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High on a mountain top above tree line is not a good time for nature to call. Fortunately, many National and State Parks actually have backcountry toilets. Few are as nice as what you have at home, yet many come with some distinction including the most beautiful views. They give the phrase “contemplating nature” a whole new meaning.
 
Unfortunately, the flies also like that beautiful view and congregate around the toilet, hundreds of flies at times. Relieving yourself in the backcountry may not be pleasant, yet it is a fact of life that must be addressed. The same is true for unpleasant business situations.
 
Identifying Flies In Your Business
 
Few people like flies. They can serve a purpose, but most people don’t enjoy engaging with them, especially at a mountain-top toilet. Yet we often attract them to our business because of the “waste” we produce.
 
Different types of flies are attracted to different substances and material. Some are attracted to waste or rotting meat. Others are attracted to sugary or vinegary substances. Do you want to be followed around by a team just waiting for you to fail, wanting to know what you will screw up that will make them look better? They will feed off your “waste,” allowing them to look much better in the business environment.
 
The reality is that without a good team and a good culture, waste gets in the way. A culture of gossip attracts people who gossip. A culture of bad attitudes and blame attracts people with bad attitudes who like to blame others for their problems. The family business leader who is disorganized will attract employees who are disorganized. The manager who is a poor planner will attract employees who resist planning.
 
A lack of clean-up attracts a certain type of crowd. Is it the crowd you want?
 
Start Reducing Your Waste
 
How do you get rid of flies at the mountain top toilet? Usually by closing the lid—it minimizes the attraction (although it doesn’t completely eliminate it). Don’t you wish all flies were that easy to get rid of? The flies that we work with are often a mirror of who we are and how we manage. What we tolerate or even accept is reflected in our businesses, teams, and projects.
 
Our business days are full of time, talents, and opportunities that can create success for every employee. But if we’re not careful in how we manage, if we don’t “close the lid” when necessary, we can waste our time, talents, and opportunities and watch as the flies come to see what they can get.
 
Are flies congregating around your family business, your project, or your career? Are they having a field day with the mess you have left behind? What will you do about it?
 
When I was a kid, my family camped at Calaveras Big Trees in California. The camp-ground was awesome and allowed us to play all day in the woods, climb hills, and never worry. My dad always made it his goal to leave the campsite in better shape than he found it. He would clean up leaves and twigs, fix benches, and make the campsite a delight for the next people to arrive. (As an aside, my dad opened the zipper to our tent one night and came nose-to-nose with a bear. I am not sure who was more scared, but both Dad and the bear were shocked. The bear ran away, and my dad was speechless.) Think about the trace you leave behind in your career or business. Does it improve the business, or do you leave a path of destruction and waste? What investment do you make in the people you work with?
 
When we went kayaking for seven days backcountry, showers were not on the agenda. You could jump in the water, but that bath won’t last long because the water temp was about fifty degrees.  That is good for about one minute. However, when the water from a hot spring runs into a cold river and you place rocks around in a circle, you create a bath-type of environment that allows you to sit, feel a bit cleaner, and enjoy the warmth of a natural hot tub. Soap is still not appropriate in a backcountry river, but you come out a lot cleaner than when you went in.
 
Entire industries have been created to help people stay organized and keep their desks and offices clean. Just to name a few, professional organizers, office productivity experts, and those who have mastered Microsoft Outlook create jobs and businesses out of keeping both home and work environments clean and organized. What does your desk or office look like? What image does it convey to those you work with? Does your office inspire confidence in your management? Does your desk emulate the organizational competence that you want from your team?
 
Many people who live with stacks of paper piled on their desk believe they are very productive and have a filing system that matches anyone else with a cleaner desktop. That may be true, yet the question remains: Is your desk or office helping or hurting your business growth? When we are backcountry and not taking a shower for days on end, it doesn’t affect our ability to hike, pack, and climb—that is, not at first. However, a couple of days into the trip we can no longer stand the smell of ourselves and pity the person we may share a tent with (who actually smells no better.) That first shower feels SO good. It is breathtaking and invigorating, making you truly appreciate the comforts of civilization.
 
The same is often true for your office. One of my client’s desk and office was totally disorganized. She always stated that she wanted to clean it up but never had time. Reality is the cleanup process was so overwhelming that she was frozen.  She simply had no idea where to begin or how to organize. A professional organizer was brought in to help her develop the thought process and structure to actually throw away what was not needed and structure her entire office moving forward. Her productivity has immensely improved.
 
Are poor organizational skills affecting your ability—and your team’s confidence—to succeed?
Toilets in the woods are bad enough. Using the “big leaf” approach to clean up, it seems to me, would make them even worse. I want my nice soft TP, a reminder of the comforts of home. But there may be one advantage to big leaves. When you are back-country, you usually don’t have an outhouse that you can throw the toilet paper down; you need to dig a hole with a shovel, bury the “output,” and bring the toilet paper home with you. Big leaves can go into the hole. Some wilderness areas take it a step further, requiring that you leave absolutely no trace—period. They do not want the wilderness area tainted with human waste of any kind. That means you need to pack out all waste. Eeww. Fortunately, I have only been places where I can dig a hole and bury it. I’m not even sure I would want to hike in those “absolutely no trace” areas. That might be the line in the sand for me. Each person needs to determine how they will follow the rules of any given forest, and within those rules, what “waste” they will pack out.
 
