Lessons about entrepreneurship, creativity, government and life from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
Have you ever come up with an idea that seemed so incredibly imaginative it filled you with an inexpressible joy? Yet, the time, money, resources or connections weren’t there to make it happen yet. This is common for inspired creatives. It can make you feel very frustrated to have such an amazing vision, yet know that you don’t have what it takes to bring it into reality yet.
Don’t despair. There’s something a bit prophetic about these inspired ideas. They set the stage for what can be in the future. Almost like a seed planted in the mind, an inspired idea goes into the ground and begins gathering everything it needs to become a full grown tree.
There’s a scene in Atlas Shrugged where Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden are standing by an old bridge in front of her freshly laid railroad track. Dagny knows the bridge needs to be replaced with one made of Rearden Metal. Then it would last another century. But her designers tell her that it’s too costly. Not only that, the designs they come up with are antiquated and do not adapt to the lighter, stronger metal’s capabilities. She decides to just reinforce the existing bridge with Rearden Metal and hope it lasts for another five years.
She stands at the bridge with Hank Rearden who tells her it won’t cost as much as she thinks to do the job right. He shows her pages of sketches and mathematical formulas and explains how his vision of an innovative bridge made of Rearden Metal could span the gulf and last another century.
Hank,” she asked, “did you invent this in two days?”
“Hell, no. I ‘invented’ it long before I had Rearden Metal. I figured it out while making steel for bridges. I wanted a metal with which one would be able to do this, among other things. I came here just to see your particular problem for myself.”
Notice that the vision of the bridge came years before Hank Rearden ever invented Rearden Metal. That vision, planted like a seed in Rearden’s mind, led him to the invention and accumulation of everything he needed to make it a reality. Dagny’s need became Rearden’s opportunity to see the fulfillment of his vision.
Success is when preparation meets opportunity.
So hang onto those visionary ideas. Don’t discard them. Don’t let anyone tell you they are impossible. In time, as you take action, everything you need will be brought forward to make it a reality.
It’s funny that what some people find romantic, others find boring. Inspired creatives (who are often Potentials in the STEP Into Destiny test) are wired a bit differently than others. I believe our deepest craving is to be understood at a level where our joy resides. Perhaps everyone craves to be understood at this place. The challenge for Potentials is that perhaps only 10% of the population will ever be able to truly “get” what brings us joy. Hence, we’re ever searching, but rarely finding someone who gets us at this core place of joy.
This scene between Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged is a classic illustration of a “romantic scene” between Potentials. It may be that you’d need to be a Potential to truly appreciate it though…
They stood at the window, watching silently, intently. She did not speak, until another load of green-blue metal came moving across the sky. Then the first words she said were not about rail, track or an order completed on time. She said, as if greeting a new phenomenon of nature:
He noticed that, but said nothing. He glanced at her, then turned back to the window.
“Hank, this is great.”
He said it simply, openly. There was no flattered pleasure in his voice, and no modesty. This, she knew, was a tribute to her, the rarest one person could pay another: the tribute of feeling free to acknowledge one’s own greatness, knowing that it is understood.
She said, “When I think of what that metal can do, what it will make possible…Hank, this is the most important thing happening in the world today, and none of them know it.”
“We know it.”
“They spoke of the metal and of the possibilities which they could not exhaust. It was as if they were standing on a mountain top, seeing a limitless plain below and roads open in all directions. But they merely spoke of mathematical figures, of weights, pressures, resistances, costs.
She had forgotten her brother and his National Alliance. She had forgotten every problem, person and event behind her; they had always been clouded in her sight, to be hurried past, to be brushed aside, never final, never quite real. This was reality, she thought, this sense of clear outlines, of purpose, of lightness, of hope.
This was the way she had expected to live — she had wanted to spend no hour and take no action that would mean less than this.
She looked at him in the exact moment when he turned to look at her. They stood very close to each other. She saw, in his eyes, that he felt as she did. If joy is the aim and core of existence, she thought, and if that which has the power to give one joy is always guarded as one’s deepest secret, then they had seen each other naked in that moment.”
I’ve been reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: (Centennial Edition) and am enjoying it very much. I can relate in many ways with the heroine of the story, Dagney Taggart. Dagney’s a workaholic. At the end of a particular long day, she steps outside, exhausted and looking for something to refuel her.
