People Power: Finding enduring fulfillment in a temporary world - Jan 2019
By Sam Allman
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos repeatedly alludes to his company’s inevitable demise. Bezos founded Amazon in 1994. It has since grown to make him the richest man in modern history. But the billionaire seems convinced that Amazon is doomed to die. Three times over the past five years Bezos has talked about the firm’s eventual failure.
Why is Bezos concerned? Well, small businesses and publicly traded companies die-through acquisitions, mergers, bankruptcy or other reasons-at the same rate, irrespective of how well-established they are or what they actually do. It doesn’t matter if they’re selling bananas, flooring or widgets; the average lifespan is less than ten years.
On a related note, Armstrong Flooring has entered into an agreement to sell its wood flooring segment to an affiliate of American Industrial Partners. It was only a few years ago (April 2016) that Armstrong Flooring separated from Armstrong World Industries with a vision and commitment to become the number one manufacturer of resilient and wood flooring products across America. What was the motivation to sell its wood business? Of course, I am not privy to the reason. I can only guess, but I do know this: to run a business with the odds of succeeding long-term is not in one’s favor. The world of business is dynamic and ever-changing.
The temporary nature of our contemporary world has not only created havoc in the business world, but it has created havoc for each of us individually. It affects our people power and our ability to flourish in life. We have a need for consistency in our lives, so we can understand and hence predict and control our world. When things are inconsistent, it makes us feel anxious and out of control. Accordingly, the feeling of being out of control has been found to be the number one cause of stress. No wonder there is an epidemic of anxiety among our youth and young adults.
In almost every aspect of life, temporary rules. Longevity is increasing, but life is still temporary. More people are living together instead of marrying, making relationships more temporary. And divorce is also more prevalent. Jobs seem more temporary. What are the odds of getting a job and being there long enough to earn the gold watch? Acquiring an education or learning a profession is important, but it is also fleeting. Once I master a new software, it changes. Acquiring an education today is not a problem but keeping an education relevant is. Knowledge is doubling every 12 months, and soon, according to IBM, it will be doubling every 12 hours via the Internet of Things.
The fact is, everything will continue to be more temporary because the only constant is change. Learning to cope and deal with the temporary will help you flourish in life and in business. It is not necessarily easy. It will require the shifting of views, the awareness of which arises through experiencing contradiction-our need for consistency as we face the temporary. It will demand you do things that others may not be willing to do. Dealing with temporary requires a few “willingness attitudes.”
ACCEPTING THE BAD, EXPECTING THE GOOD
Jenkins Lloyd Jones, the renowned Unitarian minister from the late 19th century, once wrote, “Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old-time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.”
The temporary can be a double-edged sword. Most of the time, happiness is fleeting, interspersed with drama, tragedy and disappointment. That’s life. Often, bliss and happiness are temporary. We need to celebrate when we have those moments. The attitude of gratitude cultivates happiness and optimism and can help us during the difficult times as well. Looking at what we have, instead of what we don’t have, lifts our spirits and changes our perspectives. Ever wonder why people with nothing, who struggle to even survive, can still appear to be happy? I will never ever forget my stroll through the ghettos of Mumbai, India talking and visiting with the residents. As far as I could tell, they didn’t know that they should be unhappy. Gratitude is a powerful anti-depressant.
Author M. Scott Peck wrote, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest of truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” In tough times, I have had to remind myself and my children to “just get over it.”
If you, like me, struggle with accepting that great truth and occasionally moan to others or feel sorry for yourself for your disappointments, difficulties or afflictions, consider a technique taught to me by Jeffery Willis, a very successful entrepreneur and the former owner of American National Carpet Mills, a manufacturer of automobile carpet.
Jeff had a tough life. He lost both parents early and went to live with his aunt. He worked nights in a knob factory during high school in order to make enough for room and board. During those late nights and difficult moments of despair, he reminded himself, “This is only temporary.” It’s a powerful affirmation to make to oneself during tough times. Controlling your inner self-talk has been shown to be a powerful way to manage your inner state. He also vowed he would never work in a factory again unless he owned it. He was able to graduate from high school and attend Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He struggled his freshman year-he had no financial aid and had to work as many jobs as he could to stay in school-but “this is only temporary” became his personal mantra.
He remembers his first fall break. Everyone went home for Thanksgiving. All the students were expected to leave the dorms. He had no place to go and no Thanksgiving dinner. “This is only temporary” changed his perspective and gave him hope and the motivation to persist. I have found that using this mantra in my own life helps me transcend feeling sorry for myself or feeling like I’m owed a life different than everyone else. I had to do that often during my convalescence from my recent knee replacement surgery.
President Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” I believe persistence is a true success principle.
However, sometimes we change, the environment changes, our competitor changes, what we knew or thought we knew changes. So, like a quarterback calling an audible, our plans, goals and direction need to change. Most of us will not succeed without a failure of some kind. We will go through stops and starts, a couple of near-death experiences and a great deal of adaptation. That adaption is disciplined, not random. If what you’re doing isn’t working or getting you to where you want to go, then change what you are doing, change where you are going or give-up. When we are focused, making these changes can be very difficult and a major source of stress. Quitting is sometimes smart. We must all be flexibly persistent. When was quitting a good choice for you? Dealing with the temporary requires us to be more resilient and flexible.
FINDING THE SILVER LINING
Life’s problems and pains create an inward focus. That causes us to feel more deeply, so we tend to moan and complain more. Distracting our thoughts away from ourselves, thus better managing our inner state, is a master skill of those with people power. “Every cloud has a silver lining” means that every difficulty, mistake or disappointment that causes harm or hurt also contains a potential for a beneficial outcome. By searching for any positive effects of any difficulty or confusing circumstance, we can begin to feel more inner peace in response to the situation, thus regaining our ability to solve it if we can, accept it or turn it into something better.
Ironically, most of my difficulties dealing with temporaries were beneficial because there were lessons I needed to learn. Once that lesson was learned, that difficulty was never an issue again. It’s funny, but the more we learn and grow from the lessons that life deals us, the more mature and wise we become. And guess what? Life becomes easier. The silver lining that I find most in the temporary are lessons that make me enjoy more.
Mistakes and accidents can be serendipitous. The microwave and X-rays were invented as the result of mistakes. Ultimately, I have found the good in most of my hardships, be it a personal benefit or an appropriate lesson.
Running a business and living life are difficult. This dynamic, changing world is making those even more difficult. It’s the curse of the temporary. Dealing with the temporary is a master skill of people power. It’s the attitude we choose to deal with them that matters. The “willingness attitudes” are choices and powerfully affect our outcomes and can change our lives. As William James, often referred to as the father of American psychology, once said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”
Copyright 2018 Floor Focus