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As you drive to work tomorrow, take a look around you. You’ll probably see what I saw for 20 years as I was climbing the corporate ladder – you know, the one that was leaning on the wrong wall. Frowns on faces, cars creeping along, dread in the eyes, and of course a healthy dose of misplaced road rage. This is not a judgement on how you spend your life, it’s a question of whether or not it’s working. Well, is it?
The dirt: Just got to fight the good fight. Put your head down and keep at it.
Can you plant apple seeds and expect to reap bananas? Would you ever buy bologna and expect to eat steak? Of course not. Then why would you spend 16 waking hours each day doing those things everyone else does, expecting to have more or better than everyone else has? Understandably, we all want the best and finest for our family, yet if we allow ourselves to plant the wrong seeds or even the right seeds in the wrong environment, how can we expect to win?
For example, we want to feel like a million dollars, yet we sow seeds of cheap and fast food. We want to have a million dollars, yet we sow seeds of spend now and save later, except later never comes. We want to earn millions of dollars, yet we work at a job that is 100% guaranteed to never, ever pay us enough. I don’t care what you want. I care that what you do will not aspire to what you want. I care that you sold out to the whims of other unsuccessful people and chose instead to litter our world with your confusion and unhappiness.
What if the right seeds are already out there and it was just a matter of shopping at the right store? We all know the right seeds, don’t we? If we really get down to it, we have examples of success all around us. It is said that if you want to be successful in anything, find someone who’s been successful in that arena, get them to mentor you, do what they say, then you’re next.
Isn’t it incredulous how many good folks struggle on the treadmill of life? They put their head down and off they go, certainly well-intentioned. They pant, sweat, and run like hell. They work and work, at ever increasing speed, expending tons of effort only to find when they look up that they’re in the same place. The glowing display on the treadmill may say thirty miles, they may feel the immense exhaustion of every mile, yet here they remain. Worse yet, if they stop running, they will find themselves going backwards in life. That is, until they fall off the back, dazed and confused. Being resilient, however, they usually hop back on the treadmill, put their head down, and the process repeats.
When would be a good time to stop and look around? To forsake the treadmill and plant your feet on terra firma and get real results from your efforts?
While you’re working hard anyways, have you ever considered whether you were the right person, in the right vehicle, under the right conditions? Imagine Mario Andretti (right person), in a 1979 Pinto (wrong vehicle)? How about driving through mud (wrong environment)? Would he have any chance of winning either way? Alternately, put a clown in a formula 1 car on a racetrack, and it won’t be long before that disaster reveals itself too.
I’ll submit to you three seedlings that impact our harvest.
- Our knowledge and competence
- Our Vehicle
- Our Environment
We will always reap the effects of these three influences sown into our life. These are the fortune-tellers of our future success or failures. If these areas are flourishing, we can be confident that our desired harvest is but a time away. A lack in even one area may create an insurmountable challenge to a full and successful harvest overall. Let’s take a look at each one.
Knowledge is the foundation. Consider it as the soil in which we plant our ideas, hopes, and dreams. It can be procured through information or direct experience. Thankfully, it can also be relatively easy to obtain with a little patience. We are quite literally in the age of information. From books to the internet to our friends, we have an endless supply of information. If anything, we suffer from Information overload. According to Google’s former-CEO Eric Schmidt in 2010, we create more information every two days than all the information that has existed from the beginning of time up to 2003.
It’s when we don’t do our due diligence and take things at face value that we find ourselves beneath an ignorant cloak. Ignorance for our purposes is not lack of knowledge. No, that can be cured easily and willingly with a few books and a good mentor. Rather it is the utilization and proliferation of that which is not true nor good under the guise of truth and goodness – sounds a bit like delusion, right? Those who are not careful may observe such a falsehood and be fooled into believing it, promptly displaying its wares for more people to see. And so has begun many fantastically devastating movements in our society.
Competence is the ability to use knowledge in a productive manner. Once we have knowledge, we need to expertly apply it, like making sure the roots of our true plants are within the nutritious soil. If we plant with our roots upside down, we probably won’t like the results. Competence should never be confused with knowledge as we so often do. Would you agree that there’s a difference between knowing how to drive and being a good driver? One of the most dangerous word combinations in the English language is “I know”, usually said just before or after a disaster of incompetence.
