In “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” business coach Dale Carnegie shared a story of hiring his 19-year old niece, Josephine. When she made mistakes at her job early on, he felt what many entrepreneurs feel - a need to rebuke and correct her. Here’s how he recounted his internal dialogue:
“One day, when I started to criticize her, I said to myself: ‘Just a minute, Dale Carnegie. You are twice as old as Josephine. You have ten thousand times as much business experience. How can you expect her to have your viewpoint, judgment or initiative - mediocre though they may be? What were you doing at nineteen? Remember the asinine mistakes and blunders? Remember the time you did this … and that?’”
This is an example of “hitting the slow-motion button on life’s remote control.”
Hold Your Fire
You might be old enough to remember the song “Time Stand Still,” from the rock band Rush. In one verse, the singer says, “If I could slow it all down, like a captain whose ship runs aground … I could wait until the tide comes around.” I understand these lines much more now than I did in my twenties, when the song was released. They sounded cute then, but now I cling to their meaning.
We long for significance and impact on the world, as entrepreneurs. Especially with the people whose lives we touch directly, like family and friends. The hard part is being able to see how our day-to-day operating style enhances or deteriorates relationships. Usually, the younger we are, the harder it is to see. It takes decades of failure to gain wisdom and insight into how this is done.
I would characterize this process as “increasingly inefficient.” You don’t get deep, rich quality at high speeds - not with human relationships. It’s good to remember ... we can make cars, smartphones and oil drilling more efficient and fast. Intangible things like connection, authority and clout are different. Having God-like power doesn’t translate into having God-like character.
360 Degree Instant Replay
I love the NFL’s 360-degree instant replay. A big third-down conversion or interception really comes to life when you see it from behind, in front, overhead and other angles. I appreciate the athleticism so much more when I realize how fast athletes make decisions and plays.
I mention this because of the opportunities I mishandled. Like Geddy Lee sang, I wish I could have slowed it all down. If I could have seen the way my actions and reactions harmed or hindered relationships, I’d have behaved differently.
If We Could Slow It Down
Looking back, I actually could have paused, or activated multi-angle slow-motion on one part of all these regrettable moments - me! I could have stopped myself from reacting to people and situations. I could have had people hold up a mirror to my thoughts, motives and actions - and faced the bitter truth.
There really is a “slow-motion button” in life. The problem is it only works when we use it on ourselves. We can slow down replying, responding, retaliating and repeating. We can’t use it on anyone else.
Another great phrase in “Time Stand Still” goes like this: “I want to look around me now … see more of the people and the places that surround me now.”
Nashville is a great place to live, but one thing it lacks is a desert. In all the times I visited places like Arizona and New Mexico, I never noticed this: the desert is a great place on earth to find life. I have to admit, until a friend pointed this out, an “abundance of life” on Earth always made me think of the Brazilian rainforest.
“The desert is a place of stunning beauty,” he told me, “because you can’t appreciate it unless you slow down and look closely at everything.” This is true. From 30,000 feet it looks like a barren wasteland, but try zooming in to three inches. You’ll find it teems with life in vivid detail.
Can you delay your reactions long enough to ask the right questions - or, better yet, let someone else ask them? I’ve never seen more of a difference in my behavior than when I refused to erupt in the moment, and let things simmer for at least 24 hours.
When I refrain from immediate responses and dig deeper, I find people are like the desert. Their stories have richness, complete with variables and origins I’d never think to look for. Under the rough edges of a desert boulder are a million small organisms, and behind the wounded face of a man are hundreds of stories that comprise his uniqueness. Some are good, some are not. The magic is in simply slowing down enough to sample a few of them. You can unleash a torrent of goodwill, positive energy and reciprocity - simply by being more curious than the average person.
I “gained momentum in slowing down” as I formed online mastermind groups. Decisions I could stagger by several hours began to take days, or weeks. Crazy ideas, quick fixes and - most of all, retaliation - came to a snail’s pace or grinding halt. The “idea fairy” that sends entrepreneurs down rabbit holes lost its power. I became more focused in my fifties than I was in my twenties.
One of my favorite stories to tell from mastermind groups is how Dan Miller and Dave Ramsey balked at my “goals” when I retired for the third time in 2011. All I wanted to do was crawl away to a tropical beach and stare at the ocean. But they said, “Big A, that’s the most selfish thing we’ve heard out of your mouth. You have decades of experience in business and marriage. You need to start coaching and training younger men.”
Dale Carnegie learned how to correct his niece without becoming a monster. He finished the anecdote in his book this way:
“When I wanted to call her attention to a mistake, I began by saying, ‘You have made a mistake, but the Lord knows, it’s no worse than many I have made. You weren’t born with judgment. That comes only with experience, and you are better than I was at your age. I’ve been guilty of many stupid, silly things myself. I have very little inclination to criticize. But don’t you think it would have been wiser if you had done so-and-so?’”
Young man … the best application of the speed and momentum you feel now is to learn diligently how to slow down. Become less efficient at how you handle your fellow human beings. If you do, I can promise the relationships you have will yield twice as much or more.