Monday, July 21, 2014

Life's Pivot Points

It is a rare treat to share part of your past with those you love. Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure to take my family back to Edinburgh Scotland, where I spent part of my junior year of college. Like many students, my time abroad was exciting, challenging, a time for growth and exploration and for me a time of one of my life’s “pivot points.”

As I look back across my life, now spanning five decades and counting, there have been a few moments, or as I like to say “pivot points,” that have been dramatic “crossroads” moments of my life. As I said, there have been a few, and candidly just a few, dramatic “pivot points” as I look back over the years that have significantly affected the trajectory of my life. While I will expand on the “pivot point” that occurred so many years ago in Scotland, there have been a few other significant pivots over the years. Two of the most significant moments were my decision to propose to Jennie (and for us to get married now twenty seven years ago) and our decision ten years later to have children. Both of these decisions significantly altered the path of my life at that moment (and clearly the lives of others,) and has lead my life down paths that would not have been explored if other decisions had been made at those “pivot points.”

My moment in Scotland was no different. As I mentioned, I was a college junior, a religion major, who had the chance to study at the Divinity School at The University of Edinburgh. New College (the name of the school) was a wonderful academic environment with students from all over the globe, studying for their masters or doctoral degrees in divinity, and here I was an undergraduate student in this “rarified air.” The academics were wonderful, the professors challenging, the other students engaging, the University filled with things to explore, and other than struggling to learn the taste for Haggis and Black Pudding, my time in Edinburgh was thoroughly enjoyable; that is to say with one MAJOR exception!

I had lost my mother when I was 13, and since her early passing, I had become more and more involved in our local church. Leading Sunday school classes, preaching kid’s sermons, attending summer church camp, etc. I was “certain” that my future was destined to be in a church environment and as I headed to college, I was again “certain” that I was going to be a religion major and that I would head after college to a seminary or divinity school to study for my M.Div.( Masters in Divinity) and then be ordained. I was “certain” of my path candidly until I arrived in Scotland.

It was there, in the snowy cold months of late fall, that I approached a “pivot point.” I loved the academics, and I was flourishing in all the classes, my professors were tremendous, engaging and challenging, the other students fascinating, but as the weeks went along, I started to realize that while I was “vocationally” interested in a professional life in the church, I certainly wasn’t “called” in any spiritual sense to that life. As that became clear, it also was apparent that the folks I was engaged with all around me in that setting who I really admired (faculty, other students, staff members) were the ones who DID feel some sort of “calling” to this path of life. Well to make a long story short, after significant soul searching (more on that below), I left New College after one semester, came back to college, changed majors (from religion to economics) and proceeded to head to Vanderbilt University for my MBA , and the business career that I am in the midst of today.

As I stood in the courtyard of New College this summer, with the statue of John Knox towering above me gathered with Jennie, Bryson and Marie, that decision of thirty three years ago seemed amazingly life changing in hindsight. It was in some ways overwhelming to think about how my life would have been different if I had chosen a different path in Scotland. Would Jennie and I be together? Would Bryson and Marie be alive? Would I have been happy? Would I have had a bigger impact in life??? The questions just seemed to expand. After a few deep breaths I gathered myself and truly reflected on how fortunate I feel in life; with such a good marriage, such wonderful children, such a productive and successful career, etc. I am truly fortunate and I sincerely live life without much regret. What I did reflect on though was that “pivot point” and the elements of “how” I made that decision. As I thought more deeply on those moments in Scotland, I realized that they had a lot in common with the moments surround some of my other “pivot points” of life.

Here are a few reflections on the common “elements” of those “pivot point” decisions:

Get some time to yourself, give yourself room: It sounds so simple, so straight forward, but candidly it’s probable the most difficult of these three ideas. How to do find time away from the pressures of the day to day, made so much harder today by the incessant cacophony of email, texts, tweets, social media. Etc. I found it critical in these big decision moments to “steal away” and find the space or the “room” to dive into the decision at hand. In Edinburgh, it was easy to find time alone for walks across that beautiful city, thinking about the matters at hand, pondering the options and possible implications.

