Did you exchange a walk-on part in a war
For a lead role in a cage?
– Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Today, when this song came on, I settled into it. And allowed it to take me where it would. There are songs that serve as reminders of certain phases in your life. Some songs bring with them forgotten feelings…whiffs of something precious, happy or sad.
But this song isn’t like that. I don’t have a strong feeling attached to it. But it does take me back to a time which I can now say was the start of something that redefined me forever.
I started really listening to this song around 1999 or 2000. I was a copyeditor for a computer magazine back then.
I would listen to the song often. I savored “Can you tell…a smile from a veil?” and “Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?”
And then I hit that bit, “Did you exchange a walk-on part in a war for a lead role in a cage?”
It just caught my fancy for some reason. It intrigued me. And I found myself writing it on a piece of paper and pinning it to the board next to my seat at work. I would look at it from time to time. One of the bosses even peered at it once, and immediately went behind a veil. He knew he was in a cage while all he wanted to do was wage wars. I could see that, for him. But it didn’t seem like a thing that should have been about my life, my work. I probably saw it like a poster…something out there in bright colors on a wall. But outside of me.
At the time, my main reading consisted of books by Tom Peters. Of course my usual diet of Richard Bach was there, and some bit of Gary Zukav too. But it was Tom Peters who was taking over my imagination. I had no idea how what Tom wrote made any difference to what I did at work day in and day out. But it made me happy to read his books: The Pursuit of Wow, and The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations.
Today as I listened to the song again I allowed myself to register this: that time of my work life—with 4-5 years of work experience—was sowing the seeds of what would happen five years later. I would discard the lead role in a cage for a walk-on part in a war. Except the walk-on part would become the lead role, but certainly not in a cage.
It is not nice to call entrepreneurship war. But whether I realized it or not back then I was stepping into what would be as consuming, as damaging, as exhilarating and as strategic and tactical as war.
Maybe Pink Floyd planted that seed in my head all those years ago. Or maybe I already came pre-planted with a seed which Floyd then watered everyday. Whatever the case, I know this verse was a catalyst. And Tom Peters was showing me the right ways of being a professional, of being a company.
You connect the dots by looking back, to paraphrase Steve Jobs. Yes, while waging wars you are just doing your best to take the surprises out of uncertainty. But once you have come some way you can start seeing how the dots connect.
Pink Floyd. Tom Peters. Entrepreneurship.
When I said no to a lead role in a cage. And no, I didn’t exchange my heroes for ghosts!
Thank you, Pink Floyd and Tom Peters!