Monday, August 23, 2004

The Science of Self-Honesty

The Science of Self-Honesty

A recent acquaintance of mine--married with two kids--asked me whether it is risky for him to come out to work as a freelance consultant. He recently got a good job offer from a multinational in Penang and was preparing to move there, when he was suddenly presented with the opportunity to take up a freelance contract job.

He wasn't sure whether he was ready to face the uncertainty and risk of not having permanent employment. With two young kids to support and a house loan to pay off, he was understandably apprehensive. He wasn't mentally prepared, even though the thought of being his own boss and not having to answer to anyone else, is an attractive one.

it takes a bit of courage to sever one's umbilical cord from the corporate world, especially when one has a comfortable job with a big multinational: the expense account, the boondoggle trips, the training opportunities and the prestige of being associated with the leaders of the industry--all these can be quite difficult to give up. There's a huge psychological barrier one needs to overcome.

In the end, one has to ask oneself--what exactly does one want to seek from one's life and career? To some people, having a steady job with a good prospect of steadily climbing up the corporate ladder is a very fulfilling life . There's nothing wrong with that and I personally do know a lot of good people in the corporate world who contribute positively to the companies that they work for. They are often well-recognized and well-rewarded for their efforts. Within such a stable environment, many individuals are able to successfully balance work and leisure; allowing them to also enjoy a wonderful family life. That is a fulfilling life.

Some people appreciate the structure that an established company imposes on them. It gives them purpose and direction. Without it, they are aimless. To others, the structure is a prison, limiting their freedom and imagination. They feel suffocated and stiffled as a cubicle creature. These are the people who aspire and think they'll be better off as their own bosses.

But hang on: one must be very careful here. One must first ask oneself why one dislikes a regular nine-to-five job. A lot of people think that they are better off on their own simply because they lack the self-discipline to work diligently within the structure imposed on them by their employers. Some are just plain lazy. They hate all the rules and social subtleties of corporate life; they are spiteful of their hardworking colleagues, accusing them of sucking up to their bosses and for being blind lackeys of their companies. They think that if they have their own business, they will realise their "true potential". When in actual fact, they are subconsciously looking for a means to escape from responsibility.

In the end, it is only wise to follow Socrates' advice: "know thyself". One must be honest with oneself: analyze one's inner tendencies and examine one's underlying motives. What is our real motivation? Are we driven by fear, greed, hate and pride? Too often we lie to ourselves; or sometimes, we are simply unaware of our subconscious impulses.

I always feel that I have no right to offer advice to anyone as I'm just a fellow traveller. The paths that led us to where we are now are different for each and every one of us. My principles and beliefs are shaped by my own personal experiences--they are only "true" in my universe. All I can offer are my own personal hypotheses, which comes from my own personal experiences. Sometimes they can be pretty twisted. Take it for what it's worth.

I say "hypotheses" because there are no absolute truths. Life is an on-going experiment; we assume something to be true, test the hypothesis, observe its results, make corrections and test again, ad infinitum. When some hypotheses have proven to work very well, we treat them as "principles", but they are still not absolute truths. That's the scientific spirit.

Everyone has to figure out the rules of their own universe and come up with their own hypotheses. One needs to examine one's past experiences and peer deeply and objectively into one's own soul: Why are we the way we are? Brutal self-honesty is needed. We owe ourselves at least that.

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