The Hive Mind

October 31, 2010

Just a couple of days ago my older son was talking with me about his plans for the next few months. He had already told us he wants to take off next semester from college and work full time so he can save up money to be able to afford to share an apartment with his friend.

What he added this time is that he feels like he’s stuck going to school, like he has to but doesn’t want to. He said it feels like a cloud lifts when the semester ends, but all he really has to look forward to is a few weeks of reprieve while another cloud forms on the horizon. He said he needs to find the reason why he is going to college, a positive reason based on moving him closer to where he wants to be in his life, not a negative reason like keeping other people off his back.

Then he told me he needs to take some time to figure out who he really is. He looked at me and asked, “Dad, can you understand that?”

I said, “Son, you know what I do, right?”

He said, “You help people figure out their vocation.”

I explained it’s a lot more than that. I help people uncover their natural gifts and talents and figure out what they’re passionate about. I help them hear their inner voices, their hearts telling them what they were born to do well and can bring to life in the world. I help them develop their potential and bring their uniqueness and individuality into their daily lives. I help them express who they are in their creativity and productivity, which usually means in the work they do. In a lot of instances, as people realize they own their uniqueness and their productivity and creativity, they choose to start their own businesses or be self-employed.

I thought he knew the bigger picture. I thought he understood.

But if my own son doesn’t know, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing a very good job telling other people. Part of the reason is that I understand what I do in terms of my passion and my areas of giftedness, but I haven’t defined it very well as business activities.

Let’s face it. This is what the superstar internet marketers refer to as a “soft” topic. It’s about personal growth and development, and for a lot of people it gets too much into the world of “woo woo.” It can be metaphysical or spiritual and it’s psychologically deep. It’s about feelings and motivations and fulfillment and belonging. That compares to a “hard” topic, like making money. Lots and lots of money.

So I feel the pressure from marketers who suggest we “soft topic” businesses would be better off developing a program to teach people how to make money doing what we do instead of us trying to make money ourselves by doing it. Seriously. That’s what they recommend. The underlying message is that people respond pretty well to greed-based marketing messages, but not to soul-based or personal fulfillment based marketing messages.

The implication is that we shouldn’t put the “touch-feely woo woo” message into our marketing. Base the message on greed. Or fear. Like politicians do.

I know that’s a load of crap. I know that people who feel trapped in routines that have no meaning for them, following life paths that other people defined for them, working in jobs with no purpose or fulfillment, are suffering. I’ve heard at least a dozen of them tell me they feel like their souls are dying, or like their souls are being sucked out of them. This is an intense problem.

These people – my people – desperately need a way out. I love helping them find their way out of the rut and up onto the Twisting Road. But I bite my tongue and tread cautiously about telling people what I do. That’s why people in my personal life know that I do training, consulting, and coaching around creative careers, self-employment, and small business development – i.e. making money. But they don’t know that the reason I care about creative career choices and successful self-employment is that they empower people to lead rich, fulfilling lives.

At the core of it, I help people free themselves of the limiting beliefs, automatic thought patterns, societally defined boxes, and family expectations that prevent them from being able to figure out who they really are. I help them break out of the boxes and cubicles that were made for other people but are far too small and confining for them. I help people get out of the mechanized system where they are expected to fit into a narrow role for the benefit of the system, but not for the benefit of themselves.

I help people break free from the hive.

What people-living-as-drones find out when they start pulling away from the hive is that the hive pulls back. It doesn’t like people thinking they can make it apart from the mechanized system. In fact, the expectations that everyone will fit into the system are so powerful they create something like a hive mind.

Entomologists, people who study insects, have found that individual bugs that live in hives or colonies may not have much brain power, but as a system they are highly organized and intelligent. Each bug does its part, sacrificing itself for the advancement of the group if necessary. The group as a whole benefits. The bugs that have to die to make it happen? Not so much.

I think the cluster of cultural and community and family roles and expectations becomes a hive mind. The hive mind tells us what we should do, not just in terms of treating each other with consideration and compassion, but also in terms of our life choices. It says get married and have children. It says buy a starter home and then move up to a nicer home. It says get into a good career track and work your way up. It says buy nice things that will impress your friends. It says join a religious community or a social organization or volunteer through a non-profit agency to show you care about those in need.

And it says go to college so you can be successful.

I told my son starting before his senior year of high school that not all people need to go to college to do the work they love. I told him that I would enthusiastically support him taking some time to try things out and get clear about what he wants to do before starting college, instead of beginning right away with no clear direction. I told him I would help him find training opportunities and self-directed internships to explore things that interest him to help him figure out what he wants to learn more of.

And yet he chose to start college right after high school and kept going in spite of feeling stuck. He resisted telling me that he needed a break to sort things out. Part of that was the hive mind. I know it was the hive mind because he said when he told people that he might take time off from school they applied pressure, telling him he should just get it over with, and even worse, telling him his parents would be disappointed.

In spite of me specifically encouraging him to find his own path at different times in different ways, he believed the warnings of friends over the words I spoke. He was nervous telling me. He probably still thinks I’m disappointed and will be upset when January rolls around and he’s not in school.

Me? I’m getting excited thinking of all the out-of-the-hive opportunities he can explore! He’s interested in art and photography. He wants to travel. He is bilingual and wants to help native Spanish speakers learn English. He has a heart for traveling to impoverished areas and helping people improve their lives in some way.

I see how he could work with an aid agency or an organization that teaches English and serve people in a needy place. He could take photographs and write articles and experiment with his art while he’s there. He could learn from those experiences and find ways to continue traveling and photographing and creating art to represent places he’s visited and then share his travels with other people.

To me it’s not far-fetched. But to the rest of the hive it’s crazy.

He’s never going to figure out who he really is until he can silence the hive mind and listen to his inner voice. I’ll be helping him do that any way I can.

I’ll be glad to help you do that, too.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts


2 Responses to “The Hive Mind”

  1. Darcy on November 1st, 2010 9:23 am

    Wow. This post totally made me cry a little because of how beautiful that a father would help his son become the person he was born to be rather than the person the father or society wants the son to be. I am so excited for you and your son about this time off from college idea (I didn’t take any when I wanted to, because no one was saying go for it like you are saying to your son). I hope we hear more reports about his journey! 🙂

  2. Steve Coxsey on November 1st, 2010 3:04 pm

    Thanks, Darcy. I am hopeful and will help him take opportunities to explore different things, but I know that the opinions and influence of others will be very strong. He’s going to need a tribe of people who support his exploration and have tried somewhat similar paths, but he’s not inclined to seek them out. If they fall into his life… well, then, maybe he’ll listen, or maybe he’ll dismiss them the way most people will dismiss his journey. I’ll keep pointing, though!

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