The Most Powerful Force in the Universe

The curse of being self-aware and – maybe worse – fearing the prospect of not being self-aware is the fact that it often takes the joy out of being the garden variety of peeved that is (I assume) part of the regular human experience.

(By way of clarifying point and perfect example of the kind of self-skepticism that I’m about to talk about, allow me to note that being self-aware does not necessarily constitute always being right. While the mind of such a person constantly endeavors to be objective about the thoughts and actions that it controls, I – as someone who is hereby giving himself the label – don’t mean to suggest by extension that the self-aware never get things wrong…)

The preceding interjection gives a pretty good sense of what I’m getting at: being self-aware means never allowing yourself to think or feel anything without evaluating whether or not you’re justified in thinking or feeling that thing. Did you have a bad day? Someone had a worse one. Think you’ve done a good thing? Someone has done something better. And so on. (This critical inner monologue can be exhausting… But in saying that, I’m automatically thinking about the social worker or the manual laborer who experience levels of emotional or physical exhaustion that I probably can’t even fathom… See what I mean?)

Some days, a person is just inclined to be plain-ol’ pissed about whatever petty frustration they happen to be saddled with. The self-centred person, who I would define – or at least characterize – by a lack of self-awareness, allows himself to get wrapped up in that petty frustration, never stopping to gauge the severity of his problem in more absolute terms. On the other end of the spectrum, the neurotically self-critical bearer of such frustration can’t allow herself to wallow in it without at least issuing (to herself or others) a litany of disclaimers about how she knows things could be worse… And if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you will have noticed that I do this. A lot.

All of the above is preamble to my saying this: yesterday, I wanted to be pissed. I had an annoying experience that I was inclined to stew about, and – somewhat ironically – this frustration was actually made worse by my neurosis of self-skepticism. Instead of just being casually ticked about something, I was left to be both ticked by that thing and annoyed with myself for being ticked about it. Ridiculous, right? (Some days, I think it would be better to be more self-centred… If not better, definitely easier.)

The substance of my petty frustration was contained in the dismissiveness of a person with whom I was interacting – or trying to. This person is employed with a regulatory agency whose primary function is oversight of (a portion of) the financial-services industry that I’m attempting to crack into. I was inquiring as to the possibility of my sitting down with someone from the agency, to have an exploratory discussion about their function and – more pertinently – how it might relate to the venture I’m pursuing.

Understand this: this agency exists to keep in check the very same industry participants whose negligence or self-interest create the opportunity for me to compete with them, on a platform of integrity, transparency and all-around good intentions. So I can only imagine that this particular employee, to whom I had reached out after finding her contact information online, spends most of her day dealing with or thinking about people of whom she has good reason to be skeptical. I get that.

But I figured – silly me – that in reaching out under the auspices of a desire to be a positive force in the community (and, as it happens, work collaboratively with the agency), that I might get a warmer reception. Not so, evidently.

The most powerful force in the universe is not Good, nor Evil, nor an Incredible-Hulkesque vending-machine patron whose Twinkie gets stuck while being dispensed.

The most powerful force in the universe is Inertia.

I’m neither a physicist nor an astronomer, but I bet there’s something to be said about the sheer magnitude of planetary inertia, so hopefully my claim works in the literal, physical sense. That aside, I’m even more confident of its viability in a metaphorical sense: even the most dastardly of evildoers might pass up an opportunity to ruin a whole bunch of people’s day if he’s pretty comfortable on the couch, entrenched in season 2 of Narcos on Netflix. (Great show, by the way.)

This employee who yesterday demonstrated not only no willingness to help me, but actually an active resistance of same, was a pretty good embodiment of typical human inertia. And this was, if I’m to be objective about the situation, a good lesson learned.

I have a tendency to get caught up in (what I perceive to be) the great value of my entrepreneurial vision. Value to customers, value to staff, value to the world around me. It makes so much sense, for all the right reasons, that who could deny it?…The unimpressed bureaucrat – that’s who.

This lady is, I’m sure, not a bad person. She’s probably a wonderful spouse/mother/daughter/sibling/friend/etc., but she’s also a gainfully employed professional who does not inherently share my big vision, nor my certainty that it’s based on a desire to do good and only good. She is someone who has heard it all, from hopefuls in the industry: those who “want to do good”, or “don’t want to bilk poor, unsuspecting citizens of their life savings”. And when she’s not ferreting out the sleaziest of financial practitioners, she’s probably mired in red tape at a job that she would be delighted to quit if she won the lottery. So an unprompted inquiry from some nobody, who (with a degree of friendliness that is entirely irrelevant) spins a yarn of positive contribution to the community, is by no means going to cause her to give even the most dispensable of rats’ asses. Especially in view of the aforementioned inertia.

Let’s imagine, for a second, the version of the universe in which my unprompted phone call strikes a chord with this person. Maybe she’s become totally jaded as to the state of an industry full of people who seemingly want nothing other than to profit off the backs of others. Maybe she’s been frustrated by the complete absence of industry participants (on her radar, anyway) who conduct their business with simple integrity. Lo and behold, here is this guy who’s promising to be the answer to all of the frustrations she’s been having with the world…

And yet, helping this guy out may involve actual work. Dammit.

I have to assume that the employee in question was not averse to my (brief but honest) description of my new venture. She is probably not someone who would prefer that there not be companies that aim to generate profits that can be redirected to organizations supporting good causes in the community. And if I’m right, then her behavior toward me is evidence that she’s either someone who is inherently skeptical of the story I was telling (which is fair and precisely why I was requesting a chance to meet with her) or someone who does not want to take on the work of dealing with anything out of the ordinary.

I don’t know the precise nature of her job and am willing to allow for the possibility that she does not customarily entertain meetings with strangers (industry hopefuls or otherwise). However, my request was simple: could you or one of your colleagues spare 30 minutes to sit down with me, so I could better explain my new venture and ask some questions. It’s for a good cause…

I suspect that for her to insist that my questions be asked in writing suggests to me that she is more interested in doing her job as it is routinely done, rather than in performing her actual function in the way that’s most effective for its stakeholders. (And lest you feel compelled to make excuses for her, I will affirm my belief that anyone in her role who cared about their function would have done more to help me, regardless of her particular job description.) This is a pretty textbook case of human inertia – that frustrating, all-powerful force of whose formidability this little encounter served as a great reminder.

I wanted to be annoyed…

I’m lying. I am annoyed. But in being annoyed, I’m simultaneously aware that this is just one of a thousand hurdles that I’ll have to clear on my journey, and that it’s not that big a deal, and that other people have it worse, and that this isn’t going to stop me, and that even if this lady is as stubborn and lazy as the pettiest part of my brain wants to believe, that will make all the sweeter the eventual moment when we meet – at a point when my business is several years old and thriving and helping more people than I’ve helped in my entire life to date – and I will make the warmest of eye contact with her. And I will smile the biggest smile.

So maybe – hopefully – I’m wrong. Maybe the most powerful force in the universe is not inertia, but the spiteful determination of the scorned…me.

(I wish that didn’t sound grandiose, or that I was comfortable with the fact that it does…)

*****

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