January: resolution time. Goals to assess. New leaves to turn.
Many of us will pledge to squeeze yet more high performance out of fewer hours. Doable? Likely. Desirable? Possibly. Stressful? Definitely.
The only question is whether the stress is working for you or not.
Take a minute to think about this thing called ‘stress’. In general it’s defined as bad news. Yet, as my friend and lifestyle expert Terri Trespicio points out, without stress, you’d never kick off the covers each morning. There’d be no point. Stress generates the passion and get-go high achievers need to build up and sustain their pace.
But excessive stress is indeed a trap. If you believe you should double your revenue or client base this year, and anything less is failure, you’ve built a pressure cooker. Without a clear sense of your motivation — the why behind the striving and stress — you’re courting unhappiness, failure or maybe even a chronic physical complaint.
So instead, let’s start 2015 with a revolutionary take of resolve. It’s time to deconstruct stress, and distinguish the bad from the good. The success and survival of your goals may ride on it.
Like everyone else, New Yorkers are shaped by their circumstances. This means we make strange jokes to our kids. When they get cash for a present, we’re likely to compute how much square footage that money could rent, for how long. It’s a neat way to teach the kiddos about miniscule fractions: ‘That twenty bucks would get you 3.2 square feet, or one-eighty-ninth of our house, for a month. Standing room only, sweetie, no sleeping!’
All this to say that space always will go for a premium here. So when I tell you I rent an apartment as my office, you know I’m talking a huge investment.
How can I justify this? A quick story if I may.
Last week my daughter was sick and home from school. I wasn’t traveling, but my schedule was full, as usual. I had every reason to say goodbye to the kids, have faith in my husband’s ability to keep my daughter’s nose clean and spirits up, and jump into the flurry of my daily business.
OK, I know the world doesn’t need another post-mortem on the elections of 2014. But I did have an interest in a campaign that failed this November, and I think its aftermath contains a few lessons extend past politics and apply to the greater world of smart sales.
I supported the campaign of Alison Lundgren Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic challenger to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Alison is young, whip smart, telegenic, native-born and raised and the state’s attorney general. Everyone knew she was in for a tough fight: McConnell, running for his fifth term, is a savvier campaigner with many built-in fundraising advantages in a conservative state. Still, Grimes was dynamic, and McConnell’s approval ratings had been dropping. This seemed to have all the earmarks of a close race.
“Whatever you were after, you had to get up off your rusty dusty and do something to get noticed — something that was so much like you, it was nothing like anyone else.”
This quote jumped off the page at me, when I read it in Kansas City Lightning, the fabulous biography of saxophonist Charlie Parker, written by Stanley Crouch. Flying back from a business meeting, this book seemed like the right pick for a brain in need of rest. Pure entertainment en route to LaGuardia. Who knew? A book about a jazz great yielded business insight – double bang for my buck!
“The Yardbird’ was still a teenager when he created jazz phrasing so original it still goggles critics today. That’s what can happen when you spend 15 hours a day practicing for several years — and have the guts to put your rusty dusty and talents out there for all to see.
Musicians will know what I’m talking about. Technical proficiency is a requisite; if you want to entertain a crowd, you learn your part. But if you want to electrify the crowd, make them feel something, chops alone won’t do it. You need to give them something they haven’t had before to create a dynamic moment. In a world this big, that means going inside. You are the only thing going that for certain has never been seen before.
Recently I went to lunch with a charming woman who was seeking my entrepreneurial advice (and perhaps my business) while trading on her long experience as a marketing executive. On paper, it seemed to be a nice quid pro quo.
She chose the restaurant. In midtown Manhattan, there are still a few relics of 1960s fashionable dining. We met in one of these, chatted in the midst of a few other patrons, all of whom might first have stopped in here as young Mad Men wives in 1963.
My lunch date knew a lot. She also was candid about what she didn’t know, including social media, Google and a few other game changers. She was downright cheerful staying so out of step with the times. Now, what advice did I have about working with the young folks?
Well, a little. Starting with the scientific reality of a little switch in the brain that turns the voices of old(er) people into white noise. Unless this woman wanted to market exclusively to the AARP, she had a fundamental problem.
Chutzpah, a Yiddish word that used to have a negative connotation, is a virtue in the modern business world, at least for some of us. A man with ‘chutzpah’ is bold, determined, utterly self-confident. Probably he’s a great salesman.
Meanwhile, women are still wary of showing chutzpah. We’re forever worried about being considered pushy — or worse. Women with chutzpah make enemies, we think: ask Jill Abramson, the (former) executive editor of the New York Times.
But without chutzpah women are disadvantaged. I see this often in political candidates. They have charm to spare, but charm gets precisely no one elected. Political candidates want to win. What provides the muscle behind that desire? Chutzpah. It’s the nerve to ask for what you want.
One of the things I love about watching The Good Wife is its portrayal of strong feminine characters. Case in point: Diane Lockhart, a senior law firm partner who looks out for female protégés and gives as good as she gets. In the most recent segment (broadcast on March 31: spoiler alert!), she earns her hazard pay — and I mean earns — after Will Gardner, a co-senior partner, is shot dead in the courtroom.
The same day of the tragedy, one of the firm’s largest clients, sensing weakness, demands a meeting. It’s a disgusting power play, and Diane is decisive. She accepts the meeting, walks in and tells the client he’s fired. He threatens to take his business elsewhere. Don’t bother, she says; she’s made calls, and they won’t take his business either. Now that’s a good day’s work.
Good or bad, life rarely plays with that much drama. But you don’t need a crisis to know when to fire a client, even a lucrative client. You do need courage, of course. But more than that, you need to trust in abundance.