Dialogue between an entrepreneur and Joe Gardner

Normalem
5 min readAug 17, 2021
Joe Gardner and Dez in Disney/Pixar Soul movie.

Arnold gets little sleep. He does not have much fun either. He works every waking hour, and yet it seems like is not enough: the fruits of his work show a lot of appearances and not much substance. He tries not to think about it: he must reach the goals.

A year ago, the company Arnold founded with his friend found investor support. They finally became a series A company. After much effort, the small-scale results of their product started to show promise and excited enough people. Since then, they have millions of dollars to grow the business, and objectives to meet.

Arnold is tired. He tries not to wonder if what they are doing makes sense. When Bruno proposed to start the business, Arnold did not doubt it for a second. He was convinced that he was born to do something big, and the opportunity was right in front of him. However, after the first two years, he was exhausted, and they are just getting started.

He has a blind hope that the moment the business scales, it will all be over. At last, he will have managed to put his mark on society; he would have helped shape it. His will become a distinguished life, and his legacy a dream come true. He will have achieved his purpose.

If Joe Gardner (the protagonist of Pixar’s movie Soul) and Arnold sat down for some coffee, and Arnold asked him for advice, Joe probable would tell him to be careful, and that, perhaps, when he thinks he has achieved his purpose, it will be revealed for what it is: nothing.

In a sense, Joe lived this in his own flesh. His life was miserable, sad, but he had a purpose: jazz. His purpose kept him alive, motivated him to keep going, not to succumb, even though life had rejected him the possibility of sustaining himself as a professional musician, forcing him to maintain a boring job as a high school band teacher. He knew, he was absolutely sure, that if he got a job in a famous band, one capable of playing at the Half Note, all his misery would disappear, all his emptiness would be left behind. A new Joe would be born.

And Joe rebelled against his mother, did all kinds of feats, played a great concert, and ultimately got the job. And yet he felt the same way. A new Joe did not appear, the void did not go away. He sacrificed the possibility of a new life, that of 22, to achieve his purpose, and nothing happened.

No doubt [Joe would say to Arnold], it was good that I managed to play with Dorothea Williams, and after the film, I do a little better financially speaking. But the significance of that episode in my life does not lie in these things, what was relevant was what it revealed to me: that my search made no sense, since, like any abstract desire, it was empty.

Thanks to what I learned I was again open to life again. And then, only because I was open to life, I understood again the experience of wonder that I had seen in 22, and that I used to dismiss as mere life: ordinary, without light. I believed life was elsewhere, as I think you believe, in the hope of being another person once your business scales.

You know, the day I played with Dorothea, after we left the bar, she told me a story: a young fish tells an old one that he is looking for the ocean. The old one, surprised, tells him that he is already in the ocean, to which the younger fish replies: “No, this is just water.”

Enigmatic, is it not? Because you may think that the young fish is screwed, as it will not be able to leave the ocean to contemplate it, and, therefore, will not know that that is where he is. And this may be true, but only in part. Because the immediate conclusion is not that we cannot get the ocean, or, to our effects, the purpose of our lives. The issue is whether the only way to view the ocean and our purpose is to attain the omnipresent gaze of a god.

For me it happened when I got home that day: I took out the things that 22 had left in my suit pocket, and, as I contemplated them, I remembered. The memories that 22 had left in my brain clearly appeared, but this time I did not reject them as ordinary, trivial; this time they revealed their magic, and made me want to play the piano. And as I played, those little details brought me other details, other memories, ones where I also experienced amazement, and their resulting inspiration. They were simple, small moments, but somehow they connected to each other, but not by a logical connection, but by… How can I say it? Just because they exist.

Just then, I experienced the whole, and me and my surroundings, me and my affections, as one being part of that whole.

I got the ocean.

I was transformed.

You may ask, has my life been worth it? No doubt. But not because of what I achieved, but for what I lived.

I understood that music is but the medium with which I shape what I live, the medium with which I connect and dialogue with life. Connecting with life is the end. The end is life.

So, my point is: be careful, take a close look at what you are doing. Meaning is felt, experienced in the body, it is not something to be analyzed; but if you are tired, stressed, and in a hurry, it will pass you by, as your body’s hearing will be impaired. If you are obsessed with success, you will be closed to the rest of life.

And heck, maybe you are connected, perhaps you will find plenitude when you become a billionaire. No one but you can know that. All I have to offer you is my story.

In this hypothetical Café, Arnold may not pay much attention, Slack may distract him, or the anxiety about the week’s work may push him to think about how to optimize time; and maybe he misses the smell of coffee, the beautiful smile the waiter gifted him, or Joe’s wisdom.

Is Joe’s wisdom true? Who knows? Still, it is something to think about, isn’t it?

Author Jorge Carrasquel
Explorer at Normalem

This posts was launch in Normalem’s Blog — The Posting Press in August 12 2021 with the same headline.

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Normalem

T-shirted examinations on work an meaning. A few disoriented guys trying to regain a sense of entrepreneurship in a world of would-be billionaires and messiahs.