(Published in the August 2014 Troup Trends magazine, a publication of the LaGrange Troup County Chamber of Commerce)
Back in 1991, I remember returning from the Middle East after Desert Shield/Desert Storm, really unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, though knowing that a change was on the horizon. You know how people talk about life changing events… Well, for me, Desert Storm was one of those life changing events. Not that the work there was any more significant than what those serving now are experiencing. In fact, I would say there is very little comparison to what we did then and the significant challenges, sacrifices and hazards the military service members face now, and have faced since 2003, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anyway, I digress.
Let’s just suffice it say that I was searching back in the early 1990’s though I didn’t know what I was searching for. Sometime in early 1993, I decided that I wanted to open my own business. At that time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in a business; I just knew that I wanted to do something for myself. I remember this one conference I went to that was one of those moments, one of those messages from a speaker, that has stayed with me even now. The speaker was an older gentleman by the name of Charlie “Tremendous” Jones. Have you ever heard of him? He must have been in his 70’s back then, though when he used the word “Tremendous” as his middle name, he wasn’t kidding. This gentleman was one of the more dynamic and energetic speakers I have ever heard. He had written a couple of books at the time, one little paperback in particular titled, Life is Tremendous. So, he comes out on stage carrying all of these books and begins his talk. I’m wondering what he is doing with all of these books sitting on this little side table as he begins to speak and hop and jump around the stage, extolling the virtues of living a ‘Tremendous’ life. At the end, though, he got to the message that has stuck with me till this day. He said, “You will be the same person today, in five years, except for two things: First, the books you read and second, the people you are around.” He seemed to be looking right at me as he said those words. Wow! That little statement spoke to my very soul and opened a door for me. Now, no longer did I have to just let life carry me along and I accept what was coming. As this idea sunk in, I realized that I could change who I would become in five years by simply changing two things in my life: The books I read and the people I surrounded myself with in my everyday dealings. This idea gave me a sense of control in my life that I didn’t realize I had.
Take a moment to think about this idea. Many of you reading this want to achieve something great in the next several years. Some have your path clearly marked as to how to get there and there is not a question in your mind that you will achieve that goal. And that is probably true. Others of you, though, might be like I was, you have the idea that you want a different life, a life that is better than where you are now, but there is that seed of uncertainty of how best to get there. You really don’t know how to get from where you are today to where you want to go. Maybe it is that dream job. Maybe it is going back to school to get a degree. Maybe it is opening that next successful small business you have always wanted to have. Maybe it is growing your existing business to the next level. Whatever that goal is, though, it is probably new territory and that brings with it the uncertainty of how best to get there. By taking charge of the books and people you are around, you can use these associations to build yourself into the person you want to become. As I have proceeded along this path of achieving (and I am still walking this never-ending path), I found that the books I needed to read to gain the ideas and become the person I wanted to become, emerged. Through conversations with others, through references of books, I began to identify these books, these ideas, the information that I needed to change who I was into who I wanted to become.
For business owners, one of the challenges that happens as we build a business is that we can get so immersed in the doings of the business that we don’t take the time to continually develop ourselves. Michael Gerber, in his book, The E-Myth, discusses that, as business owners, we can get so involved in working ‘in’ the business that many times we neglect the effort to work ‘on’ our business. This difference can have substantial effects to our ability to grow our business. As you think about the direction and growth of your business, take some time away from the business to think… Thinking about where you see the business going in the next few years, thinking about how you will lead the company and develop the internal leaders within your organization, thinking about what systems and processes that you will use that need to be written down and/or developed. This thinking process does not necessarily happen with a quick turn-around in results, but over time, can yield dramatic positive changes to your personal and business growth.
Someone once said that our business will grow only to the level of our self -image. If that is the case, then to grow our business beyond where it is, to take it to the next level, we must first focus on growing ourselves. As we take on this growth effort, we must ask from ourselves patience… Patience to let the process work on us from the inside out. This process reminds me of the story of the Chinese Bamboo Tree (as related by Les Brown). Are you familiar with it?
“It is said that the Chinese Bamboo Tree begins as a nut, a hard nut, about the size of a walnut. The nut has to be planted in soil and then watered and fertilized every day, every day for 5 years before it finally breaks through the ground. If at any time the watering or fertilizing process is stopped, the Chinese Bamboo Tree will die in the ground. But, in that fifth year, the Chinese Bamboo Tree finally breaks through the ground and in six weeks it grows nearly ninety feet tall! Now, the question is, did it grow ninety feet in six weeks or 5 years…. The answer is obvious — It took five years, five years of watering and fertilizing everyday to make it happen.”
The seeds have been planted in you for years now. Continually water and fertilize these seeds with the association of books and people who can help you grow into the person you want to be. Give yourself, and these seeds, time to grow. And grow they will, just you wait and see. Until next time…
(Post by Mark R. Lupo, CBCP, Area Director, The UGA SBDC Office in Columbus)