Forgetting One's Own Story

The Greatest Loss of Humanity: Forgetting One’s Own Story

A few days ago, while giving a lecture at a place, during the Q&A session, a student asked me:

“Teacher Chen, I started following you since your Q&A posts on Zhihu. I still remember the posts you wrote when you left Zhejiang University, and they left a deep impression on me. I admire you a lot. It seems like you’re doing well now, so you must think that your past choices were correct. But imagine, if after leaving, things didn’t go as well for you, like earning less money and not having the same level of success, would you regret your decision? This is also what we worry about when facing choices.”

Many readers know the story of why I left Zhejiang University. In the past few years, I used to talk about it frequently, almost to the point of embarrassment. Usually, when a person keeps telling a story, it means they haven’t completely let go of it. They need to give meaning to that story through narration to help themselves move on. That’s how it was for me at the time. Of course, I don’t talk about it much now. First, it’s been a long time, and some things gradually fade away. Second, my world has become bigger, and that story has become smaller. However, it is still an important story in my life, not only creating space for my future development but also providing me with an experience that allows me to deeply understand the process of transformation and the person within it.

I have a friend who is a very successful entrepreneur. He started a business in partnership with someone, and shortly after the company was established, he was assigned to develop emerging markets. The boss promised him, “Work hard, and you won’t lose out.” He did an excellent job, overcoming countless challenges, leveraging personal connections, and spending ten years to almost single-handedly build it into a highly valuable company. However, when it came time to discuss the distribution of shares with the boss, the boss completely disregarded him and only offered him a small portion of the equity. Of course, it was still a significant fortune. However, he couldn’t accept such unfair treatment from the boss, and he didn’t want to continue serving in such a company. So he gave up the business he had created from scratch, left the company and the boss, and prepared to start from scratch and begin anew.

His story of transformation is similar to mine. A person can bravely leave, just like a hero leaving their homeland in a hero’s story. But this is only the beginning of the story. The journey begins, and the hero will still miss their homeland. Just like my friend, he couldn’t help but think about his losses. Although he achieved them himself, in the midst of the pandemic and the turbulence of the times, replicating his previous success becomes incredibly challenging. The sense of loss from abandoning enormous wealth, the self-doubt that arises from starting a new venture, and the anger towards the boss’s betrayal torment him deeply, causing him to constantly ponder whether things would have turned out differently if he had handled the situation differently in the beginning.

He sought my advice on how to move on from the sense of loss and anger.

I asked him, “Why did you leave in the first place?”

He said, “Essentially, I am an entrepreneur. My heroes are people like Jobs and Musk, individuals who create new value for the world. I often read their biographies, and the similar pain and setbacks they experienced often bring me comfort. It seems that I left because my boss let me down, but fundamentally, it is because I wanted to become a more liberated creator and build my.