“Nobody is smarter than you are. And what if they are? What good is their understanding doing you? You have to take seriously the notion that understanding the universe is your responsibility, because the only understanding of the universe that will be useful to you is your own understanding.” -Terence McKenna
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” -Joseph Campbell
I define a “subjective imperative” as any insight or technique that worked effectively for someone and is then packaged and presented as if it were a universally applicable axiom of success that everyone else must obey if they wish to be successful.
In other words, “subjective imperative” is a fancy way of saying “because it worked for so and so, this is what you must do if you want to be happy, creative, successful, or whatever.”
I recently watched a youtube video by a successful entrepreneur. Some of the viewers expressed confusion as to whether or not the advice offered could work for them. As a response to those concerns, one commenter wrote the following;
“people want successful people to give them a formula….like A-B-C and there ya go. ain’t happening, never has. The greats jumped in and followed their inner guidance….no one makes it this big purely by mentally following a system (even if they think they did)….we are multi-dimensional beings and find our own unique ways, by mind, gut and heart. Listen to him, listen to what resonates, move on and live your life.”
We can all learn something about happiness, creativity, and success from each other, but ultimately everyone has to perform the task of translating information into terms that make sense to them and transforming advice into tools that work for them.
We live at a time when there are more voices than ever before pontificating on what it takes to make it in life. As an avid learner, I love the options for self-education that are created by such an environment. However, an abundance of information makes it all the more necessary for each person to stay attuned to their own internal navigation.
Most successful people started off doing something that was so unprecedented, that there was no roadmap for them to follow.
Oprah didn’t get her business ideas from the Oprah show, “O” magazine, or the Oprah Network. Those roadmaps didn’t exist until she created them. Michael Jordan didn’t have a Michael Jordan to copy because his roadmap didn’t exist until he created it. Suze Orman didn’t call in to the Suze Orman show to find out how to become financially independent, because her roadmap didn’t exist until she created it. Steve Jobs wasn’t inspired by the story of Steve Jobs. He was busy writing the story of Steve Jobs. His roadmap didn’t exist until he created it.
Like most successful creators, these individuals were all people who followed their gut, improvised as they went along, adapted to surprises that popped up along the way, failed, bounced back from failures, kept the faith, and stayed the course until they realized their dreams.
Beware the subjective imperative.
That is, never let someone else’s path become a philosophy of life that you aren’t free to deviate from.
In your pursuit of success and well-being, learn from anyone who’s talking, but don’t let it drown out the sound of your own inner voice.