It’s been a long time for me in the corporate world. Or at least, that’s how it seems to me after all these years. One underlying theme at workplace has been “ownership mentality”. Especially, the startup category.

Though it appealed to me in the early days when the blood was hot and the experience was less, it started feeling shallow as time went by. The first big realization came when I saw my colleagues getting fired in the first startup I worked for. The people who were supposed to have the “ownership mentality” till yesterday had their workstation locked, access cards taken overnight.

And it happened again and again. That’s probably the meaning of the “ownership mentality”: you don’t have the ownership but you need to act as if you are. But it’s significance started fading away for me. I’ve acted professionally for the majority of my corporate life. Which essentially means that I acted to the best of my capabilities and intentions 8 hours a day and 5 days a week. But I stopped thinking about the “ownership mentality”.

When I quit Yahoo! 2 years back and started my own startup, it was different. I “owned” it. After all, it was “my startup”. Of course, it was with 2 partners and there was also an investor. But for majority of time, I would relate to it as “my startup” in a way which is similar to “my phone”, “my laptop”, “my house” etc.

There was nothing like “ownership mentality”. It was like “owning”. They are different. I was not acting as an owner. I believed that I was an owner. Even though I was one of the owners but I’ve been an owner nonetheless.

And now, when I am transitioning out of this startup (oh yes, I am), this whole thing about “owning” and “ownership mentality” came back to me. In this case, nobody asked me to leave (unlike other startups where my colleagues were asked to leave and I was myself asked to leave once). I am leaving of my own accord for my own personal reasons. But I am leaving nonetheless. I am leaving something that I “owned”. Or so I thought till yesterday.

For the first time in last 2 years, me and my partners had a discussion wherein “the percentage of ownership” became more important than the “ownership” itself. There wasn’t a conflict or any heartburns or anything that we disagreed upon. It was just like any other “objective” discussion that we’ve had in last 2 years. And I expect it to be just like any other “objective” decision that we’ve taken in last 2 years. So, there is no juicy “News-Channel” style story here. It’s just that it felt very different to “own” something fully for 2 long years and then talk about quantifying it and dividing it.

It reminded me what Anant Uncle, my spiritual guide, once said to me. It was a time when I wanted to buy a house and was restless in a rented house. I wanted to live in a house that “I owned”. He said one simple thing: “How can you own a house? You don’t even own this body.” It was a forceful realization for me back then and it came back to me today with ever more force.

How can I own a company when I don’t even own this body?