The Rumor Mill

I was having lunch outside the hotel, looking over the beautiful bay, sun shining on my face.  I had just completed my 31st annual sales meeting.  It was a good three days (not the usual two days of info miraculously stretched into five).  Excellent speakers, relevant data and training for the most part, great food and of course plenty to drink for those who care to imbibe.  Now I’m tired, waiting to leave for the airport and next to me are two attorneys about to begin their conference.  They are catching up on lost time, but I quickly realize what they really are doing is systematically picking apart everyone they can think of.

“How’s Joe?”                                                                                                  

“Oh, you know.  About the same.  Still married to that same gal.  Three kids now I think.  Probably put on 20 pounds.  Still as loud as a carny at the state fair (he actually said that).  Not sure he’s got what it takes to make it in this line of work.”

And on and on it went.  Person after person was skewered.  No detail was left out.  No hearsay or gossip was left unsaid.  I ate as quickly as I could and made my way back inside, wondering if I was listening to a message meant for me.  Do I do that too?  Who am I kidding, of course I do.  We all do.  It’s practically our national past-time, which of course doesn’t make it right—just ubiquitous.

I sat there thinking about the last few days.  How did I do comparatively?  Did I weigh-in every chance I got?  Was my opinion all that mattered?  Did I defend anyone?  Did I ever get up and just leave the conversation?  Or, did I coach and mentor anyone? Did I give sage advice based on past experience?  Where appropriate did I gently correct and redirect?  When it’s all said and done and a few folks are sitting around talking about me, what are they saying?  And don’t think for a moment they aren’t…

How often do we hear “begin with the end in mind,” in business?  It’s a universal axiom that makes so much sense when you are developing strategy and tactics for a particular business case or project.  But do we ever apply it personally?  How often do we begin with the end in mind for our lives?  Our marriage?  Our parenting choices?  Our choice of careers?  Our impact on this world?  What do we want others to say about us?  I’ve always remembered a quote from Tony Campolo, “Life is about testimonies, not titles.”  Most of us don’t really live that way.

I believe a lot of folks think this way selectively.  “I really want to be a good boss.  What do I need to do to make that happen?”  Or “I want to be good at this parenting thing.  Where can I go to get some advice?” And on it goes in different parts of our lives.  As usual in life, we tend to seek out assistance when things aren’t going right or when there is pain or fear.  Precious few seek out assistance proactively and go ask experienced friends, coaches, parents or mentors how they got where they got and what can I expect if I go down this path?

I know a few guys who are proactive in this area and have even asked me about certain things.  What an honor and privilege it is to be in that situation.   But to make that an integral part of everyday and every decision is not really a primary consideration each morning.  It’s a utopian thought for sure.  Who could possibly always keep the end in mind?  Yeah, probably only something we can aspire to in our broken world, but then again it is a matter of training and willpower, isn’t it?  Each day, each decision point becomes another opportunity to ask “how do I want this to go?”  “What is the end game here?” Like many things in life, it’s easy to say and incredibly difficult to do. 

So what’s the big takeaway on this one?  Maybe it’s as simple as how do you want to be known or remembered?  Not that we become people pleasers, but clearly tearing everyone down, every chance we get, isn’t the answer.  It’s like parenting—kids remember nearly everything they see us do, and far less of what we say.  So, set a good example every day and when necessary reinforce it with words.