“You know, people don’t drown like that,” said the man sitting to my right, to no one in particular. He wasn’t necessarily talking to me, but it did shake me out of my stupor.
We were sitting with a group of parents watching our cub scouts take a lifesaving lesson. One of the lifeguards, playing the victim, was waving and yelling – trying desperately to attract attention before slipping under the waves.
When I turned toward him, he repeated his statement, looking right at me. “People don’t drown like that. When they’re near drowning, the body perceives the danger and pulls resources from the outlying areas to preserve the core. There isn’t energy for waving and screaming. The body protects its core. The hands go down, the legs slow up, and there’s no yelling. That’s why you always hear that people ‘slipped unnoticed under the water.’”
I pondered that, and I still do.
There’s a myth about danger, and drowning, and anguish that the signs are obvious to all but the most inattentive. But the fact is that people tend to suffer their most trying of times in quiet desperation. Companies, like people, tend to withdraw in order to divert resources to their core. They stop outreach, with marketing and community involvement being the first to go. They retreat into themselves. And by doing so, they make collapse an almost self-fulfilling prophesy.
But the thing is – and there is no truer lesson I have learned in my years of working with small businesses – most everyone thinks of themselves as a fraud. And these people, they walk around us every day, hearing the praise, shaking hands, and exchanging pleasantries, while living in fear that someone, somewhere will see them for what they really are – a fraud.
The fraud takes different forms, of course, but it’s always the same. “They all think I’m…. fill in the blank. Confident. Great business person. Doing well. But I’m really not.
So they retreat. They perceive that everyone else has it together and is exactly what they seem to be. They consider themselves the odd man out – the one that doesn’t measure up – for this or that imagined failure. They think of themselves as less than.
When I counsel these people, particularly in this economy, I remind them that the only way to stop circling the drain is to swim upstream; to push resources outward, rather than contract in ward. To resolve, in other words, to wave, bob, and shout, rather than drown.
No one, let alone those with the courage to start and run a business, deserves to slip away unnoticed. For that reason, I counsel my clients to seek out strategic partners, to nurture their professional relationships, to become visible in their trade organizations, and to resolve to matter.
Let’s resolve to spend the time doing just that.