When most people think of entrepreneurs or freelancers who have taken their careers into their own hands and have broken free from the conventional structures of the working world, so to speak, the first thoughts that come to mind are things like “cunning”, “hard-working”, “strategic”, and “pragmatic”.
And, of course, to make it on your own terms in business certainly requires no small degree of pragmatism and good strategic thinking.
Yet entrepreneurial tendencies are also associated with the psychological personality trait known as “openness to experience”, which has a lot more to do with creativity, lateral thinking – and what might be termed “artistic inclination” – than you might expect.
In the various mythologies of the world — as alluded to by semi-mystical analysts of human consciousness, such as Carl Jung — there are certain recurring tropes, or archetypes, which seem to contain lessons on the nature of consciousness and the successful navigation of a course through life. “Artistic” and “creative” people often find that these symbolic motifs resonate strongly with them.
So, on that note, here are a few ways in which a study of myth, legend, and even literature, may help to turn you into a better entrepreneur or artist.
The Necessity of Sacrifice and Suffering for a Greater End Goal
The modern myths of the New Age movement tend to emphasise the idea of the positive and minimise the idea of the negative. Yet we all know from bitter experience that life is sometimes tough, and cruel, and that resilience is as necessary as optimism for survival.
In business, as in life in general, it’s often necessary to accept and bear a degree of discomfort, and even suffering, in the service of a greater end goal. And sacrifice is an eternal motif, which is somewhat equivalent to discipline. Discipline, in this view, is the sacrifice of something desirable in the present, for something more desirable in the future.
Myth and legend are replete with tales of heroes enduring stress, and danger, and subordinating their momentary desires in the service of a greater goal or ideal down the line.
These mythic lessons can, needless to say, shed a lot of insight on what it takes to overcome challenges in business and life.
The Importance of Balance
Harmony and balance are central concerns of religions and mythologies from around the world. Active versus passive principles. Order versus chaos. Creation versus destruction. Work versus rest.
No matter where you turn, you encounter the mythological motif that things must be balanced in order to be sustaining and properly ordered and aligned.
Many entrepreneurs, writers, and other creative or driven types are hopelessly imbalanced almost by definition. Tales of startup owners working twenty-hour days, losing their marriages, and ending up in hospital, are certainly not unheard of.
Success in a professional endeavour requires persistence, which requires balance. You need to be a complete person, someone who knows when and how to rest and laugh, and when and how to knuckle down and work.
Mythology Reminds You to Avoid Hubris and Stay Humble and “Hungry”
Perhaps the most prominent and recurring trope in the mythology of Ancient Greece is mortals falling victim to arrogance and hubris, contemptuously comparing themselves to the gods, and being crushed and laid low as a result.
This lesson is rooted in the pagan traditions of many parts of the world, and it’s in the Bible, too. An often paraphrased verse from Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
These are the same sorts of warnings that the world’s most successful entrepreneurs tend to give to up-and-comers. Always be humble. Stay driven. Seek constant improvement. Don’t rest on your laurels.
The contemporary figure of the entrepreneur is itself a mythological figure.
Many scholars have sought to find the essence of the entrepreneur but they have all failed.
Studying mythology might indeed be an antidote for hubris, studying the mythology of the entrepreneur’s hero quest is the best way to follow their footsteps.