A few weeks back, a nasty case of Hong Kong jetlag found me wide-eyed in the middle of the night, channel surfing and waiting for the breakfast buffet to open. For some reason, I stopped on the Cantonese-subtitled version of "The Matrix." I did mention the extreme jetlag, right?
If you're not familiar with the movie, here's all you need to know: Humanity has been enslaved by machines and plugged into a virtual-reality Matrix that keeps them sedate and unaware of the real world. With the help of his father-figure Morpheus, a young man named Neo unplugs from the great lie and joins a band of grungy rebels bent on destroying the Matrix. That's pretty much it. Oh, and everything that can blow up, does.
Suddenly, one scene from the movie jumped out and bit me. Morpheus is giving Neo a choice between a blue pill (remaining in the blissfully deceptive comfort of the virtual Matrix) and a red pill (experiencing the gritty truth of the real world).
"You take the blue pill and the story ends," Morpheus tells Neo. "You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."
The choice isn't about pills, of course, but control. And I realized Neo isn't all that much different than an entrepreneur. The fundamental question is whether you're willing to turn control of your life over to someone or something else in order to remain blissfully unaware of the real world. If you are, take the blue pill. Stay where you are, in a habitual life of gray cubicles, lateral moves, and casual Fridays.
To a guy like me, the red pill is the great entrepreneurial unknown. Working without a safety net. Unplugging from the great corporate machine to gamble it all on something you can't see, with no guaranteed result.
Lying in a bed in a Hong Kong Ramada Inn, I couldn't sleep for days without dreaming about blue pills. I dreamt of washing them down by the handful and waking up at home in my own bed next to my wife, instead of in a sterile hotel room half a world away. Take the blue pill, go to work at 8 a.m., and be home in time for dinner with the family. Never stress out about making payroll, getting the next batch of pants in the warehouse on time, or duking it out with 800-pound gorillas.
Of course, the dream of the blue pill is only a myth. Nothing in life is certain, not even casual Fridays. While you may think that your place is set in the Matrix of Corporate America, and that your own virtual reality is assured, you never know when a renegade band of Neos will swoop in and cut the main line on the whole operation.
My choice was made a long time ago -- and there's no looking back for people like me. The red pill has worked its way into my blood, my DNA. I have taken control. I have accepted that the buck stops with me. I understand that I am ultimately responsible for the livelihood of my employees, not to mention the roof over my family's head. I will sweat the payroll, the manufacturing tie-ups, the 800-pound gorillas. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I'd be a liar if I said I never catch myself daydreaming about a life free of the stresses of entrepreneurship. But like Neo, I prefer the sacrifices and struggles of knowing the truth, living in the real world, and being in control of my own destiny as much as anyone can be in this world. Sometimes you just need a riveting performance by Keanu Reeves to reaffirm it all.
OK. That last part is probably the jetlag talking.