There is a scene I keep replaying in my head. I see it on an 18” antiquated television. Queue excited orchestral rising-fast-paced music. See the black and white picture of a cartoon cat running like crazy across the screen, sweat droplets falling as it barely reaches the small hole in a fence and shoots through, followed by a giant mean looking dog that slams into the fence. BANG, CRASH, the ugly mutt too large to get through the hole. The cat, now safe on the other side, wipes his brow, goes “whew” and walks away from the fence on the other side, whistling, and looking distinctly cocky.
That’s the image.
Then comes the question, in my head, well then, now that the cat has saved itself, attained a big goal, what happens to the cat?
In popular folklore and, generally, in North American and western European culture, and ubiquitously on television, the answer is the cat lives happily ever after.
Fine for kids – at least until they experience pre-teen years and Lemony Snicket or the Wizard of Oz or the great mythology tales of old cultures…. Because in those stories, the cat does not “live happily after”. In those stories, well let’s say the cat begins to live, or begins yet another story, often a better one than just meeting and avoiding death in the jaws of a dumb and ugly mutt. No matter how often the cat escapes (and remember the cat has nine lives) there is more on the other side. More life I mean. Not an endless run of “living happily ever after.”
In life, including business-life (the words “business” and “life” belong together; they cannot be separated), in business-life, what happens to the cat is, well this moment is just the beginning of something else, and much more complicated and interesting than the disingenuous “lives happily after”.
I would like to introduce you again to my friend Rick Eigenbrod because he has followed many cats who have “won the race”, gotten what they wanted, made the big score, graduated from Cat MIT, fat cats, thin cats, feral cats, cats that made it through the fence… like that. He has followed them and can tell you a lot about what is on the other side, or the next part of an adventure. As he so skillfully describes it, we all experience these endings, these gettings of the gold ring or big goals or just make it through the fence and save our necks in our own version of the black and white cartoon. He shares all this with you in his new book, “What Happens When You Get What You Want?: Success and the Challenge of Choice”. You may recall, I shared a bit of Rick’s story in an earlier posting, “Messages from a Friend”. The guy who walked the 500 mile Camino de Santiago, Rick taught me about disconnecting, and the power of clichés, and truth, and sore feet, and the journey within a real journey – among other things.
Once upon a time, I made it through the fence myself. I was a CEO and business owner for 23 years. I employed many people and had a rather riotous entrepreneurial adventure, actually many adventures, strung together for most of my young(ish) adult life. At age 49 I decided enough is enough, sold the business, and Deborah and I escaped from Los Angeles and moved to what in those days looked like the wilderness, a place called Sedona Arizona.
In 1989, Sedona had 10,000 or so inhabitants, one traffic light, one movie theater, The Flicker Shack, that showed one feature film a week. There was one grocery store, a bunch of tourist enticements hawking turquoise jewelry, T-shirts, cowboy boots, western art made on the Navajo Nation or in China, a small Old West looking line of stores and a couple of eateries along the two lane highway into Oak Creek canyon heading to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon beyond. This was the one horse version of a one horse town. Those who lived there in 1989 acted out the small town inferiority complex about being a small town: you know, aw shucks, this is just a bus stop on the way to the grand Canyon (which it was) and oh by the way, this small town was right in the middle of the most spectacular red rock eruptions, a two thousand foot escarpment to the north called the Mogollan Rim, and all of its leavings, red rock outcroppings, arches, spires, giant upward reaching shards, one looking like a five hundred foot tall coffee pot, all around.
So Deborah and I sold the goose, took a smallish golden egg and escaped to this town in the middle of nowhere (albeit a beautiful nowhere). We were done with the rat race, heads spinning, we were hell bent on escaping. We did too. So now queue the black and white cartoon cat, dusting paws and whistling as we embarked on this part of the journey.
This is where Rick begins, this moment. He can certainly talk for himself, so I will continue only a little longer with our story (Deborah and I, Haggis and Heather, our dogs and all of our worldly belongings). To escape to a place of sparkling beauty is a bone-jarring experience, deep breaths, breakfast complete with coffee, toast with butter and jam, walks, runs, car rides, checkers in the grocery store holding court, and a trip to the one gas station being the social highlight of the afternoon. In the spirit of living “away” from the noise of Los Angeles (our last home) we didn’t hook up the cable, and cancelled all our magazine and newspaper subscriptions. It was so quiet, a proverbial pin drop sounded like a thunder clap, and although it was a little disconcerting for the first three or so weeks… as we were dusting our paws off, leaving the fence and the ugly mutt behind, we were smiling, sleeping, exercising, eating better, and felt an uplifting sense of renewal, or potential renewal would be a better way to say it.
We had lived well and were very fortunate, very lucky, very driven (I was particularly) very scared, very intense, living alternately between shots of adrenaline fired off by “getting the big job” then “being scared to death we would lose the big job” then “being granted the big line of credit to do the big job”, then “having the bank call our line of credit”, and so on. It was a GREAT run, really. But what the quiet and far remove of Sedona announced to us was: one doesn’t run like that for life, or at least we weren’t the types to run like that for life… we had other things to do.
What exactly were these other things?
What exactly is life, or what is life without all that adrenaline, and structure of a business and all that it means in today’s society. Successful business people are today’s aristocracy – what happens when the count and the countess, and their three progeny and two dogs abdicate and run away to a third world country in the far away high dessert?
What will happen to us in that place?
Well it was (is) a long story. Way too long for this venue. You read this blog because, in part, you are working on a much more interesting challenge, pursuing a much more interesting subject than Walt. You want to know about YOU. What about you and your family, why are you doing this, and when you finish this, then? What? And on that note it is time to segue from this blog to one person I know who can help you parse and engage these and other questions about your journey forward. Rick’s Eigenbrod and his book “What Happens When You Get What You Want?: Success and the Challenge of Choice” will take it from here to your life, which is what this is all about.