Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast
by W. Bradford Swift D. V. M.

He stood, gripping the sides of the counter, his fingers white knuckled from the strain. I’d seen my boss, Mr. Burke, stand there countless times before, studying the inventory, looking for just the right item for the customer, but I’d never seen him like this; his face and neck a livid red, his neck muscles strained, beads of sweat on a brow that only moments before had been dry.

I heard Allison, his assistant whisper, “Go get Mrs. Burke.” Someone scampered away, relieved to escape the tense scene. I stood there frozen, uncertain what was happening, even more uncertain what to do. After all, I was just part-time help, spending a few summer months between college semesters learning about the real world of business.

In a few moments, Mrs. Burke appeared, sized up the situation with a quick glance at her husband’s distraught face. She nodded for us to leave them alone. We were only too happy to oblige. As we walked towards the reception area, Allison took a deep breath and I suddenly realized I’d not been breathing either. “He’ll be all right,” she said reassuringly. “He gets this way sometimes. The demands of the business get to be too much for him, but Mrs. Burke is always able to calm him down. Thank goodness. I don’t know what he’d do without her.”

That was during the summer of 1973, a scene permanently etched in my mind. I also remember the vow I made, “I’ll never let business get the best of me that way. I’ll quit first.” Yet, years later at the helm of my own enterprise, there were days where I was the one gripping the side of the counter, fighting for control, caught up by a frenetic pace, much like a hamster in a wheel, running as fast as I could, going who knows where.

Burnout is one of the most common and serious threats to any entrepreneur and it takes many different forms and has many different side effects. So it makes sense to pause and ponder where you are going and what you are building. Perhaps even more important, why are you building it?

There’s a growing movement underfoot in America which addresses these questions. Some call it downsizing, right sizing, or simplifying your lifestyle. I like the term, DOMOS, which according to the book, Trash Cash, Fizzbos and Flatliners: A Dictionary of Today’s Words, are “downwardly mobile professionals, who abandon a successful or promising career to concentrate on more meaningful or spiritual activities.” Now, I’m not suggesting everyone reading this should abandon their successful and promising careers, and go meditate on top of some mountain, although if you do decide to go that route, give me a call. I can suggest ways to make it a smooth transition.

Rather I’m saying it’s time for Americans to examine what is driving us to be a country that represents 5% of the world population while consuming over 30% of its resources. To bring this a little closer to home, ask yourself, “What am I building and why am I building it?” As many DOMOs are discovering, it’s possible to live an incredibly fulfilling life without working 60-70 hours a week — and without feeling deprived.

Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, co-authors of Your Money or Your Life (Viking, 1992) say the American dream has never been just about materialism but somewhere we wandered off course, equating a large home, fancy cars, and exotic vacations with happiness. During the 1970s and 80s, many of us learned the hard way that money alone doesn’t buy happiness. Some of us are still learning this maxim as we zipped through the 90s.

Uncover The Unconscious

One effective way to stop the spinning wheel of the hamster cage for a while is to ask yourself the questions below. Spend a little time with them, not looking for the right answers because they’re not that kind of question. Rather, these questions are designed to help you uncover some of the unconscious motivations that drive you in your business and in your life. If you honestly explore these questions, you may discover that it’s time to change directions in your business and in other areas of your life.

1. Are you running your business or is your business running you?

2. When was the last time you took at least a 1-week vacation? While on the vacation, did you find yourself spending a significant amount of time worrying about your work?

3. What directs your business: your values or your lifestyle?

4. Do any of your family members regularly ask for more of your time and attention?

5. Is your time at work satisfying and fulfilling, or do you often feel harried, or bored?

6. Are you satisfied with the number of hours you work or do you wish you could cut back?

7. When was the last time you sat down with your family and examined the direction of your life? When was the last time you examined the direction of your business with your employees?

If these questions reveal that you are not completely satisfied with the direction of your business and the motivation which is driving it, it’s probably past time to alter your course.