Neurotic? It's a Good Thing.
We are all becoming neurotic. Compulsive. Obsessed. Don’t think so? Then you’re just not paying attention.
We’re neurotic about everything from the food we eat and the way we dress to our personal brands and online personas. We’re unnaturally attached to our tech gadgets and apps. We’re obsessed with personal productivity, self-improvement and time management. And we check our Twitter and Facebook pages constantly.
As for the whole entrepreneurial movement, it’s completely irrational. Think about it. We can’t all be our own bosses. We can’t all be CEOs of one-person companies. No matter how you look at it, the vast majority of us have to end up working for relatively few of us. There’s simply no way around it.
And yet here we all are trying our damnedest to make it on our own. Well, I’ve got some good news for you. Being neurotic is not a bad thing. Some of the most brilliant innovators, entrepreneurs and CEOs of all time were anything but normal, well-balanced people. They were obsessed.
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After all, obsession is just another word for passion. If you can channel it, funnel it – focus like a laser on something potentially useful or groundbreaking instead of scattering your attention on anything and everything this crazy chaotic world of ours throws at you – it can work for you in a big way.
History is full of wildly successful neurotic people.
Ever heard of Johannes Kepler? He was a 17th century German astronomer and mathematician who came up with the laws of planetary motion and came very close to nailing the theory of gravitation long before Isaac Newton. Unfortunately, Kepler was a little too obsessed – something of an occupational hazard for the neurotic, I’m afraid.
For no logical rhyme or reason, Albert Einstein was completely and totally obsessed with light. He somehow always knew in his gut that light was in some way special. It was that passion that drove him to imagine what it would be like to ride on a beam of light, and that’s what led to the special theory of relativity and E=MC2.
Howard Hughes wasn’t just one of the greatest, wealthiest, and most prolific entrepreneurs of all time. He was a true renaissance man who was wildly successful in a diverse range of industries from entertainment and real estate to aerospace and oil exploration. He was also a life-long obsessive-compulsive.
Steve Jobs was a card-carrying control freak who never minced words, suffered fools, or paid too much attention to detail. Saying Jobs was a micromanager is like saying Warren Buffett is good with money. It was Jobs’ thing. Had he been any other way, Apple would not be Apple. The same can be said of a laundry list of successful CEOs including Bill Gates, Andy Grove, Larry Ellison and Michael Dell. Mark Zuckerberg may also fit the description if Aaron Sorkin’s portrayal of the Facebook founder in The Social Network was accurate.
I have more than a passing interest in the subject matter because someone very close to me is completely neurotic. Me. I’m about as compulsive as they come. I obsess over everything. And I don’t mind admitting that I’m a control freak supreme.
Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who’s ever worked with me. Better still, ask my wife. I’m sure she’d be all too happy to spill her guts about what it’s been like trying to keep me on the straight and narrow all these years. On second thought, don’t get her started. She might never stop.
The truth is, passion and obsession are two sides of the same coin. People who are truly passionate about something – a vision of the future, a problem that needs to be solved, a prophecy that must be fulfilled, or a mystery that begs to be unraveled – are really just a coin flip away from going maybe a bit overboard.
It’s a tightrope that more people than you realize walk. You just have to find your way from being neurotic about everything to being passionate about that one thing. And if it works out for you, you just might get lucky enough to do it again … and again. The key is to own who you are, find that one thing and stay focused. And take it from me: It also helps to partner with grounded people, professionally and personally.
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Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.