Parents: Raise Your Children to be Artists & Entrepreneurs

From the book, Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz:

That is the great question about bureaucracies. Why are the best people so often mired in the middle, while nonentities become the leaders? Because what gets you up the ladder isn’t excellence: it is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Being smooth at cocktail parties, playing office politics, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Getting along by going along. Not sticking your neck out for the sake of your principles—not having any principles. Neither believing in the system nor thinking to question it. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that you have nothing inside you at all.

This description of life within a bureaucracy describes the dark side of life in organizations about as well as any I’ve seen. Most people accept the primary rules of organizations. They conform and comply and go along to get along. As a result, they fall far short of being the person and the employee they might be. They settle for institutionalized mediocrity rather than risk rejection in the pursuit of excellence.

A few people fight against the rules. Determined to live their values, they strive for excellence and tell the truth to power. It’s hard to be excellent when everyone around you is mediocre. It is hard to be authentic when everyone around you isn’t. It’s hard to be value-driven when everyone around you leaves their principles at the door. But such heroic modeling of what people could be in an organization can be achieved—at least for a time. And at the risk of being attacked, demonized, scapegoated, marginalized and all the other nasty things people do to others to make everyone be the same.

But why would we want to fight such unnecessary battles—not winnable in the end–if we understood life in organizations before we got too invested in an organization or profession? Why not teach our kids to work outside of organizations? And if they have to work in an organization, teach them the values and skills to be able to withstand the pressures to sell out on themselves. And teach them to always have an exit card: a place to go if things don’t work out.

It is, I think, better to abandon anti-human systems than to try to change them.



3 thoughts on “Parents: Raise Your Children to be Artists & Entrepreneurs

  1. Thanks for the article, Tom.
    You have led by example.
    I am happy to recognize I have also led in such a way. While it may look to some like I have few possessions to show for a successful life, those possessions are sometimes referred to as “trappings”, and for a reason.
    I have had a few careers, each interesting and challenging. I did the best I could in each one, and left/changed directions when I became aware I needed to use the “exit card” — and I was always able to find an “entry card” when needed.
    My wonderful son — in his 50s now — is happily successful in his chosen career, and I believe he has the satisfaction of living his values, of expressing excellence in his field and authenticity in his relationships. I treasure his friendship and his example.
    I can look back over my 77 years of work (and personal life) and say I currently feel humbly rewarded to be trappings-free and family/friends/opportunity-rich, living a life receiving abundance with gratitude and offering as much into the lives of others as I am able.
    Your article speaks to this, and I concur wholeheartedly!
    In loving spirit, Eleanor


  2. I had a theory that came about when I thought of when we started requiring mandatory education for all our children vs having them work in sweat shops. We started utilizing all of the talents out there regardless of what class one was born into. We saw the fastest growth in the past 100 + years. So, with what is happening today what with history quite literally being rewritten, our citizens being dumbed down, education quickly becoming something beyond the reach of the average person without a lifetime of debt, we could return to that time. Judy



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