Gratitude, Even Still

We drove to Little Rock yesterday to pick up a semi-custom shirt; it was not quite right, so it will be modified and available to me in two weeks. As we drove down Chenal Parkway, we were stunned by the massive damage to buildings and trees. Especially surprising was the view of an apartment complex a few blocks north, on a hill overlooking the roadway. The top floor of the buildings had been shredded by the recent tornado. The roof of the building was missing, as was much of the framing beneath it. Broken pieces of lumber were visible everywhere. I have seen photographs of the damage, but seeing it for myself was sobering. All along Chenal, severe damage was evident. Power remained out in parts of the area, including at a cross-street where traffic had been, before the storm, controlled by a traffic light. Temporary stop signs had been placed at the intersection to control traffic. Massive trees, uprooted by the wind, had been blown down, breaking the sidewalk under the trees’ huge root balls and lifting them several feet above their original location. Ach! Lines of cars at a church, where water and food was being given away,  illustrated the human costs of the tornado; people who may not have had a place to sleep were, at least, given sustenance to get them through what must be an excruciating experience.  The dollar cost of the storm must be enormous; it is incomprehensibly huge. The emotional costs must, also, be incalculable.


An online piece on struck a chord with me. As I read it, my disappointment and regret at my decision, in 1998, to start my own company suddenly seemed less a lonely mistake. Other entrepreneurs, too, look back with remorse at “going it alone.” They, too, recognize that their dreams of being in control—and operating in an environment in which their income would be limited only by their own ambition—were fantasies. Though I was able to retire early with enough of a retirement nest egg to allow me to live a modestly middle-class lifestyle, I could have earned far more (and would have had greater autonomy and control) had I continued on the executive track, reporting to a single board of directors. Though my business was moderately successful, dealing with multiple boards of directors of multiple clients was far more stressful than working for a single board. And my decision to “run my own show” was far less lucrative than the environment I left. If I had it to do over again, I might make the same decision, but I would make it with eyes wide open to the realities of making payroll, even when a client  experienced financial struggles. Friends who continued to work as “staff” usually were viewed by boards as part of a team; my staff and I, on the other hand, were considered “hired hands.” My company’s fees, unlike “captive staff” salaries, were targets for minimization. “Captive staff” salaries were more likely to be viewed as opportunities to reward members of the “team” for a job well-done. When I was a “captive” CEO, I had to justify salary budgets to a generally appreciative board. But when I was an entrepreneur/ “contractor,” I had to work much harder to persuade boards that the fees paid to my company (the majority of which went to my staff) were justified. Unlike some other entrepreneurial ventures, it was virtually impossible to imagine transforming the company into a revenue-generating powerhouse. By 2011, thirteen years into my entrepreneurial experiment, I was beyond tired. I had come to loathe working with some of my client associations and their boards. When I announced what was to have been a one-year sabbatical and offered to help my clients find new management firms, their boards expressed little to no disappointment at my departure or any serious appreciation for my work. In spite of leaving every client in far better shape—financially and operationally—than when they became clients, they took the news of my departure without expressing any regret. Nor any appreciation for improving their positions.

I do not often think about my years as an entrepreneur. And when I do, I try to recall the more appealing aspects of that period of my career. I try to avoid being resentful and bitter with myself for having willingly replaced opportunities for a rather “cushy” experience for a monstrous challenge. Perhaps I should have taken my own hint when I named my company: Challenge Management, Inc. Bygones are bygones. No, I would not do it over again. I might, instead, accumulate as much money as possible, as early as possible, and retire even earlier. At one point in my life, I announced that I wanted to retire at 50. I missed the target by eight years. Not bad, actually. If I had continued with my business for another seven years, I would have pushed myself into an early grave. So, as I consider my work history, what I actually did may have been the best course of action. I should celebrate, instead of wading through fields of regret. And so I shall.


We are imperfect beings. We behave in ways contrary to maintaining our honor. We long for material goods we do not need. We lust after experiences we openly condemn in others. Our desires may overcome our decency. We know we should not murder or steal or covet our neighbors’ wives, but we still we may wish to kill or purloin or seduce. There it is again: the spectrum of “sins,” alongside measures of tolerance or intolerance. Is the desire to kill just as bad as taking action on that desire? Ach! Too much brain-twisting!


Another grey morning. Weather forecasters are calling for a high today of 79°F. I have to admit it: I look forward to the warmth. Lately, much of the time my hands of feet have been horribly cold. Yesterday, I walked out of my frigid office, opened the front door of the house, and went outside. The warmth outside was much, much, much greater than inside. I felt like sleeping on a recliner with the sun beating down on me. Instead, I worked on minimizing the weed-cover in the big rocky area in front of the house. It was absolutely LOUSY with weeds. I expect them to come back with some regularity. Makes me think a concrete pad over the rocks might be just the ticket. Not really. Probably.

I am grateful that today does not have many demands on me. I can choose whether to work around the house (which I should) or to loll about in slothful indolence (which I probably should not).  I appreciate the choice, though,

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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