“Conan. What is best in life?”
“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women.”
Fortunately times have changed since the fictional days of Conan the Barbarian, and the not-so-fictional Genghis Khan, whose words inspired this mortality-affirming snippet of bloodthirsty wisdom.
When everyone was mostly out to stab everyone else and take their stuff, this was good advice for life. More recently, a massive cultural shift away from these attitudes makes things a hell of a lot easier for those of us who like not being conquered, or run down by swordsmen on horseback, in our day to day lives.
But the life advice we’re getting doesn’t match the world we’re trying to survive in. And if we’re not getting the right advice, then we stand a very real risk of being run down, trampled on or stabbed in the back, in a thoroughly modern, 21st-Century way.
This isn’t a happy topic, but bear with me. I really believe that it’s important, especially for millennials. Why? It’s obvious. We don’t have the work opportunities that our parents did. Many of us can’t afford our own places to live. What’s wrong with this picture?
For a time we were told to go to school, and study hard, and get good grades so we could get a good job, and afford a nice house, and raise a nice family, and enjoy a nice retirement. All very nice.
Unfortunately that model’s way out of date, and drowned somewhere in the latter part of the 20th Century. But the schools just keep on churning out highly skilled kids, like they have for a century, for factory jobs and office jobs that are rapidly going away. Minimum wage part-time jobs and zero-hour contracts though, well there’s plenty of those. It’s not home-buying, family-raising, retirement-enjoying money. Not by a damn sight.
Things have changed, rapidly and drastically, and no one’s told us. The economy’s a zombie, the middle class is evaporating, and the only way to avoid risk in our professional lives is to take risks. The new economy favours entrepreneurs, “the bearers of risk”. The education system will give you the basic tools you need to become an entrepreneur, but they won’t tell you that’s what you need to become.
It’s what you need to become.
What does it mean to go into business for yourself? It means that you’ve made the decision to dedicate your life to serving people. Serve them with what you know, what you can do, what you can make; what value you can create. The more people you serve, and the more you help them, the more successful you’ll be. It’s really that simple, and it’s rapidly becoming the clearer way to survive in a very strange, very unstable work economy.
We may even need to be a little barbaric with our old views on life – and not look for a life of comfort, and steady jobs, and inconspicuous consumption; but one of constant change, resistance and challenge. It’s how we grow; it’s how we overcome. It’s what this century is going to expect from us.
No one’s telling us this. But, as befits our generation, we can learn a lot from the movies instead. We can take Conan’s famous quote (and ancient survival advice) and turn it on its head, and give ourselves the new survival advice we never got. “To serve people, see them lining up before you, and hear the satisfaction in their feedback.” I can just hear Conan not turning in his fictional grave, because he never died, because he’s fricking Conan.
Ok, so it’s a crappy tenuous link. But I hope the idea of Conan the Entrepreneur’s going to stick in your head. And if this article helps even one person to shoot for a better life, with better advice, then at least I’m doing my job.