Throughout history, human behaviour has been informed and influenced by archetypes. The Oxford dictionary defines archetype as: (1) original model, prototype; and (2) typical specimen. For centuries, philosophers, and, more recently, social scientists have used archetypes to characterize human behaviour. The archetype of the entrepreneur is that of the Achiever.
Entrepreneurs typically have a high achievement orientation. The United States leads the world in the expression of entrepreneurship. Americans celebrate the successes and tolerate the failures of the entrepreneurial journey much more readily than the citizens of other nations.
In the United States, the values of egalitarianism, meritocracy, and independence, among others, provide fertile soil for the seeds of entrepreneurship. Achievement is celebrated; failure is the flip side of the same coin. It is an accepted part of the entrepreneurial journey.
The achiever is a heroic figure in American society, yet, as with any archetype, there is a good and a bad side to achievement. Sometimes, the drive to achieve leads people to cheat in order to compete and win. We have recently seen a number of examples of executives in publicly traded companies accused of fraud. Large financial institutions have been forced into bankruptcy or brought to their knees through reckless investments seemingly driven by greed. Investor confidence has been shattered by their actions and those of people like Bernie Madoff. It appears as if their need to achieve caused these people to “cheat the system” in order to get ahead.
An archetype represents a model of how we want to live our lives. Much of our literature is based on archetypes. The only difference between an epic and a tragedy is in the choices made by the central character.
In an epic, when faced with adversity the hero or heroine rises to the occasion and their strengths become manifest. The adversity brings out the best in them. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about how we express ourselves in our heroic journey.
In a tragedy, when faced with adversity the central figure falls victim and their weaknesses come to the fore. It is not the external events in our lives that determine whether we are a hero or victim; it is the way in which we respond to the circumstances we encounter in our lives..
For the Entrepreneur as Achiever, the writing of an epic arises from the entrepreneur’s pursuit of meaning, not money. The purpose of the entrepreneur’s work and life is to make a difference and to do what is significant.
Conversely, the writing of a tragedy takes place when the entrepreneur becomes so concerned with the external trappings of success that they sacrifice their integrity, health, family, relationships, and faith. They pursue success at any price and end up losing their sense of self.
The Entrepreneurial Journey becomes an epic when the entrepreneur’s purpose is to become a better person and contribute to a better world.