I shrugged off Ayn Rand!

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute. ‘  – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

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The Fountainhead’, ‘Atlas Shrugged’, ‘We The Living’, and  ‘Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal’. I read them all during my teens and early 20s. I read them multiple times. Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart were real inspirations on how to go about changing the world. About two decades later, am amused by the unadulated enthusiasm and think with wonderment that I believed that these protagonists could be real-life heroes.

Ayn Rand is truly inspirational when you are in your teens, trying to battle your demons and find your identity. Supremely confident and competent figures like Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart seem magical and one instinctively feels that they will make the world a better place to live in for all of us. Even if one were not a superhero, one could align to the vision of such characters i.e. shades of Eddie Williers, who was an average and honest bloke well aware of his own limitations and yet idealized Dagny to be his leader.

I think the reasons for being enthusiastic about Ayn Rand are well understood by the youth – they are in a mood for rebellion and changing the world. They want to seize all the opportunities they can in life and achieve success to distinguish themselves. Their enthusiasm is bubbly and inspirational – rarely, if ever, they acknowledge risk and the immense odds that they need to take on to make a mark for themselves. It is a delightfully silly age and it would be cruel to disillusion anyone who is so enthusiastically wanting to take on the System.

So what changed over the years so that I lost my boundless enthusiasm for the philosophy and indeed have many fellow travellers trudging the same journey. Experience of the ways of the world and how it works is obviously a deadening factor. The other possible reasons that strike reasonable to me include –

Being a socially inept person, even if you are true genius, is not worth it! 

Let me give a contemporary example that most people would easily recognize. Software engineers are a privileged lot – they achieve tremendous success at a very young age and are visible in huge numbers. And they have slogged it alright – engineering graduates from a variety of streams, they end up in the IT sector. And the tech world is cutting edge, so they are constantly learning new skills and knowledge.

Not necessarily but quite a few of them have a reputation for being nerds. They find themselves drawn into a miasma of interpersonal issues in professional and personal space. The smart ones figure a trick or two and try to do Management courses to pick more skills as well as a rounded personality. Organization Behavior, Consumer Behavior, Soft Skills all contribute towards smoothing their rough edges. It is not even unusual – their nerdiness often came from the single-minded pursuit of the IT dream to the exclusion of a lot of other things in their lives. Hopefully they catch this trick by their mid-20s or their youth will pass them by without they realizing what they missed.

Work is all about Team Work – the lone ranger is only great in books and movies! 

It was true of work even earlier – it is all the more true of the cutting edge sectors. No one person can be master of the universe on his own. Companies invest a good amount of time and energy in putting in place the right teams as the productivity simply zooms.

People management and the ability to work in the team is a key soft skill input, when it comes to deciding on promotions. The smart geeks learn the game and move on. Of course people play games and no one is advocating a ‘boy-scout’ like approach. But the right royal way still works in most cases as your reputation is built on it and you often ‘receive’ the just desserts for what you contribute.

On your own you are likely to make poor choices and decisions. You need others to chip in and moderate!

Think about the big decisions you make in life – changing a job, moving a city, getting married, buying a house, making retirement investments. Rarely, if ever, you would do it on your own. Even after getting in advise from others, you would still make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. You even begin to acknowledge the need to involve professional experts. People like portfolio managers, investment consultants, career coaches and mentors all get great access to you. You may be even vulnerable but you need to trust them to move forward. Gut feeling or a macho belief that you would always get it right – in fact being a contrarian in the world is the right choice by default is obviously a ‘fairy-tale’ situation.

Life is not a relentless puzzle about efficiency and productivity. A cold and calculated approach misses the true core of it.

Particularly in your personal space and even in the corporate world, one can count ones blessings. People have given things to you selflessly and with lot of love and sharing. They have covered up for your mistakes and shortcomings. They have protected you when you needed it. You have survived a turmoil like the 2008 Financial Crisis based on their unstinted support and even sacrifices. Imagine wanting to be a Rambo who will demolish everything and conquer it all. Well it is good to watch the movie and forget all about it.

Perfection is ideal to pursue but with moving goal posts it’s never really achieved on a sustainable basis in our lives.

Stress gets to you at times – you try all kinds of cures. Eventually you turn to a variant that is about calming down your mind – meditation, Art of Living, Vipassana or even pursuing a favorite hobby. At the nub of it you realize that the mind is busy duelling questions and challenges all the while. It takes a miracle to be able to put it all aside and blank yourself.

It is a discipline you need to build – eventually you metamorphose and transcend to the next level in the journey of life. And increasingly the things you value and cherish are intangibles – they escape the perfection metrics defined in terms of efficiency and effectiveness of the commercial world.

And so it is – we chart our unique journey but sharing a ‘life-cycle’ with similar milestones with a generation that shares a common destiny. Some are more fortunate than others but no one ever completes the journey without facing obstacles and needing help from others.

Is it any wonder than that I lost my enthusiasm for Ayn Rand’s world? Its meritocracy is great but it has too many other flaws. I remember reading a perfect joke about what is wrong with her books. And it goes as follows“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” – John Rogers.

Credit: Manan Vatysyayana Courtesy: Getty Images
Credit: Manan Vatsyayana
Courtesy: Getty Images

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