Extreme Achievement Launches from Peace

Now don’t get me wrong, I like achievement.  A lot.  In fact, the primary reason I advocate a low-stress mindset is that it is the straightaway which allows achievement to run.  Stress, fear, anxiety all put curves in the road that cause achievement to slow down to navigate.  Let me give you an example:

Two days ago in Austin, Texas, the roads were probably too wet for how fast I was driving.  I had come down a hill after a good business lunch and my head was somewhere else.  The light at the intersection had been showing green for a while and so as I took the left turn, I accelerated into the turn – not a good idea on wet streets.  I felt the back tires give way and the tail of my car began sliding to the right into the other lane.  Immediately I remembered my wreck years ago, the wreck with my wife and children in the car.

We had been traveling back home late at night and it had been raining.  I was sleepy, but assured my wife that I was fine to drive and I wanted to get home to my own bed.  We were driving through a hilly area and came up to a spot where our highway intersected another highway at a stop sign.  It was late, I wanted to get home, and there did not seem to be any traffic, so I accelerated through the stop sign turning left onto the new highway.  And I felt my back tires let go of the pavement.  As they started to hydroplane to the right, I panicked.  “My babies are in the car; my wife is asleep beside me!  What if we go off the edge??”  As fear mounted, I jerked the wheel all the way to the right… and overcorrected.  In horror I watched as the world began slowly, then with increasing speed, to spin to the left.  At first I could make out images, but quickly everything in sight meshed together into the same kind of blurred vision you see from the seat of one of those spinning carnival rides.  Time stopped.  I was desperately smashing the break, cranking the wheel.  Was I screaming or was it my babies in the back seat?  Then it happened.

The back quarter panel of our little Ford Escort crumpled into a guardrail.  I have never been so overjoyed to hear my car get ruined in my entire life.

My wife was now FULLY awake.  “What! The!…???”  You get the picture.

So two days ago my back tires let go of the pavement and this was the movie running in my head.  But in the last few years, I have practiced purposeful calm in tense times.  So I said my trigger phrase, “It just doesn’t matter,” (more about how this became my trigger phrase in a future blog post) and I smiled.  Then it happened.

I instinctively leaned back in my seat, turned the wheel in the direction I wanted to go, fishtailed back and forth a few times in my own lane, and then drove on down the road without incident.

The old thinking is that we have to build massive energy and stress to achieve.  But in a fast-moving world where creativity is vital to win, extreme achievement is determined by how we react to surprises in the moment.  Extreme achievement launches from a position of peace. 

And it is better on car insurance.

Giving Up The Goal Could Be Best

I sat at a round table in New York and looked at my colleagues.  They all looked like me: dark suit, white shirt…  glassy eyes.  We all laughed a little too loud and drank a little too much.  These were all the guys running big businesses within our global corporation.  We had just come through heroic years, managing financial businesses through the global financial meltdown.  But rather than celebrating we were trying to escape.  All of us faced cuts in pay and massive upside goals we had to accomplish.  In fact, much of our compensation was tied to making those goals. Our jobs were tied to making those goals.  I knew I was failing.  I assumed by the alcohol volume around the table that many of these others were as well.  Many already had their resumes out and would just move on.  I did not have that option.  I had just relocated my family to a new city; I could not move them again so soon and still have a marriage.

I stumbled back to the hotel room, staggered into the bathroom and caught sight of myself in the mirror.  I leaned forward and looked for a long time into my own eyes.  Mentally I walked back through my years in this industry: the late nights, the constant pressure.  Then as I looked at myself, I got a determined look in my eye and slowly said the words that would come to make all the difference.

 I give up.… 

And so I gave up on The Goal. Is it even lawful to say that in America?  To even think of giving up on a goal?  Aren’t goals the driving force for achievement??  I say this to audiences and they look at me like I just told them there is no Santa Claus.  Aren’t we taught from a very young age to set daily, weekly, and annual goals?  Don’t we always set New Year’s resolutions?? 

But how do those New Year’s resolutions work out for 88% of us? (Hint: they don’t.)

Standing in my hotel room in New York staring in my own eyes: “I give up.”  A peace suddenly came over me; I could breathe.  “I give up.”  I said and I went to bed.  And slept like a baby. 

Then… a strange thing happened. 

The next day I sat in meetings mesmerized by the pearls of wisdom that were being passed out by each speaker.  Was this the same crap that was being shoveled out yesterday?  It was no longer just one more block to weigh me down on my race to an impossible goal.  It was now potential fuel to help me accelerate down the road a little faster today.

I got back to the office and held a meeting – The Goal was undoable and we all knew it.  So what if we just focused on the reason why we entered this business in the first place: to provide great service to great people and help them retire the way they wanted.  And so we did that.  We set out a series of measurable activities we could control and defined success by the question, “Did we travel today a little further toward that vision than we traveled yesterday?”  We focused on activities. 

And then an odd thing happened.

18 months later, we were the number one office in the system on a per employee basis.  We had far surpassed The Goal.

And no one was more shocked than me.

When I got the call, “Hey Mike, have you seen the list?  You guys are at the top!” I had no idea.  But in the office, it really was not that big a deal.  On that day we were just trying to travel a little further than the day before.

Incremental improvement compounds on itself.  A peaceful mind breeds creativity.  Giving up The Goal may be the best step for your achievement.