As frequent readers already know, I have curated an “Annual Christmas Book” for several years that I have shared with friends, clients, partners, and colleagues (https://worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/2016/12/27/reading-is-fundamental/). I have a very high standard for my selection criteria:
- The book cannot be a current best seller or an imminent movie
- It must reaffirm your faith in humanity
- It must make you laugh and make you cry (or at least make you swallow hard)
- It must contain lessons for business without being a business book
- It must be “PG” rated or, if an “R” then, as Matthew used to say when begging us to go to an “R” rated movie, “C’mon, it’s just “R” for violence, not for sex!”
I have heard from many long-time members of the Michael Marcon Annual Christmas Book list that their favorite selection is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It is hard for me to disagree. In advance of the upcoming movie adaptation of “TAORITR”, I reread the book. This time, I knew enough to read it in private and not sitting on a plane. This way, nobody could see me sobbing (Pro Tip – when your seatmate on the plane sees you crying and asks if you are OK, a foolproof trick is to say, “Yes, it’s just that the damn United WiFi isn’t working again”).
Rereading the book made me realize how many great business and life lessons are contained in its pages. Here are a few that stand out for me:
“The car goes where your eyes go.” This might be the single greatest piece of business and life advice ever published in a work of fiction. Great leaders look forward, not backward. They recognize that it is impossible to move in the opposite direction of where you are looking. You cannot be distracted by the commotion over there. You cannot be absorbed by what is behind you. You cannot be preoccupied by what’s on the horizon. Keep your eyes on the road.
The car is your business, your team, your unit…your family. They all follow you. You are their eyes. They go where you go. Where are you going to take them?
“There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.” Put even better is the greatest quote ever from Coach Eric Taylor, “…’cuz that’s what character is…It’s in the trying.” Think about the most compelling sports scenes you have witnessed in your life. You will likely agree that they are not of the fastest runner breaking the tape. If you are like me, you are mesmerized by the runner who is struggling to finish; who is crawling over the finish line. In business and in life, there is only one person who gets to break the tape. If we fail to start a business, start a family, live a life, because we might not be the one to break the tape, then we are dishonoring ourselves. You need to be willing to crawl.
“That which we manifest is before us. We are the creators of our own destiny.” No outcome is predetermined. The phrase “forgone conclusion” should be banished from the language. We make our own outcomes. Do you want to be successful in business? Then, go do it! Do you want to have a successful marriage? A happy family? Then, go do it! If you fail to achieve these things and you look back – critically and in the cold, hard, light of day – you will realize that you likely did not truly manifest your destiny. You probably expected it to be done for you. To quote the great Esurance commercial with the elderly woman posting actual pictures to “her wall”, “That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.”
“Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.” This is one of my major weaknesses. My ego is so big that I know what I have to say is much more important than what you have to say. Every time I let myself think that way, I am disappointed in the outcome. I will miss an interesting point of view. I may even miss an opportunity to avoid a big mistake. How many times during a conversation do you listen to what the other person is saying versus preparing what you want to say next? If that ratio is greater than 90:10, then, like me, you are missing out on some really valuable insights and wisdom.
“The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferably of his own making – in order to triumph.” I tell people all the time – in the 15 years I was building and running Equity Risk Partners, I did everything in my power to blow up the company. I just never figured out the right way to do it! We cannot control the curveballs that life throws us – and we never know when they are coming. We can control how we react to them.
“The race is long. To finish first, first you must finish.” To this day, I have a few poems that I keep framed and that I refer to with regularity for inspiration and “balance”. One I have discussed before – “Footprints” (https://worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/footprints/). One, I will discuss in the future – “The Man in the Glass”. And, the other is “Don’t Quit”.
“When things go wrong as they sometimes will
When the road your trudging seems all up hill
When the funds are low and the debts are high
When you want to smile and have to sigh
When care is pressing you down a bit
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit…”
Ultimately, success in business and in life comes to those who just refuse to give up.
“No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there.” We have all heard the old adage, “It is a marathon, not a sprint.” That is true. What most people do not realize is that world class marathoners run 4 minute miles for 26 miles. World class leaders and world class parents realize that it is a marathon and a sprint. What you do every day prepares you for the tenacity of a marathon length sprint. How did you prepare today?
Every now and then, a truly great work of fiction comes along and touches your heart and your life in a memorable way. The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those books. If you have not read it, I encourage you to. If you have, read it again.
Then, find your Enzo (remember, he may not be wagging his tail at your feet, he may be sitting next to you on the train), and race your race.
We’ll see you at the finish line.