What people say has an impact on us. It may fill our every thought. Or just remain in our subconscious. It may form part of our conditioning as a child. Or it may make us blush whilst we sip our tea. The impact will depend on who said it and our frame of mind. As I get older, I can see which comments changed my direction.
I worked long days just like any developing professional. I didn’t complain, but equally, I wasn’t proud of it. I spoke about these long days to Mark Cassidy. He said the most profound thing. Mark is a bit younger than me. Whilst, we had worked together for the same firm a few years earlier, we had both gone our separate ways at the time of this conversation in the 1990s. At the time, we were both managers. Mark’s profound advice was, “Don’t react to the world; let the world react to you.” It is a variation of the saying which was imbedded into me as a child: “Do things when you can, not when you have to.” But what Mark said gave me direction. I’ll share with you what happened.
I reflected that I was always responding to my allocated portfolio of clients, and frankly, it seemed like a never-ending task. To apply what Mark had told me, I focused on the word anticipate. What could come up that would cause a delay or something that I’d need to respond to? This meant studying why these delays occurred and addressing the root causes. To a large degree, the answer lay in communication in advance. But it was more than that. It was honest conversations with clients and our people, understanding issues to get a better result for all. Systematically, I went through the entire portfolio to anticipate situations six months ahead initially and then nine months. This helped me work out how to resource and leverage institutional knowledge long in advance with multiple options.
Quite quickly, my world had changed. Addressing urgent matters almost disappeared. I got fewer emails. In fact, most emails were what I had set in motion as future planning. Yes, of course, I made mistakes but, that is part of learning. It got to the point where I hardly worked overtime. Rather than read emails in the morning, I’d spend the first couple of hours a day thinking ahead about a particular client and how we could add value to them. I was moving from doing to creating. It meant my desk was completely empty most of the time. I can be a little extreme. I used to keep my landline phone in the top drawer of my desk. My mischievous wit. I remember a partner walking past, throwing a random file on my desk. “Can’t you at least look busy?” He made a good point, I don’t know how to look busy, and I have not been since.
In my last twenty years since that conversation with Mark, I’ve done okay. Much better than I ever could have imagined. I spend most of my time in a creative space which I really enjoy. In November last year, I had dinner with Mark and his wife, Jenny. I thanked him for his advice, “Don’t react to the world; let the world react to you.” I told him how much it impacted upon me and the success I’ve enjoyed because of it. Mark smiled. He said, “I have no recollection of saying that whatsoever.” I sat back. “You are kidding me. Mark, are you saying that it was just some throwaway line from a fortune cookie you opened the night before?” “Probably,” said Jenny laughing.
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