Last week a stranger referred to me as “real-life Thanos.” Probably because I shave my head and have a beard and yell a lot when I do standup. Regardless it totally made my day.
The world runs on stories, and Thanos is literally the poster child of the story that’s currently captured the world’s imagination. Hipsters complain that superheroes have become too dominant a force in pop culture and cinema, but the truth is, superheros have dominated human stories for as long as humans have had stories.
We’ve always loved superhero stories — whether it’s Captain America or Achilles — because as humans we need our lives to be an adventure, not a meaningless loop.
Maybe you’ve heard of Joseph Campbell, maybe you haven’t. He was a literature professor whose life’s work was analyzing and comparing mythologies from all over the world. Arguably his greatest lasting contribution was popularizing the idea of the hero’s journey.
I know this is going to sound grandiose and overly dramatic, but it’s for real; if you own a firm you’re on the hero’s journey. You’re doing the same thing that superheroes do, and you have to remember that to persevere through the inevitable shitty times.
Before the hero starts the journey, life is safe and boring: Frodo in the Shire, Luke on Uncle Owen’s moisture farm, you five years into what you thought was a dream job at KPMG. The proto-hero’s life may or may not be comfortable, but it’s familiar and it’s routine.
Then comes the call to adventure. In movies the call is usually external. In real life it’s often internal. The call disrupts your good, happy, boring, unfulfilling, ordinary world and presents you with a uniquely tailored challenge or quest that you are compelled to undertake. A challenge like having to throw a stupid ring into a volcano, or like knowing you have to create a life for yourself with truly meaningful work that serves a bigger purpose and makes a difference in the lives of not just your clients and their families, but also your employees and their families.
Existential malaise has always been an ingredient in my calls to adventure. Life is fine, but it also feels pointless. It feels like I’ve arrived. I have the undeniable feeling that this is it, that this is all there is, and I can’t stand it. But then I hear someone tell the story of their hero’s journey and I think, “Oh yeah! There’s so much more than just this!” Or I get a great idea, a BHAG, and I know I’ve got to pursue it. The existential malaise is replaced with excitement, focus and drive.
Wherever you are on your own hero’s journey, you’ve got to remember two key things about your call to the journey.
First, you’ve got to remember the existential malaise, and you’ve got to remember that it was driving you crazy. If you forget it, you’ll turn into Cypher from the Matrix.
Every hero’s journey includes struggle, temptation, sacrifice and harm. Even yours as a accounting firm owner. In the movie The Matrix, life for those still plugged into the Matrix was just fine, but it was an illusion. Life for those liberated from the Matrix was hard — extremely hard — but it was full of purpose and meaning; and most of all it was real. But the character Cypher forgot the ennui of the Matrix; he forgot the discomfort of the “splinter in your mind,” and he cut a deal to exit his hero’s journey and get re-inserted into the Matrix.
If you jump off the cliff and start your own firm, at some point you’re going to want to quit. You’re going to get to a low place where you want to go back to comfort and stability from the chaos and uncertainty of where your journey has taken you. Don’t do it. Comfort and stability are fine, but they’re not the training ground nor the battle field of a hero.
Second, you’ve got to remember the thrill of the call you received.
At some point, you stayed up all night because you were too excited to sleep because you received your call to adventure. You’ve got to remember what kept you up. Were you daydreaming about how you were going to run a firm right? About how satisfied you’d feel creating a successful business? About how the relationships you’d have with your clients and employees would be fulfilling, meaningful, important relationship? About how you’d prioritize the things that were truly important to you? Whatever it was, your call was tapping into the things that ignite your passion and give you energy.
You have to keep those things close at hand. Because you will invariably find yourself in some dark places on your journey. The mark of a hero is that in the darkest times, she centers on her passion, and from that passion, she finds the energy needed to emerge and succeed.
“Follow your bliss.” That’s a Joseph Campbell quote. It’s not “follow your comfort” or “follow the money.” It’s follow your bliss. You were called to follow your bliss, and when you remember and revisit the call, you recapture the passion and the energy you need to not just survive but thrive through the darkest times in your journey as a countercultural accounting firm owner.
Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Utah, but manages to make it to Greenville, SC once a year to emcee Deeper Weekend. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.