Seek advice but not too much: In a time of formal mentor relationships and an unbelievable amount of on-line advice, it may seem counter intuitive for me to say to not see too much advice. . Seek input from a very close group of trusted associates who know you VERY well, then hunker down and do some “soul searching.” Getting input too broadly will certainly end in a confusion of voices, opinions, perspectives all with good and sensible points and counterpoints. In these big “pivot points” of life, it really is up to you to sort it out for yourself. It is only YOU who will own the outcome!

Listen to your heart/gut more than your head: Once you get all of the input you need, with a bit of time and space away from the “rat race” of life, my advice is to work hard on “listening” to your heart/gut. In these big “pivot points” of life, it is very important to quiet the mind a bit and really listen to your heart and what seems to feel the most “right” to you. I know this doesn’t sound very analytical or imperial, but in my experience it holds very true. The biggest and best decisions of my past were not the ones that I “thought “were best, but those that I “felt” were right.

Well, hopefully these ideas will trigger some reflection on your own. Whether you look back on the “pivot point” decisions of your life, or you are facing one of those moments presently, see if these three ideas ring true, or can be helpful in the moments ahead. Remember the deep truth is that life is meant to be “lived”; completely UNABLE to affect yesterday but infinitely ABLE to affect the road of life and the “pivot points” ahead!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Keep Your Feet Moving Through The Hole

It’s unusual for me to use a football metaphor (that’s American Football I should say as I write this during the World Cup Final) as the theme of one of my essays. My little stories are typically tied to unique business moments from my past or family stories from my past. This theme is one that I refer to often and actually did with a dear friend last week.

I was back and forth via email with a good friend that I have known now for more than ten years. He and I were working to coordinate travel calendars, and I checked in on his travel plans in the midst of a hectic day. While busy as usual on my end, I had no idea of the challenges that my friend was handling that day. He was working through a very challenging business deal, handling the multitude of family priorities, and had just found out that his newly purchased truck was not what he had expected (previously existing title, engine not matching the truck’s serial number, etc.) As I caught up to him that evening he was feeling the challenges of the week mounting and I quickly encouraged him to “stay on your feet, don’t stop, and keep your feet moving through the hole.”

For those unfamiliar with this image from football, the idea comes from advice for a running back as he hits the line. While there may be an intended ”hole” in the line of the designed running play, it’s typical that the running back, after the handoff, hits a lot of linemen (defense and offense alike) and it seems that the “hole” has collapsed to nothing. If the running back slows down or stops at that point, he is dead in his tracks and is almost always immediately tackled. If he keeps his feet moving, driving forward, you never know what might happen. Little breaks may open up, intended or even unintended, holes may open up. From a seemingly dead stop, a big gain mya be achieved if and only if the running back “keeps his feet moving.”

This idea is direclty transferrable to the business landscape! It is very typical to hit an obstacle or an unexpected challenge that seems to stop us in our tracks. Rather than slowing down or letting the challenge of the moment stop your efforts, keep working, keep iterating, keep executing, keep trying and you never know what opportunities “might” still arise. By “keeping your feet moving through the hole,” you give yourself the chance to have good things happen. Nothing “good” will happen if you stop trying!

This idea, while it is deeply true professionally, is equally true in your personal life. We all have faced, and will face, unexpected challenges in our lives. Whether the loss of a loved one, an unexpected setback in your family, or some other challenge/issue (inclusive of a truck’s serial number not matching the chassis,) we will all face challenges and setbacks in our lives. When those moments come, as they will, don’t let them stop you completely. Keep living, keep trying, keep working to try to make tomorrow a little better than yesterday; if you can remember to “keep your feet moving through the hole,” you give yourself the best chance to make something good or great out of a tough situation.