Inception Totem: A Lesson in Reality

On my most recent travels I happened to be lucky enough to grab time on a plane to watch Inception.

The movie was great.

However, one element of the movie really struck a chord in me more than any other. In the film, the concept of a totem plays a key role. The main character, Dom Cobb, utilizes a spinning top that used to belong to his deceased wife Mal.

As explained by the official Inception Wiki:

“A Totem is an object that is used to test if oneself is in one’s own reality (dream or non-dream) and not in another person’s dream. A Totem has a specially modified weight, balance, or feel in the real world but in a dream of someone who does not know it well, the characteristics of the totem will very likely be off. In order to protect its integrity, only the totem’s owner should ever handle it. That way, the owner is able to tell whether or not they are in someone else’s dream. In the owner’s own dream world, the totem will feel correct. Any ordinary object which has been in some way modified to affect its balance, weight, or feel will work as a totem.”

Basically a totem ties its owner to reality.

This stuck with me as I traveled back to Tampa to be with my family. For two weeks I had been traveling to conferences and visiting BlueGlass employees and offices. There is a distinct difference between my reality away and with my family. As I sat there in my seat, aside from the questions that crept up about the real importance of the final totem scene in Inception, and the overall significance of the movie, it became apparent that for me the thing that grounds me in my reality is my family.

The Importance of Your Totem in Life

A lot of what we perceive to be important simply isn’t. There are ideas that are perceived to be important, but at the end of the day pail in comparison with what we really need to survive, i.e. food, water, shelter, health. In society, we have created false realities, and often times as entrepeuners we become overcome by these perceptions.

Sure money can buy a lot of these things, and if you are chasing the almighty dollar to support your family, than what is really important to you is your family and not the money itself. As consumers we lose sight of this. Somehow providing milk for our children becomes the same thing as buying the 2011 model of whatever car it is that has caught our eye.

For me, it is always money. The concept of finances consumes me because of my past. However, I do not often tie it back to its core, which is my desire to shelter and feed my family. My desire becomes mixed with my competitive nature to get MORE and never just to get ENOUGH.

This desire for MORE leaves me perpetually empty. I seek what I can’t have because my target is constantly moving. All this leads to is a feeling of failure. I become a consumer, and have a bizarre need to get more and trade in what I have for something better.

If I could simply keep my eye on my metaphorical totem I would realize that simply having enough to provide my family with the amazing life they have is all I need to consider my life fulfilled.

What is your totem? What is it that drives you, and is that concept something concrete or something grounded in illusion? The scary part of being driven by concepts that have no concrete root is that they never lead to a sense of completion, and over time the thrill of the chase can fade.

The Importance of Your Totem in Business

In my business life I have a totem as well. It is to create products and services that redefine any industry I create them for. I am obsessed with the concept of legacy. For me, nothing rivals the concept of figuring out how to do something no one else has, and to build that into a product that will forever change the way people approach that process.

If your totem is simply sales or revenue your reality is not going to based on something that has long term substance.

Amazing products generate revenue. Sales are the way you connect consumers with your amazing products. A business based on merely an amazing sales team will find itself with short client life cycles, and retaining clients is far more cost effective than producing new clients.

By keeping my reality focused on the perpetual improvement of products, I give our sales team ammunition.

This concept is similar to the difference between the thin affiliate site and the well created brand portal. The long term money and success will always reside in producing value.

The Importance of Your Totem in Decision Making

And in the end your totem should influence your decision making process. To often I let the false realities that haunt me influence my choices, and if I could have been just a bit more focused in those occasions many of the insanely bad choices I have made in my life could have been avoided.

My totem is my family. My beautiful wife and amazing sons. But like the totems in Inception everyone’s will be unique. Your’s may be personal fulfillment and peace, or having enough security to start your own business and feel the challenge of entrepreneurship on a daily basis. Perhaps your totem is the primal thrill of competition and victory, another form of personal fulfillment. Whatever it is make sure it is grounded in reality. Chasing goals that have no concrete foundation can lead to not only unhappiness but the death of creativity and the derailment of true greatness.

10 thoughts on “Inception Totem: A Lesson in Reality

  1. i have a beautiful poem in our punjabi language related to totems i hope if u r interested in it we will discuss it

  2. Alright, however… If your totem is your family.. how will you ground yourself to reality if a member of your family suffers unfortunate death? Your totem would have changed, and change would not be a good thing in our real world. you would be stuck not knowing if you are in the real world or not.

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