When I first started out in business, as a budding entrepreneur/investor, I had no mentor or role model or beaten path to follow. I was making it up as I went along, feeling my way forward. As a result, I ferociously consumed business books, looking for nuggets of information I could cobble together to help me find my way.
I found much that helped me, but for a while I was confused. Many people writing about their own businesses didn’t seem to have serious problems, at least not real problems, the ones that keep you awake at night, or that stalk the back roads of your mind, or keep you peering endlessly into a deep fog that never seems to part, or wrestling with choices that seem like frying pan to the left and roaring fire to the right. Life appeared a lot easier and clearer in most of the books than the challenges I faced running my business.
Picked up a book recently on the history of Europe from 1648 to 1815 (“Pursuit of Glory,” by Tim Blanning). It is a thick tome—more than 700 pages—and I cheerfully confess I did more skimming than aught else. Nonetheless I gleaned some interesting impressions.
First and foremost is a deep appreciation for how much easier life has gotten for human beings. On an intellectual level we all know this. Reading this level of detail about the everyday facets of life creates that awareness on an emotional level.
I never understood the extreme difficulties, dangers, and expense of travel (thus trade and communication) and its impact on daily life: One reason famines were so common was the difficulty of moving grain from areas of availability to areas of need. This difficulty was compounded by the slowness of communication (you had to know about it first before you could act), as well as the frequent lack of a central government with the power or ability to act. And in some of the most reprehensible cases, the lack of motivation to act.
I used to think of patience as a passive thing, something like raw intelligence, that you either were born with or you weren’t. I thought that someone was a patient person just as I thought he was tall or short. Patience just was. You either had patience or you didn’t.
With time and age has come experience and insight, and I now realize that patience can be learned, that I am capable of becoming much more patient (oh boy, more responsibility for my actions and the resulting consequences!).
Amazingly enough, just the realization that I had control, much more than I realized, and that I could achieve even more, resulted in a major increase in my patience. I started paying attention to what set me off, started anticipating, thus preventing. I came up with alternatives in advance, escape routes and pre-problem solutions. I worked out conversational scripts (internal and external) to steer me away from hot spots and critical issues. I became self aware enough to talk things out before they blew, to see the challenge developing and put out the sparks before they became a wildfire in my mind.