Her work was all she had or wanted. But there were times, like tonight, when she felt that sudden, peculiar emptiness, which was not emptiness, but silence, not despair, but immobility, as if nothing within her were destroyed, but everything stood still. Then she felt the wish to find a moment’s joy outside, the wish to be held as a passive spectator by some work or sight of greatness. Not to make it, she thought, but to respond; not to create, but to admire. I need it to let me go on, she thought, because joy is one’s fuel.
She had always been — she closed her eyes with a faint smile of amusement and pain — the motive power of her own happiness. For once, she wanted to feel herself carried by the power of someone else’s achievement. As men on a dark prairie liked to see the lighted windows of a train going past, her achievement, the sight of power and purpose that gave them reassurance in the midst of empty miles and night — so she wanted to feel it for a moment, a brief greeting, a single glimpse, just to wave her arm and say: Someone is going somewhere…”
I love that passage because I can relate to Dagney. I find immense joy and happiness in my work, but there’s something magical in watching someone else succeed, observing another’s creations, knowing there is majesty elsewhere on the planet. I think that’s why I love promoting people so much and why nature is the air I breathe.
I’ve been reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: (Centennial Edition). Evidently Rand journaled extensively the characters, plot and messages she wanted to convey before she ever began writing a novel. At the beginning of this edition, they included several excerpts from Rand’s journal.
One passage stood out to me. At first I was taken aback.
It is proper for a creator to have an unlimited confidence in himself and his ability, to feel certain that he can get anything he wishes out of life, that he can accomplish anything he decides to accomplish, and that it’s up to him to do it. But here is what he must keep clearly in mind: it is true that a creator can accomplish anything he wishes — if he functions according to the nature of man, the universe and his own proper morality, that is, if he does not place his wish primarily within others and does not attempt or desire anything that is of a collective nature, anything that concerns others primarily or requires primarily the exercise of the will of others. (This would be an immoral desire or attempt, contrary to his nature as a creator.) If he attempts that, he is out of a creator’s province and in that of the collectivist and the second-hander.”
“Therefore he must never feel confident that he can do anything whatever to, by or through others. (He can’t — and he shouldn’t even wish to try it — and the mere attempt is improper.)”
What? But what about the power of synergy? Synergy may be one of the most central themes of my life, and thus I initially recoiled at her theory. Yet, as I continued reading, I began to better understand her reasoning and found myself agreeing:
He must not think that he can … somehow transfer his energy and his intelligence to them and make them fit for his purposes in that way. He must face other men as they are, recognizing them as essentially independent entities, by nature, and beyond his primary influence; he must deal with them only on his own, independent terms, deal with such as he judges can fit his purpose or live up to his standards (by themselves and of their own will, independently of him) and expect nothing from others…”
I’ve known many a creative (including myself) who were married to people of the opposite personality type who were not the least bit interested in their ideas and could not fully grasp the logic behind their dreams. In fact a friend wrote me within 12 hours after I read this passage to say that she’d finally given up on getting her husband to come around to “supporting her” in her mission. She felt she’d put her own dreams on hold waiting for him to catch up for far too long.
Her husband does love her and support her monetarily, but he’s not ecstatic about her ideas and doesn’t really “get” where she’s coming from. He doesn’t oppose her, but he’s not interested either. I think it’s important to look at our definitions of support. Does someone have to “get you” to be a support to you?
My own husband has only read one of my 21 books and that was a historical fiction novel. He doesn’t get excited about my ideas. He doesn’t get the core of what drives my passions. For a long time, I found this very frustrating. How could he even know me (or truly love me) if he doesn’t get excited about my core passion in life?
But then, I began to understand what Ayn Rand describes in that last paragraph — if we wish to be free to be ourselves, we must respect other people’s freedom to be themselves.
If I waited for my husband to get excited about my projects, read all my books, or advocate for my cause, I’d never do anything. You are responsible for your own life and your own message. Other people are responsible for theirs.
You can be with a spouse who doesn’t get excited about what excites you. I came to understand that the limitation was only in my mind. You are free to be you. You don’t need a specific person to get you. God will bring people to you (and is bringing people to you) who do get you. When I let go of expecting my husband to be who I wanted him to be, I was able to see how he DOES support me in a myriad of ways. One being, never complaining about me spreading my wings and doing my own thing.
Bottom line, I’m learning that if I want the freedom to be me, then I must allow others the freedom to be themselves … even if (in my view) they use their freedom to choose bondage.