A Business Thanksgiving

I was in the elevator the other day, listening to two people lamenting the fact that they had too much to do.  Not for the first time, it struck me that too many people complain about this as if it were a condition to be avoided.  To me it seems quite the contrary.

There may be a time, with luck not for many years, when I find myself wishing there was more for me to do.  That will, no doubt, be a time when there is no phone ringing off the hook, no deadlines to meet, no one asking for my help or input on this or that, and no e-mail piling up begging for response.  But for now, I think, that a condition of having too much on one’s plate is a symptom for being vital.

For that, I’m thankful.

At this time of year, our Facebook newsfeeds all seem to fill up with everyone’s list of things in their personal lives for which they’re thankful. I’m thankful for them too. This morning, however, I wanted to consider a few of the things I’m grateful for in my business life, particularly those blessings found in unexpected places. Here are ten.

  1. Buzzes, beeps, and rings.  Those are the sounds of people reaching out through e-mail, phone calls, and texts to make contact.  How awful would the silence be?
  2. The unchecked box.  Every morning, I create a to-do list for the day ahead.  I list phone calls I have to make and return, meetings to be attended, and work to be finished.  Every evening I leave with unchecked boxes on my list.  Still vital and needed for another day.
  3. Expressed frustration.  Several months ago, two of my colleagues here at the firm came to me separately in order to express their frustration.  They wanted to do more than just a good job and instead become more active in helping to drive the firm to new heights.  They were frustrated because they didn’t know how.  Certainly, a failing on my part for not having included them as deeply as I should have.  But how great is it to work with people like that?
  4. A small deficiency noticed.  I don’t know how long it had irritated me, but one day, the problem was fixed.  It was a small thing – one I didn’t even bother to address — but one day of my colleagues fixed the problem without request or fanfare.  She did it not out of obligation or to take credit, but simply because it had to be done and she’s invested herself as a part of this place.
  5. An unpleasant conversation.  We have this client.  You know the type – the kind of client your company was built to serve.  I love working with them and wish I had more just like them.  Only apparently they didn’t know that and had concluded just the opposite.  One day, almost two years ago now, the company’s president called me for what he told me was going to be an unpleasant conversation.  He was right.  He said that I hadn’t seemed as responsive as I had been and he was wondering if I had decided that his type of company wasn’t really our type of company any more.  “Just tell me,” he said, “if we should find someone else.”It was one of the worst conversations of my professional career.  I had been so focused on business development and growth, that I forgot to tend to what we already had.  So I re-engaged and renewed our relationship.  And I am so thankful for someone who thought enough of our relationship to force an unpleasant conversation.
  6. Absence.  I have a list (a Rolodex for people of a certain age) of immensely talented and insightful people I am fortunate to know.  On my drive home at night, or sometimes in the oddest moments when I’m thinking of nothing at all, they come to me unbidden and I cringe, knowing how much time has passed since I reached out to them.  But every such person, no matter the time-lapse, carries the potential for an enthusiastic re-acquaintance.  How great will that long overdue lunch or cup of coffee be?  I am thankful for the opportunity of rediscovery.
  7. Ignorance.  In June, I attended a full-day presentation on the visual presentation of data and analysis – something I knew very little about.  The presenter, Edward Tufte, author of such books as Beautiful Evidence and Visual Explanations, showed me a kind of communication of which I had been vastly ignorant.  I hope I never reach a point in my life when I fail to see the joy in learning.
  8. Stress.  I’ve heard there are people who live without stress, but to me they are akin to unicorns – the stuff of legends.  The reality of my everyday life is that it is filled with stress, whether it derives from an adversarial legal system or just from the activities of running a business and coping with daily life.While often I wish it weren’t there or were, at the very least, diminished, it does give me one opportunity that would be missing in an idyllic world:  Stress gives me the chance to look to my right and to my left to see the people who are standing there next to me, shoulder-to-shoulder, helping to bear the same burden.  Difficult times do not form character; it reveals it.  I thank God for those people.
  9. Disappointment.   I’ve been running this firm for 11+ years now and it always seems there are new mountains to climb…and more in the distance.  There are companies I’m hoping to land as clients and opportunities I want to seize.  I’ll be successful sometimes, but in many other instances, I’ll find myself disappointed, perhaps even dispirited.  It is, however, in those disappointments that lay the seeds of growth.  If I have the discipline and insight to view them correctly, each one of those disappointments provides an opportunity to improve and to reach higher next time.  After all, how soon would we stop stretching past our limits if everything came easily?
  10. Foolishness.  Almost every business owner I know was once told that he or she was being foolish.  When we launched our Empty Hourglass Program, I was told by other lawyers and by people within the Maryland State Bar that I would lose my shirt.  There are no two ways about it; sometimes those naysayers are right.  But not always.  And this world, from successes writ large to small flickers of light, is immeasurably better for those who are foolish enough to move forward despite or even ignorant of the reasons they can’t.   We are grateful for the daily opportunity to serve them.

We here at Wagonheim Law wish each of you a Thanksgiving rich with the opportunity to count unexpected blessings.

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