What stuff do you need to bury in a hole, never to be seen again? Bad attitudes, anger, assumptions, resentment, jealousy, and lack of patience come quickly to mind. Doesn’t that represent exactly what goes on in the fast-paced world of business? There is always “stuff” that needs to be cleaned up, and the need to eliminate waste often comes at an awkward time. If you don’t clean up the mess when and how you should, it usually comes back to bite you. If any of you have ever written computer code, you know that cleaning up your code and documenting it so someone else can work with it is essential. That clean-up process and the documentation that comes with it makes the code easier to debug, easier to expand upon, and easier to leave as part of your legacy. Where else is that true in your projects, desk, home, and personal life? How clean you leave things is a direct reflection on who you are and how you think.
 
Business is made up of people, and even the cleanest people carry baggage, make messes, and sometimes leave messes behind. “Leave no trace” isn’t a viable concept in business. What traces will you leave? Is your trace one of integrity, nurturing, faith, listening, understanding, and enlarging? Or is it about clawing your way to the top, winning at all cost, gossip, and demeaning others? We each make our mark on the business, the team, the customers, and the future of the business. Carefully consider what mark you are leaving and whether you need to change it.
 
If money were no issue, how would you spend your time? Would you get up and go to the same job each day? Change jobs? Would you sit around and watch TV? Would you give more to the community? Spend more time with family?
 
In the past few weeks there have been a number of articles and social media posts regarding retirement. Most likely the frequency isn't up, yet my awareness has been heightened. I have seen comments by those who say that they never plan to retire, that retirement is the biggest mistake they have made, or that they fear they can never retire due to finances.
 
To me "retirement" is one more step on my journey through life. Retirement is defined by Wikipedia (You know the internet is always correct!) as "the act of leaving one's job and ceasing to work." That is a horrible definition. Let's have some fun in redefining the concept of retirement.
 
Retirement isn't:
  • Ceasing to work (Work is part of life. Ceasing to work is called death.)
  • A time to check out of life
  • A time to sit on my rocking chair and do nothing
  • An absence of thinking
  • An absence of being involved with passions or interests
  • An absence of facing life's challenges
That time in life when you decide that you can reap the results of years of planning and can have the independence you desire can be called retirement, but it shouldn't be defined as Wikipedia has coined it. It takes years of preparation.
 
Retirement is:
  • No different than running a business - it takes planning and consistency.
  • Starting to plan as early as possible - preferably in our 20's.  Remember Stephen Covey's quote: "Begin with the end in Mind."
  • A time that allows us true freedom to:
    • Start a new venture
    • Work in the same job that we love
    • Mentor those in younger generations that are craving the leadership skills and knowledge that we posses
    • Spend more time with family and friends
    • Travel if desired
    • Give back to the community in ways that couldn't easily be done while working full time and/or raising a family
    • Whatever else comes to mind
I have a friend that owns a business that has been very profitable and an ongoing concern. He also has another business, more of a ministry, that focuses on the needs of others. This ministry is one that could take him around the US and the world helping people in so many ways due to the needs he has identified. He doesn't want to "retire;" what he does want is to transition to this other business which excites him and has great upside potential. What he does want is the financial independence to make different choices.
 
My friend, like many of us, wants to pick the ending of one season, the beginning of another, and the choice in transition. Retirement should be another season, another beginning, and another transition just like many we have made before. The question is: What are you doing to plan your transition and how does that impact the decisions you make today?
 

Part 2 of this article discusses how planning is critical to creating the retirement we desire. Look for it here next month.

What is a contrast? It is really a set of opposites, and it defined my life at the start of 2016.
 
On January 2nd I was at the top of a mountain skiing with family and friends. It was cold outside, yet a beautiful sunny day. One week later I was sitting on a beach in Barbados. Not a bad transition in my opinion.
 
On January 3rd my father-in-law passed away. He had turned 99 on January 1st and lived a good long life. One week later a close friend found out her daughter was expecting a first child. We celebrated the end of a life well-lived and the joy of a new life to come, both within a short time frame.
 
On January 4th we learned that my sister-in-law's family needed to allow their dog of 14 years to go peacefully to sleep. Always a hard decision. Three days later in Barbados we were playing with two Rottweiler puppies - one named Clinton and the other Trump. (Oh, I could have so much fun with that but not in this blog!)
 
So what do all these experiences have to do with business? Each business day can be (and generally is) filled with contrasts: the new customer, the lost customer; the new opportunity, the one that passes by; the new employee, the departing employee. The list can go on. The challenge and opportunity is how each of us faces the personal and business contrasts that come our way.
 
In life, does the loss of a father overshadow the celebration of the life that he lived? This does not mean we do not mourn, but mourning has its time and place. It is a time of reflection, a time to think about how we, too, would like to be remembered.
 
In our business lives, does the lost customer overshadow the new one? Do we fail to embrace the new employee because we're sad that the old employee has left? Have we missed a window for more business and income by focusing on what we let get away? How you react, adjust, and move forward can and does affect the future of your business.
 
What are your contrasts? How are you using them to challenge yourself and your team, and how are you helping those around you to learn, adapt, and grow?