In this idea there is an assumption that free will is always available to anyone, and that the choosing of career, friends, location and interests are reachable by the individual, as for the CEO in a corporation who will influence strategies and targets an organization will pursue in the course of their business.
But, we know this assumption is not applicable for all of us.
Although it might sell a lot of books on self-help, the actual attainment of self-control, and guidance of your own path in life (business as usual, or living as usual), is limited to a few that have consciously put the effort in reigning, as much as one can, over their lives.
And this is not about being excluded from the selected group by birth due to social class, or access to resources — implying the wealthy always attain owning of themselves, which is not true. Neither is about how little, CEO or not, one individual (usually) can change things, making the trying a pointless exercise. Nor about genius, and the impossibility of reaching a level of self-control and determination because they are naturally or statistically reserved to a few.
Is about, the degree an individual can really understand the implied advice of control in the “being a CEO of themselves” catchphrase.
This kind of analogy is used everyday by so many people, that when thinking about what it means, I felt the need to peel the onion a little a bit more. Maybe, because this, and similar phrases, are used regularly to either prompt somebody to do something on their own —taking ownership— or to denote an admirable quality which is above the rest in controlling what a regular human can achieve. Or because, in popular culture, there is a supposition that the leader of something have inherently more control than the team member (peasant, worker, citizen), and that is more desirable to be in their position, than in the bottom of the chain. Or just maybe because is another thing that sounds nice, but might not be true? That kind teenagers love to debunk from their parents foundation of values when asked what they are going to do with their future lives.
Yet, I cannot say it might be true. In reality, any phrase or belief that prompts for self-control lives in a reality where a combination is the best way to describe it: a few elements possibly available to be influenced at will, which much effort, and others never to be in one’s control, although unknown to us. And yes, even the CEO is in this space, although usually more pedantic than the rest of humans in regards to what he doesn’t know, while at the same time attracting our attention for an image of self-control in the little that he shows influence.
Beyond the definition of what a CEO really does— and how much controls he has about it. I think the phrase expresses itself more clearly when changed to “master of yourself”. It goes beyond the aim of being the top paid dog of a corporation (top, but still at the mercy of a chairman or a board), and brings it down to the individual that might not even know what CEO stands for (Chief Executive Officer). It is also closer to one of the most powerful wisdom maxims of the ancient Greeks: “Know Thyself”; which in a way express the need for an individual to exercise control of their self, while at the same time being humble of their limitations as a human in a bigger system mostly outside of their control.
So, from very long time being in control, mastery, or knowing of oneself has been a well-known advice, then why it is so difficult to practice it? The whole self-help category of literature is probably just saying the same in a million ways, with: a) a recognition that is something true that could and should be done (most people agreeing by buying the books), and b) very little success in actually going from acknowledgment to action. There is even the self-help book for self-help authors to finish their publications — a paradox in itself.
Might look like a lack of will, and in many cases is juts that, laziness does exist. But, in others is just not even being aware of how much a person can start controlling aspects of their life, and little by little, become master and commander of their own ship (S.S. yourself). Like in everything if you have never experienced freedom of any kind (even being free of choosing a meal, because of living under the line of extreme poverty), things would take more effort and will require much more focus and determination to attain consciousness of what is at one’s control, but still able to be attained. Taking one outside of what is usual for their group and being successful at it is a start, no matter how little it is. Scaling the challenge up, to change a whole community, a country, even the world, probably needs a life of practicing (with many errors and failures), where the journey will be for most the only reward— there is a ticket limit to history eternity.
Then, from knowing yourself to aim at changing yourself there is only one degree of separation, and from there, to change what surrounds you: community, country, world, is just another the logical next step. I guess the conflict and skepticism in the receivers of the advice of being “CEO of themselves”, comes more from the objective recognition of the limited possibilities they have at reaching “the top”, rather than the ideal of striving towards it even when knowing is practically unattainable.
And this is probably the best way to understand the phrase: at least you need to know yourself and get yourself to be better, with an aim to improve what surrounds you disregarding how attainable that looks. The alternative is leaving to the system, the group, or a destiny higher than you to define what you are. Or the blind guided the blind.