Wow! What a time to be alive?!? Not. Everywhere you turn, someone is being cancelled because someone is offended. Businesses cower in fear for saying the wrong thing or promoting a product that was once acclaimed by many but does not meet the arbitrary “standards” of the last 30 seconds. People hide from their neighbors, drop off Facebook, and stay silent from the fear of saying or doing the “wrong” thing. Hmm… I wonder what that must feel like? (you can insert a sarcasm emoji here).
Every time I watch another “cancellation” in real time – after I get over my bout of PTSD – I always recall a poem that has guided my business and personal life for more than 30 years.
“When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to a mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say”
We all want it. We all dream about it. Heck, I wrote a blog about it (https://bit.ly/3vzZs7S). We all want to be “The Man at the Top”. You want to be the “cool Mom” or the “awesome Dad” to all your kids’ friends. I want my lawn to be the envy of my neighbors (OK, that one really is mine!). I want my colleagues to be impressed by my skill and my boss to be wowed by my performance. I want my swing to be the sweetest, my dovetails to be the tightest, my abs to be the “six-packiest”, my sales to be the highest, and my W-2 to be a “W-200”. That’s all great. The question isn’t whether you can have it. The question is What did you do to get it?
“For it isn’t your Father or Mother or Wife
Upon whose judgement you must pass
The person whose opinion counts most in your life
Is the One staring back from the glass”
Boy, if that isn’t the “Freudian Trifecta” (“Tri-fec-ter” for you Dick Vitale fans) for me, I don’t know what is. I spent a lifetime worrying about meeting my Dad’s standards. I almost didn’t marry Mary because I was so worried about my father’s initial lack of approval. Thank God I overcame that hurdle. But, how many times have we missed on something meaningful, something spectacular, something life-changing, because we were too afraid of someone else’s reaction?
And, it works both ways. My Mom once told me – very lovingly and with deep concern – that I would not be considered a “failure” in business if I did not achieve the same level of economic success as my Dad. She was worried I was trying too hard to reach an impossible goal. We all know what I did, right? Yup. I doubled down on my effort. “I’ll show her. Grumble Grumble. No one’s going to tell me what I can’t achieve. Not some homemaker with a high school diploma! Grumble Grumble. Hrmph. What does she know?” My Mom was truly a saint. She had more qualities that we should all emulate than I can count. But, trying to live my life and achieve my goals to prove her wrong? That was not a good decision. How many times have we been blinded by slight, enraged by the innocent, angered by the misinformed, and offended by the unintended? How much time did we waste in that pursuit? We will never get it back.
“Some people may think you’re a straight shootin’ chum
And call you a wonderful guy
But The Man in the Glass knows you’re really a bum
If you can’t look Him right in the eye”
Years ago, as I was struggling to build Equity Risk Partners, I received my issue of Business Insurance magazine – the “bible” for our industry. Lo and behold, on the cover, was a person I knew quite well but did not regard quite well. The article was celebrating his achievements in building a new brokerage business and how he was doing it in record time (all while maintaining a single digit handicap, not gaining any weight from excessive business travel, and with no strain on his marriage). We all know what I did, right? Yup. “Motherf#@&er! That guy? Are you kidding me?” Here I am busting my butt to build my business one brick at a time and the guy taking all the shortcuts and building a “house of cards” is getting all the love. I called my investor and partner, John Pasquesi, and told him I needed an honest answer to a very direct question – could I take those same shortcuts, get the same results, and get my picture on the cover of Business Insurance? He replied – “Absolutely. Yes. But, why would you want to do that?” Having calmed down, I said, “OK. As long as you know it and I know it, I’m good.” Success in business and in life comes from achieving YOUR goals on YOUR terms and to YOUR standards.
“He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest
Because He’s with you right up to end
You’ll have passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If The Man in the Glass is your friend”
Remember when you told your parents that “Johnny’s” parents were letting him do something (in my case growing up, it was usually being able to go back outside after dinner to play kick the can instead of taking a bath and putting on our pajamas; I know! Child abuse, right?) as the reason you should be able to do it, as well? The famous universal parental reply? “If Johnny jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” The secret to maximizing your achievements in business and in life has not evolved much from the summer of 1972 – Forget about what Johnny is doing. Come inside, take your bath, and put on your pajamas. Plus, Johnny is probably smoking cigarettes down by the railroad tracks.
“You may fool the whole world down your pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But, your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated The Man in the Glass”
One of my favorite gospel passages is Matthew 6:1-16. It speaks to the “value of values”. Do you want your reward now, the praise of the “hypocrites”? Or, do you want your reward later? Your Father knows what you do, when you do it, and why you do it. Business and personal success is the “Fram Oil Filter of Life” – you can get “paid” now or get “paid” later.
I never realized until just now – The true meaning of life – and why we try so hard to please The Man in the Glass – does not actually occur in this life. It happens at the end of our life when we realize, in that very last instant and with our very last breath… The glass is not a mirror. It is a window. We’re not looking in. He is looking out.
Time to get “paid”.
Michael C. Marcon is Managing Partner of M3K Holdings, LLC and Nonno to Penelope and Henry.