me for this moment, whatever "this moment" turns out to hold and unfold). And it tells me that my life matters. A lot. And that respecting, unpacking, and honoring the quiet voice of my soul is the opposite of self-indulgent; it’s what I’m on this planet to do. It’s my responsibility.
Why Group One Hates Group Two
I was talking with a friend about the importance of having passion in one’s work, and why that seemingly obvious (to me) idea triggers so much rage and cynicism in so many people. "It’s because they don’t have passion," he explained. "So they refuse to believe it can exist in anyone else."
I think that’s partly true. Another part of the truth – of which I was reminded recently by my friend and marketing mentor Perry Marshall – is that they once believed passion and joy was possible, and they no longer do. So the message that life is more than punching a clock and earning our daily bread is a painful reminder of what they’ve lost (or perhaps abandoned and betrayed).
But there’s a third part of the truth: the acorn is still alive inside each of us, however shriveled and starved for nutrients. We may neglect it, ignore it, and tell ourselves it doesn’t exist, but deep down each of us knows we are an extraordinary being here to be, do and experience extraordinary things. And we may respond with rage and fear when someone (like me now ;) lectures about this, but the deepest longing of our being arcs upward and outward at the resonant field created by Susan Boyle. How else to explain the phenomenon of her popularity?
A lot of our acorns got watered by Susan Boyle in the past couple of weeks. Here’s a prayer that those acorns sprout and find purchase in nourishing souls and soils.
And now a couple items of business…
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