I’m back on my kick about perspective. Wow. It’s incredibly easy to get sucked in by work and worry about insignificant things. Many times you’ll find this happening only to have life provide you a clarifying moment. And in that moment, you’re given an opportunity to refocus on things that actually matter. The death of your best friend can have that effect on you. Let me rewind…
Things have been hectic for me lately. Ramping up my own business is a daunting task. I find myself playing owner, trainer, accountant, lawyer, salesman, administrative assistant, travel booker, etc. I wear every hat on the rack. And don’t get me wrong – it’s fun. I thrive on living in the swirl of the chaotic world of business. The problem is, being involved in so many things occasionally leads me to focus on the wrong things. They’re not “wrong” in and of themselves. It’s more that they’re not as important as other things in life.
It’s been busy for me over the past few weeks. New clients. New services. Exciting stuff. Sure there have been a few annoyances too but they happen (sort of like a printer manufacturer whose service department will be the subject of an upcoming post on broken promises to customers). These annoyances have absorbed an increasing and disproportionate amount of my time and energy lately. Then I got a phone call on Wednesday as I was driving home from a client.
It was my best friend’s brother. This friend was a roommate of mine at West Point. Twice. Ty and I became brothers. We lived together. Laughed together. Complained together. The forge of the Academy’s grey granite walls molded a bond between us that became unbreakable through the years. We talked every week. And now, tragically, I got this phone call.
As soon as I heard his brother’s voice, I knew. Ty was gone. He was 37. Full of laughs. Gone. Poof. And this wasn’t like the death of a 95 year old grandparent. Those are somewhat expected (and painful but it’s a different kind of pain). This was a beautiful life cut short before it could reach its full potential. It is a tragedy.
Things that were important and urgent seconds before evaporated. The only thing that mattered at that instant (and since then) was the strength of relationships around me. Broken printers? Yeah… not so important anymore. Work? It’ll be there when I get back. And even when I return, it’s important to remember it’s but a set of activities that comprise a day. In the end, as Robin Williams says in Dead Poets Society, “we’re all worm food.”
Bleak? I don’t think so. It’s a stark reminder of what truly matters. It’s a reminder that there are people out there I can bank on. When I picked up the phone to notify my other friends and classmates of Ty’s passing, every one to a man and woman said “is there anything I can do for the family or for you Mike?” All of them knew I was closer to Ty than any of them. They understood that bond of brotherhood, respected it, and were willing to help in any way they could. Those are the things that are important. Not progress reviews. Or presentations. Those aren’t the things we’ll be remembered for. The things that matter are how we relate to others on this circuitous journey. I’m fortunate to have people in my life I can rely on. Relationships that matter. Friends who care.
So how does one keep this perspective? First, appreciate those relationships and what they give you in your life. Yesterday I listened to a crank call tape Ty and I made 15 years ago at West Point (before caller ID so you could actually make prank phone calls). I timidly put it in the tape deck wondering if it was a good idea. Afraid I’d lose it when I heard his voice. The opposite occurred – I cracked up. For an hour. It was hilarious. It’s what he would have wanted me to do. He gave me laughter and humor I can always carry with me. He taught me to find the absurdity in everything. My perspective is better because I understand and appreciate the gifts I’ve been given along the way. Ask yourself what gifts you’ve been given. Catalog them. Appreciate and treasure them. It goes a long way toward building a healthy perspective on life.
Second, try saying “It’s only….” and insert your industry (or whatever is annoying you at the moment) at the end of that phrase (e.g., “It’s only credit cards.”). Over the years, I’ve been heard to say “It’s only fertilizer.” “It’s only credit cards.” “It’s only a $4MM phone system.” It reinforces the point that the things we consider to be overly important really aren’t. If you say this “it’s only” phrase and have a visceral reaction the other way, you’ve found something important to you (e.g., “it’s only my kid” – ummmm yeah. Bingo). Try “it’s only” on for size. You’ll feel a lot better. Have a laugh. Do it at your own expense. You’ll find others laughing with you and ultimately, more work ends up getting done. In the end, you’ll be happier when you travel through life with perspective. Perspective on what really matters.
Oh yeah. And that person “you’ve been meaning to call” but haven’t gotten around to it? Do it. Now. Stop reading, pick up the phone and call them. Because the world changes. Every day. Believe me. You don’t want to sit there and say “I wish I had called when I thought about it.”
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC