The Cult of the Entrepreneur and Societal Anxiety
A few weeks ago, I outlined why I think American society causes anxiety. I want to revisit this topic again, but this time focus on one particular social plague: what Medium’s Gabriella Rackoff calls: "the cult of the entrepreneur."1
The cult of the entrepreneur is nothing new. We’ve always looked up to these obsessive businesspeople, but right now, thanks to the ongoing tech renaissance, that cult has perhaps never been stronger. To many, Mark Zuckerberg is a primary aspiration and the paragon of the American dream. To them I argue: we need to take a few steps back. For this to be the cultural aspiration of American society at large is dangerous to our mental health and ultimately unsustainable.
Problems with the Cult of the Entrepreneur
First, and I feel this is an obvious point: very few of us are afforded the neurological luxury necessary to be entrepreneurs. You have to work constantly, with very few resources, and typically can’t take any time off – just being at my normal job is taxing enough sometimes, so I could never live like this.
But I’m just one person. By giving the entrepreneur as much social standing as we do today, untold multitudes are going to chase after a delusional dream, and in the process, make society at large a much more anxiety-conducing place.
Rackoff suggests that entrepreneurs have to constantly bet both their career and livelihood.1 She’s right, but she hasn’t gone far enough. Most of us can achieve a healthy work/life balance. Entrepreneurs can’t. For entrepreneurs, work must necessarily become life, and vice versa, because not doing so undermines their potential success.
What’s the result of this mindset? It is that all is devoted to the success of their idea, and for their idea to succeed, obviously, it needs money. Transitively, all is devoted to securing the money necessary for success.
But money is too often divorced from health and ethics – indeed, what’s healthy for one’s bottom line can be detrimental to the wellbeing of the worker. To continue chasing this dream, then, I fear could cause untold harm, both for the chaser, and those who don’t subscribe to this absurd work ethic that some push as standard.
We can already see this happening. Rackoff notices people on LinkedIn tout themselves as “entrepreneurs” all too commonly.1 This is a minor detail, sure, but it shows incontrovertibly that this mindset is spreading, and young people are adopting it without thinking long-term about the results. This is dangerous – by the time they do think long term, the damage may already be done.
What Is to Be Done About the Cult of the Entrepreneur
So I oppose the cult of the entrepreneur, and I oppose it on two fronts. First, as a social standard, it’s one that very few can achieve; and, because I will never be one of them, I’m consigned to seeing myself as a failure. Second, if it is widely adopted, it has the potential to make our society even more anxious (and less sympathetic) than it already is. Again, I don’t know how we can fix this. It’s going to take a massive reevaluation of our common social values, and this takes time. But I feel like this needs to happen. Our social standards as we have them are unsustainable, giving success to a lucky few but ultimately breeding great anxiety and a massive sense of failure to the untold millions of others. We are not failures because we do not fit into a system that is so obviously doomed to collapse.
- Rackoff, Gabriella, "The Cult of the Entrepreneur". Medium. March 18, 2014.
DeSalvo, T. (2018, December 19). The Cult of the Entrepreneur and Societal Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, November 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2018/12/the-cult-of-the-entrepreneur-and-societal-anxiety