Luck is Not a Business Model

My son William, an actor, student and short-order cook, recently sent me a blog post by Michael Ruhlman in which Mr. Ruhlman quotes from the book Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook  by Anthony Bourdain. Both profane and profound, Mr. Bourdain has made a career out of his eclectic experience as both chef and author, and his first book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, rocked the culinary world and led to television fame.

The blog post is entitled “So You Wanna Be a Chef” and the excerpt from Mr. Bourdain’s book is a litany of all the reasons not to commit to attending culinary school and/or to the world of professional cooking. He ends his admonition to the reader by admitting that in spite of his own bad choices early in his career, including his battle with addictions, he got lucky. “And luck,” he writes,” is not a business model.”

Those words resonated with me and I hope they will with you, too. Don’t get me wrong–I believe in luck. Every time I circle the block looking for a place to park in downtown Wheaton, I call on the spirit of my deceased father whose “parking karma” was epic. Sure enough, a space opens up for me! I usually give a nod to the heavens and say, ‘Thank you, Daddy.” Is that luck or timing? I don’t question it. I’m just grateful.

My dad was also fond of saying, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” He was a big fan of the “luck-is-not-a-business model” school of thought. A child of the Great Depression, my dad believed in hard work and had my sister and brother and me apply for work permits before the candles were blown out on our sixteenth-birthday cakes. My parents, both influenced by the Protestant work ethic, insisted that we pay for half of anything we wanted to buy that was a big-ticket item. I’d been pocketing cash from a lucrative baby-sitting business since I was 12 and to my luck (there it is again) and delight, we lived next door to a couple who had two small children and who loved to party. This was back in the day when babysitters got paid fifty cents an hour–double after midnight. I committed to saving for my first pair of contact lenses which was going to cost around $100, an astronomical sum to me then. For more than a year I baby-sat to earn my half of the investment and never felt richer than when I had that $50 set aside. Lucky? Maybe. Lucky enough to have parents who taught me the value of hard work.

You’ve heard of the star who is discovered, an “overnight success” who ruefully admits in a magazine interview that there were 20 years leading up to that sudden surge of fame. Nothing happens overnight–at least not that I know of. Those of us who do strategic planning believe in the power of declaration, putting pen to paper (or cursor to mind-mapping for those with a bent toward technology), planting seeds today that we’ll harvest not tomorrow, not even the day after that, but maybe years from now. Success takes vision, patience, tenacity and grit.

And maybe just a little bit of luck.

[Photo by © Ralf Roletschek – Fahrradtechnik und Fotografie]

The Importance of Ritual

While driving through town on a summer’s day, I was struck by the front lawn of a business near the center of town. In front of the office there was a crowd of plastic pink flamingos with a sign that read “Happy Flockin’ 50th, Cindi! Love, Your CST Buddies.”

I circled back around the block and pulled over. I had to take a photo. There was something about the humor in the sign, the mildly naughty play on words (“Happy Flockin’ 50th”), the flamingos, even the word “love,” that touched me. Maybe it’s because I work as a solo business owner and miss the camaraderie of a team… the idea of a group of co-workers happily conspiring to celebrate Cindi’s birthday moved me. Although I’ve never met her, I imagined this Cindi coming to work, startled by the signs, blushing, laughing and enjoying her special day, made all the more special by the people at work.

We underestimate the importance of ritual. Whether it’s something major, like a 50th birthday or graduating from college, or a smaller victory like finishing a project or completing a task, we often forget to observe the rituals that get us from here to there. Rituals imply celebration, completion, the end of something and the beginning of something else.

I heard Gretchen Rubin speak at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ, last week, talking about the sequel to her best-selling book The Happiness Project. Her new book, Happier at Home, delves more deeply into some of the choices we make that either add to our happiness or deplete our joy. One of the rituals she took on was “Give warm greetings and farewells.” I’ve adopted this small ritual of stopping what I’m doing to enthusiastically greet my family when they come through the door, and making sure that I give more than a perfunctory kiss as I say goodbye to my husband Bill. For years I’ve complained that Bill greets our dog, Peanut, with more energy and affection than he greets me. But why not? Peanut goes into paroxysms of joy every time she sees my husband, wagging her tail, going in circles and (he assures me) grinning that big terrier smile… is it any wonder he responds in kind?

Ignoring rituals robs us of the chance to celebrate. I have a beloved client who, after years of a very successful career in finance, chose to go back to school to get her master’s degree. Her undergraduate record was spotty so she was thrilled to be admitted to a prestigious program at a top-rated university based on her stellar work performance and her drive. She admitted that she often suffered from “imposter syndrome” and was waiting for the campus police to bust her, exposing her as a fraud. When she graduated, I insisted that she throw herself a HUGE party to celebrate this wonderful accomplishment. The ritual of celebrating milestones like graduations, birthdays, retirements, quinceañeras, new babies and weddings is critical to our need for acknowledgement, closure and new beginnings.

My friend Lesley is the Queen of Ritual. When Lesley traded in her role as a specialty advertising marketer for a new life as a yoga instructor, she confided that she was having trouble making the break. Old clients were still calling her to place orders for specialty ad items and, as lucrative as that business was, she wanted to complete that chapter and begin her new one. I had an idea: “Let’s throw a party to announce your new life as a yoga diva!” I said. Together, we cooked up the guest list and I hosted a party at a local restaurant to celebrate her new role and announce to the world that she was now a full-time yoga teacher. It worked. Later, when Lesley was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, she threw herself a “Half-Way Through Chemo” party at a local Mexican restaurant. Not only did we celebrate her victory of surviving and buoy her through the next half of her treatments, but she received many, many gifts–a great by-product of ritual! (Who doesn’t like gifts?)

