The traits of the uncommon man: People Power - Aug/Sep 2017

By Sam Allman

My legs throbbed with pain, my knees were swollen and my feet were sore. My shoes were covered in mud. At times during my journey, I was soaked with sweat, and at other times I had water dripping down my neck from the rain. I was exhausted. I should have felt relief. My journey was over. Instead, I was feeling a little sadness and a lot of elation. I had just completed the most difficult physical feat I had ever attempted. I received my Certificate of Completion of the Camino of Santiago issued by the Pilgrim’s Reception Office in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. My wife and I had walked 118 kilometers.

What was I feeling? I was experiencing the sheer joy of achievement. It’s amazing how we feel when we accomplish something that is difficult. I felt the same way when I received an A in one of the most difficult organic chemistry classes I took in graduate school. I am no Ironman. My previous idea of exercise was “a good brisk sit.” But a number of years ago I watched The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen. It’s a movie about the lives of several people that make the pilgrimage that Saint James made to the city of Santiago de Compostela. Millions have made that pilgrimage seeking personal, religious or spiritual enlightenment since the ninth century.

I walked out of the movie, turned to my wife and said, “I want to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.” She laughed. She reminded me why I like to exercise: “It feels so good when you stop.” But I was motivated, so I set the goal. I knew my body was running out of time, so we finally put our plans in place and made the trek.

The experience reminded me why achievement and purpose out-motivate money. I have watched many people work harder at play than at work. That’s why many of us climb mountains, run marathons, swim oceans or do Ironman competitions for which we do not get paid. We love challenges, responsibility and doing difficult things. It’s not just doing physical things but risky things, like putting everything on the line to open a business, buying a building, expanding to a new location or jumping out of an airplane. Most of us find great joy in the feeling of achievement. As a kid, did you ever get filled with excitement and yell to your parents, “I did it!”? That’s what I’m talking about.

This month, we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Floor Focus. An anniversary is a time to celebrate, but these beginnings/endings are also good times for personal reflection.

As I have written in the past, personal reflection is one of the most powerful catalysts for change and motivation-if not the most powerful. Reflection enlightens our awareness and eliminates our cluelessness. Cluelessness breeds the blame-shame-and-justify game and keeps us stuck where we are. Awareness opens our minds and motivates us to change the things in our lives that aren’t working, improve the things that are and look for what is missing. The reason walking the Camino is such a spiritual experience for most pilgrims is that they spend most of the time hiking in silence, accompanied by only their thoughts and the beautiful landscape of northern Spain. It’s the perfect place for contemplation, life review and goal setting.

During our discussion of the potential content of this column, Kemp informed me that a theme of this issue was to review the flooring industry’s performance over the last 25 years. He thought it would be good to get our readers to consider their accomplishments, be it personally or professionally, against the goals they set when they first entered the business. He believes, as do I, that most of us don’t accomplish more in our lives and our businesses because we get comfortable with the status quo. Our comfort zones keep us from stretching ourselves.

Comfort zones are like ruts. I heard someone say, “A rut is nothing more than a coffin with both ends kicked out.” If you have ever been in a rut, the odds are that your comfort zone has more control of you than you do. I believe that the joy of achievement is really a celebration of our conquest over ourselves. It’s the essence of self-discipline-doing what we ought to or would like to do, when we should or would like to do it, whether we feel like it or not.

Comfort zones prevent us from taking action. I believe that it’s not the things you do that you will regret in this life but the things you don’t do. Personally, I’d rather regret something that I did than something I never tried. Being willing is not enough; we must do. Success requires us to step just outside our comfort zones. Pablo Picasso said, “Action is the foundational key to all success.” Of course there will be risks. The fact is, we might fail. But every failure and each roadblock can teach and be beneficial. We usually learn more from failure. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we learn. John F. Kennedy said, “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” When it comes to risk and facing uncertainty, we must finesse it with prudence. Risk and prudence are both success principles, but prudence is an excuse many use for staying in their comfort zones. “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life,” said Muhammad Ali.

As you reflect on your success thus far in the flooring business, are you happy with your achievements? Did you coast along, or did you push yourself? Did you stretch or step out of your comfort zone occasionally? Do you find joy in what you have accomplished? Did you say to yourself, “I did it!”? I believe that sometimes life gets in the way of living with joy. I believe that we have to occasionally take on challenges that generate passion and joy within us, though they may be hard and uncomfortable.

How do some do it and others don’t? I believe it starts by how we look at a challenge or difficulty. It’s the attitude we choose as we consider the issue. William James said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” Our thoughts control our attitudes.

In contrast, the uncommon man looks at it differently. He gets excited by seeing a problem that is crying for a solution, a mountain that needs to be climbed, an unknown world to be explored, a new skill to be learned or a personal best to be beaten. He takes on the attitude of Peter Pan: “To live will be an awfully big adventure.” Or Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.” Or Confucius: “The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort.” I coined the phrase, “The uncommon man thinks of adventure” to contrast it with what Confucius said. I would like to think that I am uncommon, but I know I’m more common than I think. When I’m ready to leave this earthly existence, I want to be able to say, “My life was a great adventure.” But most of the time, I went to work, tried to be a good father and husband, and paid my bills. On what moments will I reminisce most in my late years? The adventurous ones. The ones where I chose to leave my comfort zone.

The desire for comfort has caused me to quit a number of things of which I regret. I regret not learning to ski; I went skiing once. I regret not mastering windsurfing and playing the saxophone. I quit because mastering them was hard. As some said, “All things are hard, before they get easier.” Thinking of adventure keeps us motivated when we want to quit. When the walking got hard and uncomfortable, I reminded myself that I was on an adventure. I was walking and exploring in places I’d never seen or been. I was doing something I never thought I could or would do. Besides, I needed to prove to myself I could do it. High-fiving my wife after receiving my certificate was a moment I will always remember.

Uncommon people are curious. They seek new experiences. They look for activities in which they lose track of time and that bring them joy. They are learners, readers, searchers. They are fascinated by the unknown. They volitionally choose to leave their comfort zones. Most of all, they are on a quest of self-discovery: what can they do that will bring purpose and passion into their lives?

Remember, there is a time and a place for everything. We do need to be prudent, but if we want to imbue our lives with passion and joy, we must also be adventurous. I walked the Camino because I was at a time in my life when I could. Prudence doesn’t mean that we can’t find moments of adventure between doing the mundane things we have to do to live. Maybe those mundane things we do could become adventurous if we changed how we looked at them. Maybe we are not thinking adventure often enough.

Besides seeking and looking for adventures, uncommon people set goals and make plans. If I hadn’t set the goal and made plans to go to Spain to complete the Camino, the odds are I would not have done it. Whether or not you have created a bucket list, I challenge you to put that adventure or that challenging thing on paper with a timeline for accomplishing it. Brainstorm. What would you do if earning a living were not necessary? What hard thing would you do in your business if it weren’t risky or challenging? What could you do to bring more adventure into your living? What would you like to do if you knew you would not fail?

Common people have wishes and hopes. Uncommon people have goals and plans. Do you do what is comfortable or what you want? The common man thinks of comfort. The uncommon man thinks of adventure.

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus