My Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Be Patient?

Shades

Ever heard the song “Future’s So Bright?” The jist is that the future is so bright, I’ve gotta wear shades. It is your standard 80’s one hit wonder, but I love the song. As I sit here on a sunny Friday afternoon, this is a highly relevant song for me. My family and I are healthy and happy, we’re refinancing our house and saving 8 years’ worth of payments, we planned some fun spring trips this week, and I’ve got more business lined up than my team can handle. The future certainly IS bright!

The hard part for me on a day like today is to be patient. Staying in the present when there is excitement about the future is challenging. Staying in the moment, however, is paramount if that bright future is going to play out the way I want it to turn out. I’ve found that if I start allowing myself to live in the future, some unforeseen sadness creeps in or an expense that I wasn’t expecting shows up. Fun times in the future with friends don’t live up to expectations when I fixate on them for months, and business deals that I thought were “a lock” always seem to fall apart at the last minute whenever I squeeze too hard to get the contract.

So today I’m just going to enjoy the sunshine AND the bright future. I’m going to wear my shades and stay present with the people and opportunities that are right here with me now. The future will take care of itself if I’m patient enough to wait until it gets here.

Lessons on Business and Life from a Pizza Joint

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On a business trip to my former home of Peoria, IL this week I was reminded of some valuable lessons for both my business dealings and life in general from my favorite local pizza place – Agatucci’s.

Over the 5 years we lived in Peoria, I would say I became a ‘regular’ at Agatucci’s. It was near our home and it became a family tradition for me to pick up our son on Friday after work and head to Aggies to pick up a pizza to take home. That isn’t really anything unique, people in Peoria have been doing it for almost 90 years. Agattuci’s moved to their current location on University Avenue in 1926 and members of the same family have owned and operated it ever since.

Here are a few lessons I took away from eating pizza at the bar while the current operators, Danny and Tony, worked the bar and ran the restaurant:

Do a couple of things well and stick to them. Agatucci’s serves 3 things: cold beer, pizza, and chicken. That’s it. No steaks, no hamburgers, no grilled chicken caesar salads. Just thin crust pizza in 2 sizes (large and small) and fried chicken. Sure, you can get a side salad, but the menu hasn’t changed for a long, long time. It is a good reminder for all businesses that you don’t have to be everything to everyone to be successful. I’m sure there are tons of people in Peoria who turn their noses up at the Agatucci’s menu, but it has not hindered them one bit in running a successful restaurant. Patrons know what they are going to get and they go there for the pizza and chicken.

Names matter. I haven’t lived in Peoria for over 3 years and have only been to Agatucci’s once since I’ve been gone. I’m not Facebook friends with either Danny or Tony, and they don’t follow me on Twitter. Nevertheless, when I walked in last night, they made eye contact with me like they do everyone who comes in the restaurant and then both smiled really big and said, “John, great to see you, what are you doing in town?” I can’t tell you how good that made me feel. I’m not great with names and I need to get better about it because names matter to people and when you remember their name, it makes them feel like they matter.

Take care of your customers and make them feel appreciated and valued. As I mentioned, my son, Jack used to go in for pick up with me when we lived in Peoria. He’d pull up a stool next to me at the bar and Danny would feed him lemonades in step with the 8 ounce draft beers I had while we waited. Jack got a kick out of it and Danny enjoyed asking him questions and answering the ones his 5 year old brain came up with sitting at a bar. When I was there this week, Danny of course asked about Jack, wanted to know what he is up to, and gave me the shirt below to give him when I left. He didn’t have to do that, and it made me feel appreciated as a customer.

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Stay the course. I had a colleague with me this time, so I implored Danny and Tony to recount some of the great stories about the restaurant. The fact that they have Liquor License #13 in Peoria County (issued the day after the 21st Amendment went into effect, lifting prohibition) which is now the oldest surviving because the other 12 places shut down. The story about the fire, the story about the cop car plowing through the front door and destroying the bar, and the story about the attempted robbery that Danny and Tony thwarted with their own pistol work and survived unscathed. The point is, things haven’t always been rosy for Aggatucci’s, I’m sure business has been tight at times, and things have been rough. Through it all, they’ve stayed true to the vision of their grandfather and stayed the course.

I hope that in my business dealings I can learn from Danny and Tony and make my customers feel as great about doing business with me as I do about going to Agatucci’s. I hope that in my life I can stay the course and in my friendships I can remember to make people feel appreciated. Thank you Agatucci’s for these important reminders.

Competing

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Competing seems like a simple concept to me…that is until I actually think about it. You see, I feel as if I’ve been competing all my life. Most days, I don’t really think about it anymore because it has just become second nature. Last night, however, when my wife sent me this picture of our son, Jack, competing in his first chess tournament and then told me all about it when I got home, I started to actually THINK about competing.

This week has been an interesting week in regards to competition for me. As I took the time to review the past 7 days in light of competition, it struck me how truly connected it is to my life. I also learned that competing takes on different forms for different people. Here’s the timeline…

Last Thursday I found out that our firm DIDN’T WIN a big project that really meant a lot to me. It was hard on our team and disappointing to me. I tried not to second guess why we didn’t win and couldn’t get any answers from the decision makers, so I had to just push through and move on. Saturday, I coached Jack and his team in 8 year old basketball. We won, the kids had fun, and Jack was happy that he had been a part of it, but not thrilled by any means. Monday, I coached the same team in practice and Jack (who is not that good at basketball) did not compete at all in practice, didn’t even really try. It was frustrating and we had a talk about at least giving effort, even when you aren’t the best at something. He told me again that he just doesn’t really like basketball. That was hard for me to hear although I knew it was true. Tuesday, it was cold outside so instead of a run, I decided to try a couple of rounds of the 7 Minute Workout. Wow, that worked some muscles I haven’t worked in awhile and boy, was I competing with my mind to finish the second round! Thursday we pitched another new business opportunity to a professional sports team and after the presentation one of the key decision makers pulls me aside and says “you guys nailed it, you’ve got this.” That felt great and my colleagues and I were beaming and fist bumping all the way to the airport. And then last night I get home and hear about how Jack got 3rd place in his first chess tournament and really had fun. This morning, when he woke up and we talked about it, he said, “I wish I could have at least gotten 2nd.” There it is – competing.

Here’s the thing about competing; if you are by nature a competitor, you will find the thrill in competing in the things that you love. As a young man, and even a young adult, basketball was the thing I most enjoyed competing in and I loved the competition, even the hard losses. As I’ve grown older, I have realized that I get a very similar thrill in competing for sales, even when we are not chosen for a project. Earlier in the week, I was so frustrated that Jack didn’t get a competitive thrill from competing in basketball the way I did as a kid. Little did I know that it wasn’t because he wasn’t a competitor, it was because I was trying to force him to find that thrill in one of my passions, not his. His competitive thrill right now comes from competing at chess (and probably other thinking games), even when he loses. And if his body language in this picture is any indication, I’d say he has some of the same ‘swagger’ and ‘cockiness’ that I had as a young man when I knew I was the better player on the court. My job now as dad/coach is to encourage that competitive spirit to manifest itself the right way and support what he loves regardless of whether or not it is my passion.

What’s Your Thing?

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“What IS your thing?”  This question was recently asked of my wife during a conversation with a good friend about some random social club activity.  It was preceded by my wife saying, “That’s not my thing.”  My wife’s friend is a wonderful person and she is generally busy.  Most of the time she is busy doing something good: organizing a food program for underprivileged kids at the school, taking a mission trip to Haiti, attending exercise class and church groups.  So, she was understandably puzzled by the appearance that my wife does not have a “thing.”  The discussion led my wife to conclude, “I guess I don’t really have a thing.”

This incident had me wondering, what is this question really asking?  It seems to me that most people want to know what the one thing is that makes you, you.  What are you most passionate about? What is that one thing that makes you fulfilled?  People have many “things.”  Exercise, religion, an occupation, food, drugs, sports, children, alcohol, appearance, possessions, money, sex…the list could go on forever.  Some “things” are good, some are bad, and some are both.  In many cases, the purpose of each “thing” seems to be to get us to a place of mental stillness where we do not feel the need to get anywhere else – true peace, joy, fulfillment.  But this intent is dysfunctional for many reasons.

First of all, “there” is never here. In the same way, needing, seeking and wanting are the antithesis of peace.  It is impossible to have a still mind while in a state of wanting, seeking or needing.  When peace is there (a place to get to), it is never here (the only place we ever are).

A “thing” is never enough.  According to the egoic, thinking mind, if some is good, more is better.  It always wants more.  Losing weight to improve health and appearance is good.  Having plenty of money and possessions is good.  Religion is good.  However, if a condition becomes a “thing,” we are then in danger of unconsciously subscribing to the “more is better” theory.  Anorexia then becomes the most common cause of death among women ages 15-24.  We end up with television shows about real housewives, hoarders and strange addictions.  Groups like ISIS and Westboro Baptist Church arise.  Of course these examples are extreme, but many of us are guilty of producing suffering, often in the form of a jaded spouse, a neglected child or financial hardship, because of a “thing.”  I certainly am.

In this world of opposites, everything runs in cycles.  Nothing can grow forever.  All things are impermanent.  Looks and athletic ability fade.  Possessions and money are lost.  Jobs come and go. Children grow up.  There will be times when the “thing” isn’t there.  Then what?  We all consciously realize this, but a “thing” can lead to unobserved thoughts and behaviors that say the opposite.

So, is the answer that we should give up our “thing?”  Possibly.  How do we follow my wife’s example of being passionate, achieving and accomplishing without having a “thing?”  Maybe what is needed is awareness: awareness of the ego’s incessant effort to make something “my thing;” awareness that a “thing” is at best providing false, temporary peace; awareness that expecting a “thing” to give something that it cannot give – true peace, true joy, true fulfillment – is dysfunctional.  True peace and joy are uncaused.  No “thing,” no effort, no condition gives rise to the Peace of God.  All too often, having a “thing” obscures it.

Written by Dr. Jason Pittser