The gains of losing yourself

David Braithwaite SJ 25 March 2019

The Christian mission requires the same spirit of creativity and adaptation that drives the entrepreneur.

Not that long ago I read a profoundly honest interview with a young entrepreneur in a business magazine. What made the interview so memorable and different was the young businessman’s sharing of how the whole process of setting up his business, to get it to the point of sale to a bigger fish, almost destroyed him psychologically. To read such searing honesty was all the more powerful for its being written in a publication that usually celebrates the entrepreneur as a bulletproof hero. It was a wonderful revealing of the hidden underbelly of ‘success’.

Though he ended up being a success in financial terms, and his was a kind of hero’s journey, we found out that he was a wounded hero: a transformed man. The simple brute desire to become ‘rich’ was not enough to explain or describe what had happened to him. By the end he was much freer of that  than ever. This was a subversive story.

We live in a culture that, quite rightly, celebrates the achievements of entrepreneurs, and other calculated risk takers, but one that rarely entertains the idea that these heroes pay a terrible price for their going out on limbs. The idea of a wounded leader, who effects change only, in and out, of those very wounds,  is a far deeper, and Christ-like story, than the usual promethean fare of secular leadership stories.

The insight it holds is that true entrepreneurship, and the leadership it requires, is a spiritual journey. That authentic spiritual journey involves great risk, possibly the greatest risk of all: to lose oneself. The great spiritual writers describe the paradoxical destabilising or de-centring of self that comes from the self-transcendence of growth in closeness to God. In that way, the language and practise of the spiritual life can shed light on the deeper workings of entrepreneurship.

The profound love’s knowledge that frees the disciple of Jesus the Christ, to be more than they could ever have dreamt of being, comes at the price of letting go established patterns of self-understating and relating. It is the ‘new self’ of Paul’s letters. This is the foundation of any Christian leadership. It may seem odd to make comparisons with the world of business, but is that just a prejudice? Could we be missing something of a point of contact worlds that are often considered mutually exclusive?

The willingness to risk in Christian mission shares the same spirit of creativity and adaptation that drives the entrepreneur. At its best the church nurtures these creative outreaches, but so often, sadly, they are viewed with deep suspicion; yet another consequence of the scourge of clericalism in the church, the clear rehearsed tendency of which is to undermine those who seek reform. Such people exist in all walks of life, not only the clergy.

Part of the beauty of the Church is the way she holds together reform and continuity in the sweep of history. At every turn we are called to take on a ‘new self’ and risk loss of who we think we are. This is the place of intersection between what is called entrepreneurship in the  ‘secular’ world, and what we call discipleship in the church.