Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Month: March, 2012

Reflections on Life: The Appointments We Keep

When we began spending some time together I said we would discuss some of the “stuff that matters” in life. Hopefully, what you have read here has challenged you to think about some of the bigger questions in life. I also hope you have found some encouragement. I’ve tried to avoid “blah”-ging or trying to give anyone the faintest sense that I have life completely figured out. I don’t. But I do tend to ask a lot of questions. So while what follows will be intensely personal, I hope it won’t seem melodramatic or self absorbed. Instead, my hope is sharing a recent experience I had will challenge you to keep the right “appointments” in your life.

Life often seems to be what happens while we are making other plans. We get caught up in the need to achieve, experience, consume, and impress. Those things are a part of life. Yet in many ways those things gets in the way of what we say matters most. The time and effort of doing, having, getting, and impressing keeps us from making and keeping “appointments” with our spouses, our parents, our children, our friends and even ourselves. We find we have succumbed to the “hope” of “one day” only to find ourselves living out the Harry Chapin song “Cats in the Cradle.”

“When you coming home dad(son)? I don’t know when, But we’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then.”

But that day doesn’t come. Sometimes, we can find our time to get to “one day” is far shorter than we thought.

I promised no melodrama so let me get to the point. About three weeks ago I “kept” a semi-annual appointment with my dermatologist. She noted a change in a spot on my back and proposed she remove it. She did so two weeks ago saying she would only call me if there were some “news” and would otherwise see me to take the stitches out. The day after the procedure, on a Friday afternoon at 4 p.m., her name appeared on my cell phone. Since I’d have had a squamous cell carcinoma (the slow growing, kind of easy to fix, don’t worry, sort of cancer) removed about two years ago I wasn’t alarmed. But when the nurse used the term melanoma (the mean, scary, I ain’t got no spit, kill you fast, kind of cancer) I didn’t really hear much else even as she said they “got it all” and I “only” needed to get a surgeon to take out a little more tissue as a “precaution.” (Wait. I thought you said you got it all.) Needless to say it was a long weekend. By Monday morning I had three or four questions the answers to which would determine the course, quality, and quite possibly, the length of my life. Thankfully, I got the best answers to all those questions.

During those few days my wife and I have come to call the “long scary weekend” I spent a lot of time wondering if I had kept the right appointments in my life, appointments being a metaphor for how I have invested my life. Fear is a great source of clarity. Not one I recommend, mind you, but powerful nonetheless. It can refine your sense of purpose in life even if you thought you were fairly clear on it. It can make you reflect more on how you will invest your life in both big and small ways. It can make you ask all kinds of deep questions. (It can also make you ask some weird ones, like “Can a 6’7” guy fit in a regular casket?” Laugh here. It’s okay. I did. But I still don’t know!) Once the fear passes it leaves you with the same feeling you have after a terrible thunderstorm has passed. You are suddenly aware of how beautiful a spring day really is. It is in the storms of life we realize how precious life is.

Most of my life I have been prone to philosophical musings, having the “soul of a poet” (again, laughter) trapped in a banker’s body. However, I readily admit I often cannot see the forest for the trees. I’m thankful for Stephanie to help with that. Not that I wouldn’t make some changes, but because of her and taking the long view about many things, I found myself at peace (mostly) about how I have invested my life; with the appointments I’ve kept. I’m grateful I’ve kept appointments with my dermatologist every six months. Because I did the surgeon who removed more “margin” from the site has told me more good news. I’ll need no further treatment. I thank God for that. But you can bet I will keep every follow up appointment with the doctors. And I will try to set and keep the right appointments in my life.

I’ve struggled about whether to share this or not. Forgive me if you’re thinking T-M-I, too much information. I’ll take that chance this will encourage you to keep all the right appointments in your life. Keep the faith!

Reflections on Risk: Enterprise Risk Management and Springtime in the South

Any son or daughter of the Deep South knows the beauty of springtime in the region. Each year, the Dogwoods, Bradford Pears and budding of Azaleas paint our communities with color and hope. “Springing forward” brings warm days and cool nights before the oppressive heat and humidity of summer forces our retreat into some air-conditioned respite until after Labor Day. Yet with Spring also comes the familiar sound of civil defense sirens, talk of thunderstorms, wall clouds, and sometimes, tragic loss. Tuscaloosa can no longer just be known as “just” the home of the Crimson Tide and 14 national championships, but for the devastation and loss of April 2011’s mile wide tornado. And despite the unspeakable loss such days bring, one wonders how much the loss might have been without the early warnings that preceded the event.

Early warnings signal impending risks, tell us there is danger ahead. They can also improve our chance for survival and success. Yet these warnings are no better than our own response to such information. In some ways, they can desensitize us to the risks we face. Like warnings on a cigarette package, they have become the white noise of our existence, drowning out the call to action. They can lull us in to a detached disbelief that finds us saying “it won’t happen to me, my family, or my business.” Nero fiddles. Rome burns.

Every individual and business needs an “enterprise risk management system.” They need and alert system to tell them if their health or finances are in danger or that their lives and business are at risk. They need a system that identifies and in some manner accurately quantifies that risk. But once received, that information is no better than the action following it. Having heard the civil defense siren, one must move to shelter. Having seen the blood pressure, cholesterol, and other results of a physical diets must change and exercise begin. Poor profitability means a business must cut costs, develop new products, or raise prices, otherwise, financial statements are useless. Indeed there are some risks we take that are “worth it.” But such decisions must be conscious, willing actions that present some chance of a reasonable return for the risk.

Permit me a personal reflection here. As a child, I recall my father and his brothers staying up into the night to “watch” the weather. Not a television set or radio mind you, they looked out the windows to watch the weather. They would listen to the storm, straining to hear the “freight train” signature of a tornado. It was a crude warning system, only a little better than having none at all. It might have only given us seconds to get move to a safer place but my cousins and I would go to sleep without concern, believing our fathers would tell us if there was a need to act. In truth, we probably placed too much confidence in our fathers’ ability to alert us. We believed “it would not happen to us.” Yet in that same community, years earlier, entire families in a small Walker County, Alabama community had been lost in a tornado. A church cemetery has countless headstones with the same date of death for entire families and much of the community when that storm struck. They had no early warning system to heed.

Several days ago the unthinkable happened. Less than a year after parts of Limestone and Madison County, Alabama had been struck by devastating tornados, it happened again. Once again, thanks to Doppler radar, civil defense sirens, radio, television, and text alerts, lives were saved as people took action. Such experiences warrant our reflection about the adequacy of warning systems in our lives. They come in the form of bank and credit card statements, results from blood work, customer satisfaction surveys, employee turnover, and the courageous counsel of those willing to suggest things are not quite as they should be. As you read these words, invest a little more time to evaluate your enterprise risk management system, recognize where you need to act. Then do so. Your health, the success of your business, and the quality of your relationships may depend on it.

Keep the faith.