"How Did You Go Bankrupt?"
"Gradually, then suddenly." -Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Ah, yes. That's the way it happens alright.
And while I can’t say that I’ve fallen into the abyss personally, I’ve certainly been close enough to see the edge; more than once.
So, yes, I can relate to your situation. In fact, there was a time when my only focus was to get another hyphen attached to my name. You know, as in business owner, real estate investor, strategy consultant, technology wizard, financier, research scientist.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
At worst, most people believed I was dictatorial, possessive, and ruthless. At best, some believed me to be relentless, driven, and assertive (a polite way of saying aggressive).
Friends, what few I didn’t totally p@** off along the way, simply thought I was more than a little crazy.
Sometimes, in my defense, they might say something like, Oh, you know how "he" is. As if that was an acceptable excuse for my poor (often outrageous) behavior.
Clearly, they no longer thought my elevator went all the way to the top. Maybe, I was flying so high my brain was failing due to lack of oxygen?
I don’t know.
Control Freak Alert!
I do know that I was a power junkie.
A real control freak. There wasn’t a problem I couldn’t fix or a deal I couldn’t close. I lived for the adrenalin rush (high) I got from solving problems, pushing the envelope, and organizing (terrorizing) people, systems, and companies.
Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say. - Marketing executive, Citrix Corporation.
Yep. That about summed up my approach. Take no prisoners. Slash and burn. Full throttle.
Heck, Hunter Thompson could have had me in mind when he wrote the words "Faster, faster until the thrill of speed overcomes my fear of death", because that certainly was my lifetime game plan.
Or, I should say it was step one.
Would you believe it took me years to realize there might be some connection between the two points of view? And that the real connection might just be me?
I was so busy running around trying to prove to everyone that I could do anything, solve everything, and make it look easy that I didn't stop to notice that I was the real problem.
Not everyone else. Not anybody else. Just me.
What You Leave Behind
Can you imagine an idyllic Hill Country Lake in early morning?
The sun is just peeking through the clouds, everything is bathed in a golden glow, and the surface is as smooth as glass. Nothing is moving.
Do you have a clear picture yet?
Somewhere in the distance you hear a boat headed your way, its motor chugging through the silence.
As it passes you, the boat appears to part the water effortlessly. Even so, you can help but notice the dramatic difference between the calm quiet in front of the boat and the immediate disturbance behind.
Right behind the boat where the turbulence is greatest, the water roils and bubbles. Some distance back, the wake smoothes out and begins to spread symmetrically until it finally bumps into something.
Long after the small craft passes from your view, the wake is still moving, still visible, and still growing.
For years, I was the guy driving that boat.
And you could call the disturbance I left behind an "emotional wake" which continued to affect people - often unintentionally - long after I was gone.
Ok, so maybe your boat isn't was big as mine (or maybe its bigger). Perhaps you know your particular lake better than I know mine. And maybe you don't care about going as fast as I once did. After all, speed kills, right?
Doesn't matter. You're leaving an emotional wake (good or bad) wherever you go whether you realize it or not.
You can change. I did.
It doesn't even have to be painful financially or otherwise. But it does require you to make some choices about the person you want to be and to take responsibility for your own "wake."
Yeah, choices like that.
Here's the Deal:
Step away from the computer and find a mirror. Unbutton the top few buttons of your shirt. If you don't see some brightly colored underwear with a big red "S" showing through, you better move quickly because you're living on borrowed time.
On the other hand, if you do happen to see the super suit, then you need to keep these two things in mind:
1. Just because you are "bulletproof" doesn't mean those around you are. You may be able to leap tall buildings with a single bound, but people get hurt when you take chances without regard for others or for the law of unintended consequences; and
2. Even though you think you're Superman, you can be sure there is a chunk of green kryptonite out there waiting for you with your name on it. Trust me on this one.
In my circle of friends, we talk about things like this pretty regularly here - and in other places - because a lot of us have "been there, done that".
For now, that's about all I have to say on the subject other than to wish you the best of luck.
And maybe to let you know there are other game plans that will get you where you want to go. You just need to make sure your choice is something that you can live with when you get there - know what I mean?
One additional point: Hemingway, Boyd, Zevon, and Thompson aren't the only people we should pay attention to. You may want to give a thought to this timeless point:
"Opportunity, without the capacity to capture it is an illusion"- Ray Alcorn
Keep it in mind.
*Originally appeared on Capital Thinking November 3, 2005