I recently had the opportunity to grab lunch with a friend and mentor that I had not seen in a couple of years. After doing the typical catching up he hit me with an interesting question, “So what have you learned in the last several years?” I was caught off guard by the question. Not because it was an odd type of question for him to ask, but because I was not expecting it.
My response took a chronological approach to the last 5+ years. At McAfee, the first large company I had ever worked in, I learned how the big company thinks. How decisions that they make may seem odd to the outsider, but are really driven by how the decision will reflect on their financial statements.
After leaving McAfee I did some consulting. Here I learned that there are many ways to run a business. At time I would observe a business and think to myself, “How is this business thriving, let alone surviving?” My consulting time also built the if-they-can-do-it-so-can-I mentality in my head that lead me to starting my current venture, FilterSnap.
At FilterSnap I am being reminded every day that starting with nothing to build something is hard. Everything falls on your shoulders and you have to decide what is the highest priority in any given moment so that you can move the business forward.
I was happy with the answer, and my friend seemed to be satisfied as well. However, as I reflected over this on my drive home that I realized that I had missed the biggest lesson that I had learned… how to pause before reacting to situations that I really have no control over.
I have always been a very reactionary person. Stopping to pause before reacting is not something that I come by naturally. I see this in my oldest son now as well. Today, his brother squirted him with some water, and I had to jump in between them before blood was drawn. In this case it was a lot of over reaction to a little bit of water.
In business there a lot of things will happen that are beyond my control. My competitor may get the deal I have worked so hard on, the investor I have been talking to may decide to not invest, or my own board of directors may make a decision that I do not agree with. In the past, these are the types of things that I would have over reacted to.
Don’t get me wrong. I have not perfected my response in every situation. I still blow it a lot, just ask my kids! When I do succeed though, it is because I intentionally pause, let the situation sink in, and then react. Pausing as a discipline has been hard for me to learn. But it is way easier than rebuilding the relationships that would have been torched by my initial, hasty response.