Have you ever gone back to the “old neighborhood” and been shocked by the sight of the little scrub in your front yard that is now a big leafy tree? OK, some of you may not be old enough but, trust me, it happens – just very slowly and while you’re zooming through your daily life. If you’ve noticed this, it means two things, both of which are good: you’ve gotten older (yes, this is good, i.e., better than the alternative) and you’re taking the time to stay in touch with your personal history.
Although I’ll never quit discovering, at this stage of my career I can also partake in the luxury of checking back in on some old neighborhoods from time to time. This past week I visited a technology company that I had worked with in their “garage days” many years ago. My heart was warmed when, instead of heading to the old, cheap, cramped digs, the car took me to a nice, bright office suite in the middle of a tech campus.
As with any software company, there were still plenty of pizza boxes lying around and the coffee was always fresh & strong but, otherwise, things were quite different than the days of old. Instead of hastily-drawn architectural diagrams, the whiteboards displayed intricate organizational structures with attendant EBITDA targets. Conference rooms held (relatively) orderly meetings of well-groomed professionals (many of whom, thankfully, were the same, although older) as opposed to the mayhem of un-showered, overly-caffeinated coders frantically cranking away against the day’s deadline.
Folks, we have ourselves an oak tree.
I sat and listened to the Founder for a good while as he described all of the ongoing operations, the big contracts, the opportunities, the frustrations, the successes, the failures, the talent, the pipeline, the dreams, the aspirations. Finally, when it was my turn to speak, after a nice, contemplative pause, I mustered up my best, sage observation:
After another pause it then hit us both: what a ride! On the one hand, so many peaks had been scaled! On the other, so many hot, dry, cactus-infested valleys had been traversed! How could we not celebrate the survival of the company, much less its growth and maturation? After that pause, all we could do was exchange knowing smiles.
It was quite a moment.
On my “way up” I learned to have a relentlessly forward-leaning perspective. As a leader, this can be a very useful trait, especially in times of strife. However, there is a tradeoff: there are more valleys in our careers/lives than peaks. Most days we work through a lot of mundane, detailed tasks, we work our way through some tough stuff, and we recognize a small victory here & there. Some days we experience extremes in either direction. In all days, we accomplish things. Over time, these accomplishments stack up, whether we realize it or not. In fact, my guess is that we forget almost all of our incremental accomplishments shortly after their completion.
I think we’re missing something in that regard. In my experience, the miracle of compound interest can be applied in other, non-monetary contexts. Consistency in diet & exercise will allow you to deviate into an aberrant weekend of nachos, pizza, burgers & beer without too much retribution. Generally being an earnest, supportive, collaborative leader tends to mitigate occasionally overly critical comments made out of haste or frustration. Always being there for your friends & colleagues eases the impact of the uncharacteristically missed deadline.
In my view, we should always be striving for our Next Big Thing because what we work towards we tend to achieve. However, we should also appreciate – although not to the point of indulgence – the discrete wins of our daily lives. These achievements will then combine, compile and accrete. Put another way, in our diets, we should eat until we reach the point of satisfaction – which is actually a notch or two below fullness – and thereby feel happiness (success) and then enjoy it. This is not necessarily what you feel on Thanksgiving Day, but maybe what you feel after a nice, fresh, healthy meal served on china (use it!) on a weekday night with friends or your significant other and a glass of decent wine or (gasp!) two.
Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding, re-tweeting, etc.