I came of age in the 1980’s – graduated high school in 1982, graduated college in 1986, and business school in 1989. The music of the 1980’s remained the soundtrack of my adult life. My car has two SiriusXM stations programmed into the radio – if you are a regular reader, you already know the first one. Yes, it is E Street Radio. The second is 80’s on 8. It is amazing that, to this day, a song from that period will bring back a specifically powerful memory. The songs and the memories mix with my life experiences to form insights and perspectives that I use to shape my current decisions, actions, and, to a certain extent, values.
Such was the case the other day as I was doing a standard San Francisco Bay Area commute – 2 hours to go 40 miles (of course, the wonderful commute is only one of a myriad of reasons we “pay extra” to live here!). Here is what played from 80’s on 8 that piqued my interest as I sat staring at the “Coexist” bumper sticker in front of me…
“You can look at the menu, but you just can’t eat
You can feel the cushion, but you can’t have a seat
You can dip your foot in the pool, but you can’t have a swim
You can feel the punishment, but you can’t commit the sin…
No one, No one, No one ever is to blame”
If there is one issue that has created more frustration for me as an executive than any other, it is most people’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions. I believe it is one of the single biggest indicators of long-term business success and long-term personal success.
From the moment we are born, we are learning from our mistakes. That is how we learn. I do not have enough space to write about all the very hard lessons I have learned over the years – including very recently. Each one of them has made me better than I was prior to the mistake. Now, at the time it occurred, I did not see the lesson and did not appreciate that the mistake would, eventually, make me better. Nobody is that self-aware (at least nobody whose last name isn’t “Christ”). But, with time, I was able to look back and appreciate that every single business and personal mistake I have made has taught me a valuable lesson.
“You can build a mansion, but you just can’t live in it
You’re the fastest runner but you’re not allowed to win
Some break the rules, and let you cut the cost
The insecurity is the thing that won’t get lost…
No one, No one, No one ever is to blame”
The growing tendency among younger professionals (and younger parents, for that matter) is to avoid blame and to protect themselves (or their children) from negative experiences. I have posted before that, when something goes wrong, people are divided into two camps – those who look in the mirror first for resolution; and those who look out the window first. I will take someone whose first reaction is to look in the mirror and accept their share of the responsibility any day of the week. There is a great scene in the movie The Blues Brothers between Joliet Jake (John Belushi) and Mystery Woman (Carrie Fisher) that sums this issue up better than I can…
Woman: You, miserable slug! Think you can talk your way out of this? You betrayed me.
Joliet Jake: No, I didn’t. Honest! I ran out of gas… I had a flat tire… I didn’t have enough money for cab fare… My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners… An old friend came in from out of town… Someone stole my car… There was an earthquake… A terrible flood… Locusts… It wasn’t my fault. I swear to God!
If that doesn’t summarize the majority of business interactions I have had with a colleague when something went wrong, I don’t know what does. What we should be teaching our young professionals – and our young children – is to embrace mistakes; to take chances; to try and fail… and fail… and fail. There is a reason why my father (and your father and your father…) always said in reply to some injustice we just endured or same epic failure we just experienced, “It builds character.” That’s because IT DOES!
“You can see the summit, but you can’t reach it
It’s the last piece of the puzzle but you just can’t make it fit
Doctor says you’re cured but you still feel the pain
Aspirations in the clouds but your hopes go down the drain…
No one, No one, No one ever is to blame.”
Yes. You are.
(Thanks to Howard Jones for writing and performing such a great song)
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, an Operating Partner of Altamont Capital Partners, Chairman of The Marcon Foundation, and the former founder, Chairman and CEO of Equity Risk Partners.