Every once in a while I bop over to amazon to see what’s happening with the books I’ve written.
This week, I discovered a review that fascinated me. Not because of anything that was said about the book. What I write is fair game for agreement or disagreement. I’m great with that. It was about the assumptions that were made. On the surface, assumptions about me. But, in truth, my bigger interest is in what those assumptions reveal about them. About us, both individually and societally. And what they’re keeping us from.
Here’s the core of what was written:
Jonathan Fields, former hedge fund attorney is not like you or me (I ain’t no hedge fund manager.) The average person doesn’t a ton of money in the bank to take them thru a career change in NY, or a contact list that can circle Manhattan (financial guys are notoriously out of shape, and they’d work out with someone who understands them than some stranger; it’s intimadating.) and most people do not have the confidence or the financial means to quit their job, especially when they are married with kids. Most people are uncomfortable with the the amount of risk it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Most businesses fail within a year.
Repeat: contacts are enormously important. At least in this universe.
The average person also doesn’t have the business or legal education, the negotiating skills, the manic energy, and the drive to do what Fields did.Not to mention the ability to handle enormous stress. The comeptitive spirit to dominate and win.
So, lets have a little fun…
According to this review, I apparently had a “ton of money in the bank” to fund my next career. Truth is, I had saved enough to cover my basic living expenses for a fairly short window of time. That’s it. I don’t come from big money, I didn’t have a trust fund and I had only been practicing at a large-firm for around a year when I left. My time in the law before then was spent working a government job, which lets you wear the white hat, but doesn’t exactly pay well.
So, I had to work like crazy to figure out a completely new industry as fast as I could while making $12/hour as an entry-level personal trainer, before working even harder to build my own private practice, earn a livable wage and then bootstrap a venture in that space.
What about my “contact list that can circle Manhattan?” I went from being a lawyer, a little more than a year out of the S.E.C. (where I investigated the very people who’d have been prime candidates for my big money “contact list”) to dropping into an industry where I had zero relationships on any level. And the few contacts I did have in the law all thought I was loopy for doing what I did. Nobody followed me as a “client,” nor did I ask anyone to. The reviewer is right about one thing, though, my background in law and financial markets did make it easier to have conversations with clients who worked in that same space, but I had very few of those and my eventual venture wasn’t focused on them at all.
We also learn that “most people do not have the confidence or the financial means to quit their job, especially when they are married with kids.” This is so true. BUT it also assumes I’m telling everyone to quit today and just pray your next move works. Did I do that on a personal level? Yes. But I also realize that I am an outlier, which is why I wrote that most people do it very differently once they’re a bit further into life. And I shared many case studies in the book featuring people further into life, some with families, who did things very differently. They spent years building their next professional adventure on the side before ever stepping into it full time. Gaining confidence and building financial momentum in tiny pieces over time. So, yes, most people don’t have the confidence and money to straight-up quit and start the next adventure cold-turkey. But then, that’s also not how most people do it, nor how I offered it had to or should be done.
What about the claim that “Most people are uncomfortable with the the amount of risk it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.” True. Most people are. But the assumption here is that you either “have it or you don’t.” That there’s no way to “train” in the mindset that fuels the ability to take sustained action in the face of risk and uncertainty.” My entire second book looked at this assumption. And what I found was that this capability is very trainable. So the challenge is not that you don’t have a particular ability, it’s that nobody’s ever told you that the thing you’re missing is trainable, then showed you how.
Next up, “Most businesses fail within a year.” I’ve seen a wide variety of statistics on this and, with a fair degree of latitude, I wouldn’t say most, but many. But the assumption here is that (a) all business are the same, (b) all entrepreneurs are the same, (c) no matter what approach you take, you have the same likelihood of failure (soooo wrong), (d) you are a statistic and (e) if there’s risk on the table, it’s not worth the effort. If we all adopted these assumptions, many of the products, services, brands and businesses that make your life so much better simply wouldn’t exist.
Entrepreneurship is hard, really hard. But it’s also not rocket-science. The bigger problem is that most people approach it in a way that serves neither them, nor the ventures they seek to build. They never do the level of self-inquiry, process-mastery, market-research, need identification and validation and skill-building needed to not only survive the first year (btw, they second year is generally the tougher one), but flourish long-term. It bums me out to think how much deeply-impactful art, music, experiences, products, services and businesses never see the light of day, never make a difference in the lives of would-be creators and those who’d have been moved by their creations, simply because success was not certain and a clearer path to necessary capabilities was not explored.
Let’s move one, “The average person also doesn’t have the business or legal education, the negotiating skills…” The only business education I had was what I learned building my own things, from mowing lawns in summer to DJing in college and working minimum wage jobs here and there. No B-school, just the very same training anyone can get with initiative. As for law school, while it did train me to be better at researching case-law, everything I learned about financial markets was on my own, through my own self-study driven by a deep interest. As most lawyers will tell you, their formal education was essentially a ticket to a job (not so guaranteed any more) where, for the first time you’d really start to learn the practice. And, for the record, it’s a pretty safe bet that I wasn’t all that good at negotiation and I hated the back-and-forth posturing that often went on in the name of a “win” I wasn’t all that invested in.
Finally, we get around to this, “ the manic energy, and the drive to do what Fields did. Not to mention the ability to handle enormous stress. The comeptitive spirit to dominate and win.” Funny to hear someone who has never met me talk about my manic energy and competitive spirit to dominate and win. Wow. Just, wow. This is so far from the way I pursue anything, interact with people in a fairly methodical, deliberate, near-meditative way and work not to “dominate and win,” which I could care less about, but to serve and solve.
But, again, this isn’t about a defense of me. That’s just the container for this conversation. In fact, it’s not about me at all. I’m good with who I am, the intention behind my work and the faith that the folks I most want to serve get it. And I have no issue with readers not liking or finding value in my work. That’s totally cool. To each his or her own.
So, what’s this really all about?
It’s about the assumptions we make about people and what that reveals not about them, but us.
It’s about how we sometimes assume into existence a facade of reality that doesn’t exist in the name of rationalizing our own inaction. It’s about pointing to people who have done something and saying “well, that’s good for them, but I don’t have all the advantages they have,” when, in reality, the “they” we are talking about aren’t all that different from us.
Why do we do this?
Because, if we own that fact that what we want is within out grasp, even if we need to work hard and train in the ability to make it so, and we still don’t act, we are faced with a level of cognitive dissonance that makes us feel really bad. Bad about ourselves, and bad about the lives we unfold.
So, instead, we make assumptions that allow us to never try. Which keeps us from feeling the discomfort of uncertainty and novelty and change and risk. But also leads to so much sadness. So much futility. So much frustration and surrender. And beyond the way it affects our own lives, it robs society as a whole of the amazing gifts we have to offer, had we only owned the truth of our own potential and learned the skills needed to handle and then harness the journey.
In sharing this, I make absolutely no assumptions or judgments about the person who judged me. And I absolutely do not want this conversation to be about them. Like I said, I’m a big boy and I’m fine with my work being critiqued. Looking back, even I cringe at some of what came out of my mouth and how I said it. That person may, and I truly hope it’s the case, have a wonderful, deeply rich life. I reference the review only as an example of a conversation that I’ve heard repeated so often over the years on a broader level. One that unfolds in peoples’ heads, around break tables and in journals thousands of times every day. One that builds a cage upon a foundation of false assumptions, rather than a path lit by a willingness to try.
That makes me sad. I don’t want people to be reckless, especially once you’re deep enough into life to have people relying on you. I’m a father and husband. I get it. But I also don’t want to see so many people live lives of buried potential built upon a foundation of false beliefs.
What say you?
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