Today as I dropped my paddle board in the unseasonably warm Lake Norman water, I was excited to get out on the lake. It’s October and to have the water this comfortable is a treat. Seeing the changing color panorama of the shoreline while getting a workout is a win-win. As I paddled close to the shoreline across the cove I saw a familiar tree stump just below the surface. I know it’s there so I made sure to give it enough distance. Just as I was past it I looked down and noticed I was going directly over another tree trunk that had been left beneath the water years ago when they were creating the lake. I had never noticed that the tree trunk I was familiar with had a twin! I had three thoughts flash across my mind quickly – only 2 1/2 of which I had time to finish. My first thought was “wow, this is cool, I’m able to float right over it.” I could see all the exposed roots and the entire stump. My second thought was I wonder how much clearance I have, this trunk looks a little bigger than the other – about 3 feet wide. The third thought which I only partially finished was, “I wonder if the fin on the back of the board….” I got the answer before I could finish the question and it was NO! The fin caught the tree trunk and my board came to a jarring stop. I went flying forward into the lake while my paddle went straight up in the air. I’m sure someone on shore got a good laugh as they watched me go in.
As I got back up I thought, “I’ll never make my goal now – I just lost too much time.” Then another thought began to dawn on me. It’s what’s right below the surface that you really have to be careful of out here. I was right on top of a huge stump and never noticed it. All summer I have been paddling around the lake and have only fallen once when a boat roared past. Even windy days haven’t toppled me. It was a simple, submersed, old tree stump that I should have seen that threw me into the water.
As entrepreneurs, I think we often focus ahead. We plan and we plot out the course. We are anxious to get to the goal. However, sometimes the details of our current situation, of where we are right at this moment, what’s just below the surface, go unnoticed and unappreciated. Today I was on a mission. I wanted to paddle farther in a shorter amount of time than I had before. But in my determination to reach my goal, I was looking so hard at the distant shore that I wasn’t really looking carefully at my current position. I wasn’t looking right below the surface.
As I paddled back I began to think about how many areas of life need a little closer inspection as we hurry along to our goals. Getting to the distant shore is important, but we only see a partial victory if we don’t appreciate what happens with each stroke of the paddle along the way. As I processed the incident and tried to dry out, reasons for not ignoring the submerged tree trunks of our life quickly came to mind.
The first is that we want to do our best to avoid the “submersed tree trunk dumps man into lake” type incidents. If we don’t look below the surface little things often dump us overboard and slow progress or maybe stop a dream altogether. We are not paying attention and the result is some sort of upset. The upsets can be financial, emotional, or relational. As entrepreneurs some of us are so anxious and excited to see our ideas come to life that we can be a little hasty as we go through the process of starting a new venture or maintaining an old one. Read the fine print? Not really enough time, besides I’ve seen these papers before. Plan as completely as possible? I’ll do it along the road, after all, I have to get started – time is of the essence. Everyone in your family doing OK? Sure they know what this is all about, what I’m doing and why it’s important. They’re good!
Last week I received a bill for my real estate business. I’ve paid the bill before so I thought I knew all about it. For some reason I decided to open the detailed description. As I looked deeper I was surprised to see that a large portion of the bill was a voluntary contribution to the PAC that represented the organization. I had paid the bill at least two other times but amidst all the things I had going on I just accepted it at face value. I assumed it was a necessary part of the business so I just paid it. I never knew I could (and did) opt out of paying that part of the bill. I called four other people I do business with and asked if they knew anything about it. All had the same response – “What? No!…Really? I already paid it!” Look below the surface! It’s what you are not paying attention to that can throw you into the lake.
The second reason you want to look below the surface is you don’t want to miss the moments. The older I get the more important this truth becomes. When my children were growing up we led a hectic life. We always seemed to be in a “building” mode. Now as I hear them sharing memories with their children I realize that some of the most meaningful times to them were moments that barely registered with me. As parents building a family on some days we just needed to get through the basics of life. We didn’t have the time or energy to make the most of significant moments.
Much to my wife’s credit, she has always tried to remind me to take the time to appreciate as many “moments” as we can. We stop, we look, we evaluate, and we look below the surface. Those who know her know that every birthday is important, every achievement is noticed, every good action is affirmed and now celebrated. It hasn’t added a lot of burden to our schedules, made things more complicated, or taken tons and tons of time but it has taken more effort. More importantly, it HAS added incredible richness to the memories of each day.
The third reason to look closer at your situation is because you don’t want to miss what is important to other people. Sometimes by just hitting the pause button for just a moment may change the trajectory of someone’s life.
Last week I was teaching a class and a young man asked me if he could add something to the production. I hadn’t planned on it, and may not even missed it if it weren’t there. But I thought, “why not.” It would help out, so let’s see how he does. That evening I received an unexpected message from his parents thanking me. They said I had no idea how profoundly it had affected their son. It was affecting his attitude about both the project and other things in his life.
The truth is I ALMOST MISSED IT! I remember that day he raised his hand in class and my initial thought was “not now – I have to get this part finished.” However, having been dunked earlier that morning I decided to stop and see why he was persistently waving his hand. I realized again the process isn’t all about my goals.
The E Family lessons for this one are so easy to summarize because one word says it all…STOP!
* Take time to look around you at all the details in your life. Just look a little further below the surface. It doesn’t take as long as you think.
* Make what is just below the surface as important to you as your goal in front of you.
*Not looking can cost you, financially, emotionally, and relationally. More importantly not looking may cause you to miss the “significant moments” in the journey. Moments you may wish you could get back later.
*Stop and celebrate the moments. They will fuel you. Those memories will energize you and bring joy to your day.
*Look below the surface of the project that you are passionate about and see who you can take along on the journey. Being an effective entrepreneur is never a solo act.
Today I didn’t make my goal – I never made it to that distant shore. But I got something better. A vivid reminder that it’s so important to take time along the way. That shore is still there and maybe this week I will make it over. But the lesson I learned was more important than the goal of reaching the other side of the lake.