Gretchen Rubin recommends throwing holiday breakfasts for “minor holidays” like Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day… with little investment in paper plates and napkins from the party store, you can gussy up the breakfast table and enjoy the day before it begins. What holiday traditions can you continue, invent or create? At our house, we have a tradition of hanging crêpe paper in the dining room, twisting it through the arms of the chandelier and anchoring it against the walls, to honor a birthday. Then we throw curly multi-colored serpentine party throws over the paper to give the room a crazy, festive look. Without the crêpe paper and the serpentines, it just wouldn’t be a birthday.

So what rituals are you going to celebrate? Maybe you’ve completed your root canal treatment–celebrate! (But not with caramels.) Completing a degree? Throw yourself a party! Changing jobs? Celebrate with some good friends and a bottle of champagne or sparkling juice. Write a comment below to let us know what milestones you’ll be celebrating as you look for opportunities to acknowledge others and yourself.

Bring on the flamingos.

Perfection is Overrated

This is the time for New Year’s Resolutions, for raising the bar on our performance and creating a vision for the next 12 months that will help us up our game and improve. Between updating our strategic plans and recommitting to a more rigorous exercise regime, we’re looking at how to get better, faster, thinner. In all this hubbub over self-improvement, I thought I’d throw out an idea to help us all get through the year: “Perfection is overrated.”

Perfectionism is the hobgoblin of creativity. When we set out to create something, whether it’s a business, an article, a project or a design, we’re filled with the spirit of anything is possible. But then, our inner critic starts in on us–“It’s too big! It’s too small! It’s not good enough!” Ultimately we take that to mean that we’re not good enough, so we stop creating. This is the death knell of innovation and it stops a lot of would-be artists, inventors and business moguls-in-waiting from accomplishing their dreams.

There’s a tradition with quilt-makers (and a similar tradition with Navajo rug-makers) to build some imperfection into a quilt. The premise is that only God is perfect, so the flaw is a built-in reminder of our own humanity.  This is a good practice. Anne Lamott in her classic book on writing, Bird by Bird, recommends beginning any writing assignment with the title  (pardon the language, please) “Shitty First Draft.” That way, we diminish our expectation that whatever we’re creating has to be perfect on the first round, giving us the freedom to produce.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life…” Ms. Lamott writes.

So while it’s good to aim for excellence in any endeavor, please let go of any aim for perfection this year. Create. Experiment. Make a mess and color outside the lines. Write that shitty first draft. And enjoy the process of creating your business, your career, your work of art, your soufflé, your year, with freedom and flair. There will be time enough for editing.

(Photo: Tumbling Blocks Quilt by Mrs. Ed Lantz, Elkhart, Indiana, 1910-1920, American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY)

The First Day of the Year

Woke up on the First Day of the Year 2014 to a world covered in snow. While I may curse our fierce Midwestern wind that chills to the bone, I confess I appreciate a good snowfall.

Last night my husband Bill and I attended a New Year’s Eve party with good friends and, arriving fashionably late, we parked at the far end of the street. While walking to the house I reveled in the quiet that snow brings, muffling sound and illuminating the holiday lights around us. I love the scrunchy sound new snow makes when you walk on it. I thanked God for the end of a challenging year and all that brought with it and for the beginning of a brand spankin’ new year. Like snow, the year lies in front of us, a big white blank canvas that is ours to fill with new adventures, achievements, victories and even defeats.

You can’t be on social media today without being pelted by the onslaught of messages regarding New Year’s resolutions, new starts and ways to kick off the year. So I’ll offer just a few thoughts to complement your intake of New Year media:

  • Manage your intake of New Year media and, for that matter, media in general. I’m reading Tim Sanders‘ book Today We Are Rich: Making Total Confidence Work for You and he emphasizes the importance of feeding your mind with inspiration vs. dreck. It’s easy to get sucked into the dark side of the Internet so please monitor your time, and your consumption, of social media in a way that supports you. (My resolution this year: more books, less Netflix.)
  • Build your posse. The essence of being an EveryDay Diva (or Divo), my theme for 2014, is to surround yourself with people who support you, AKA your “posse.” This could include your coach, your counselor/advisor, your mentor, your accountant and bookkeeper, your attorney, your personal fitness coach… anyone who supports you and your career or business, your spiritual growth, your mind and your body. Build that posse so that you always have someone to help you achieve your “fitness” goal in whatever corner of your life you’re working on. My friend and Landmark coach (and now Landmark leader) Kathy Bosco always said “I have a coach in every area of my life I’m committed to.” That simple comment has inspired me over the years.
  • Raise the bar while lowering your expectations. Sounds like a paradox, right? But I think there’s something to be said for increasing our own expectations of ourselves while letting go of the expectations we may have of others. And while you’re at it…
  • Give yourself a break. I mean it. We are so hard on ourselves and give ourselves so little grace! I’m amazed at how tough my clients are on themselves, and part of my gift as a coach is to encourage people to grant themselves and others more grace. I know how hard that is to do. So practice granting yourself some grace in the New Year. Forgive yourself, limit your self-flagellation to 24 hours or less following a mistake and monitor your self-talk. Before your call yourself an idiot, ask yourself, would I say the same thing to a beloved friend or a child? To quote my former beloved pastor Chris Winkler who was paraphrasing a quote by Philo, “Be kind, be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a battle.” And sometimes that means you.

So here’s a toast to you and all that you’re up to in the new year. L’chaim! To life!

(photo credit: from 1000 Awesome Things)