One of the things I enjoy about staying in hotels is getting a complimentary copy of USA Today each morning. Some hotels slip one under your door. Others have stacks of the daily placed strategically around the lobby and in the hotel restaurant. For a Gen Xer like me, who grew up reading the Sunday New York Times (an activity as sacred as going to church), reading a real paper harkens back to a time that seems simpler in light of news coming to us in 140 characters or less on a tiny screen.
On a recent mini getaway over spring break, I took advantage of the free papers while grabbing breakfast with my kids. As they checked Facebook and Snapchat, I read each section of the paper, marveling at the experience (it had been awhile since I had read a real newspaper). On the back page of the Money section, a full size color ad couldn’t be missed.
Its headline screamed:
HIS MONEY TURNS SMALL BUSINESS INTO BIG BUSINESS
The photo shows a man in his early to mid 40s wearing the uniform of today’s ultra rich — dark sports jacket, dark mock tee, dark jeans, expensive watch — standing in a power pose with legs wide and arms crossed, a tough look on his face as if to say, “Try and stop me from helping you become rich, powerful and successful!”
At the bottom of the ad, the copy reads:
BILLION DOLLAR BUYER PREMIERES TONIGHT 10P ET/PT CNBC
“And there it is!” I said to myself. “The rescue fantasy, business style.”
21st Century Rescue
The Oxford Dictionary defines the term rescue fantasy as:
A subconscious belief or fantasy centering on rescue, especially a belief that one is needed or able to save another person from something, posited as a motive for certain actions or choices.
A rescue fantasy can’t work without the willing participation by both parties. In it, there is a rescuer and a rescue-ee. In today’s startup climate, those parts are played by billionaire venture capitalists and emerging entrepreneurs, respectively. The psychology is powerful. Believing all it will take to bring you to the entrepreneurial promised land is someone to invest in your company, small business owners everywhere line up week after week to pitch their version of the American Dream to these heroes of the Internet Age. The rest of us watch, delighting in the narrative full of good guys, villains, and hard-working everyday folks who deserve an honest chance to make it big — with the help of a six or seven-figure investment.
Is it any wonder television executives decided to create yet another show that glorifies a billionaire who promises he can save struggling small businesses? Tilman Fertitta is the newest savior on the block, a member of the ever-growing family of shows playing right into an audience who is hot for yet another variation of this timeless story.
Rescue fantasies started for me with fairy tales as a little girl. “Someday, your prince will come” was an all-too familiar message played out over and over again in books, movies, and TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie (one of my personal favorites). They gave me the idea that all I needed to do was look pretty and play coy for a man to sweep me off my feet and make my dreams come true. Even with a feminist mother, I bought into the idea that my happily-ever-after would come in the form of a man with money, power, and prestige. What can I say? Like a lot of little girls, I wanted to wear beautiful gowns, be the belle of the ball — and have my own hip bottle to retreat to when I needed to get away.
Fortunately, while in college I discovered flannel shirts and Birkenstocks were more suitable to the independent life I decided I wanted. Reading the Transcendentalists who promoted the virtues of simplicity and self-reliance added fuel to that fire. Reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau and essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson helped me exchange the fairy tale fantasy for a reality defined by what I could do to move my own life forward. But early messaging is hard to shake, no matter how many books you read, or how much therapy or journaling you do. Buried deep down somewhere in all of us, that fantasy of being rescued lives on.
Fast forward to today, and I’m running my own show with a tiny service based business. I’ve invested more than a decade of my life and tens of thousands of dollars into my self-education about how to be an entrepreneur in the 21st century. I’ve made tons of mistakes, failed miserably, and enjoyed some sweet spots of success as a result of doing the work I’m supposed to do every day, day after day, to grow myself and my business.
It hasn’t been easy. In fact, more days than not, it’s been downright hard. I’ve experienced more despair as an entrepreneur than in any other career I’ve had. I question my decision at least once a day, wondering why I choose to walk a path littered with an extraordinary number of casualties. So when I see an ad for the next version of the popular shows Shark Tank or The Profit, my heart rate goes up, my cheeks flush, and a warmth spreads through my body with anticipation for what’s about to happen. I know this story, I think. And I like it.
The newest versions of knights in shining armor come dressed in custom tailored suits, driving Ferrari LaFerraris or disembarking from their private Bombardier BD-700 Global Express jets. They present themselves as open-minded, fair, and willing to listen. But if you don’t have your shit together, they will toss you to the curb faster than a knight-in-training falls off a horse in a jousting competition and leave you for dead.
Men and women are attracted to this storyline for different reasons. But at the end of the day, what keeps me and my entrepreneurial colleagues coming back for more is the Kool Aid we drink every day: that sweet elixir of hope, belief, sheer will, determination, and perseverance to experience something as close to freedom as anything else we could do with our time could give us.
Even if we do need a little help to get there, that satisfying taste of freedom makes all the pain and heartache along the way worthwhile.