Competence has a focal point such that having it in one area doesn’t necessarily lend credibility to another. Why is it then we are eager to associate expertise in one area with general expertise in all areas? Perhaps it’s easier than doing the work of learning something new from a new source, or perhaps we confuse intelligence with competence. We are all intelligent to a degree, but certainly not competent in most things. Of course, I expect we have the basics down pat, like bathing and eating. But does that make us competent to perform brain surgery? And exactly how well would a brain surgeon do at your job on the first day?
The right vehicle is also important. Again, when we enter the race, if we see that all the successful drivers have 1000-hp formula 1 cars, we can’t show up in a 1992 stock Toyota Camry and expect to win the race. In life, most successful people started with an idea and built it into something great. They applied a new concept to an old industry, or vice versa. Occasionally, they latched onto someone else’s idea early enough and was able to ride along, but usually they are the driver. It was fully in their control from the beginning. If they crashed or got stuck, they either fixed that car or got into a new one. Nobody else was in control of their destiny and they were too stubborn to quit on their dream.
How would it feel to be in full control of your career, including the mental toughness to stick it out through the tough times? What would it feel like to wake up every day knowing that if it’s meant to be, it’s up to me? Would it be exciting or scary? If you’d be excited, you’re an entrepreneur at heart. If you’d be scared, you’re like the majority of people born an entrepreneur, but conditioned for mediocrity (just like me.) What I came to realize is that while being in control is sometimes scary, it is even scarier to be 75 years old, broke and struggling in life, at the mercy of society. Shouldn’t we take every shot we can while we still can?
This is why employment oftentimes is not a recipe for the kind of success most people desire, at least not as an employee. We are riding in the trunk of someone else’s vehicle, expecting to get the accolades if and when the vehicle crosses the finish line. Does anyone really get wealthy working for someone else? How does it feel to be working hard, giving up time with family, spending years of your life in traffic, being told what to do by another person, all to build someone else’s company? Of course, it’s not completely one-sided. You do get benefits that may be reduced anytime, a few weeks of time off for good behavior, and to be laid off without cause. All to be paid far less than your open-market value, for which you are told to feel lucky to be doing that well
Our discussion would be incomplete without an inspection of environment. The issue is that they may or may not be seeds that serve us. Imagine a garden exposed to the right environment. The right amount of sun, rain, wind, climate, and tending. Imagine how amazing the harvest could be if sown with the right seeds under the right conditions. Now take away these conditions and you may have the best and brightest seeds, yet they will flounder and spoil before their potential ever sees the free world. A seed kept in the drawer has no chance of becoming the best version of itself.
The great Jim Rohn has said that your success will be determined by the 5 people with whom you spend the most time. This is how it works with our associations. As parents, we know this very well. Would you ever allow your child to hang out with the wrong crowd? Would you let them hang with the drug dealers and pimps? Probably not unless you want them to become drug users and prostitutes. What happens to those standards when we leave our parent’s house though? Where’s the litmus test with whom we share our time as adults?
It’s not that friends and family intentionally want to harm you. Of course they love you. But in a battle between them and you, it’s them every day and four times on Sunday – let’s face it, you would return the favor. This is not a judgement on your parents, relatives, or friends. They’ve chosen their path, sown their seeds, just like you and it is my utmost hope that it is the path they would choose over and over again if given the chance. Nonetheless, should this be the cage in which you decide to raise your own ambitions, hopes, and dreams? Appreciate them, honor them, help them, and be good to them. But before you become them, be sure it’s them you’d wish to become if you weren’t related.
Associations extend far beyond those physically close to us. In the age of information, it is the newspapers we read, the TV news and pundits to whom we listen, the books we read, and especially the social media that fills every intentional and natural space in our lives. Lastly, let’s not forget that we are our own association whereby we are continuously influenced by our own thoughts. While it may not sound so bad, what if those thoughts were not your own? Imagine each past association dropping seeds in your head that grew into most of what you believe today.
The good news is that once we realize that every second we breathe is another gracious chance to plant a good seed, to acquire knowledge, build competence, and search out the right vehicle to race towards our dreams along a newly-paved superhighway, the only thing that can stop us is ourselves. Don’t we already know most of what is required to accomplish anything deep down in our heart of hearts? Even if our map is missing a particular path to our ultimate treasure, we’re certainly blessed with a driving curiosity to find out. It may have killed the cat, but our curiosity, well-placed, could be humanity’s salvation.
“Sow a thought and you reap an action. Sow an action and your reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I appreciate you for spending time with me. Share with four friends who are working hard but it’s hardly working. Meet you at the top ‘cause the bottom’s way too crowded.