There is only one success--to be able to spend your life in your own way.-Christopher Morley
Just Change Your Mind
Posted October 3, 2010
In a former lifetime, I'm working in the construction industry, based in a South Florida store that sells and installs flooring. On a scale of one to ten, my interest in flooring is way less than zero, but it's an entree into the mega-lucrative field of construction, so I'm there. I'm also in my mid-twenties, a recent law school graduate thoroughly disillusioned with the practice of law, and hoping to learn the ropes of running a business -- any business.
The year is 1992, and Hurricane Andrew just finished wreaking havoc on South Miami, leaving hundreds -- if not thousands -- of devastated homes in its path. When I first arrived in Florida, I drove into the area affected most and witnessed a formerly beautiful, tropical landscape now littered with houses with their walls and roofs completely blown out, as though a cruise missile had flown through them. Each house was spray-painted in big bold letters with the name of its insurance company and policy number. It was surreal.
Many people don't realize that when a natural (or even unnatural) disaster strikes, in the construction industry there are unbelievably large amounts of money changing hands at a furious pace. Even those familiar with the industry may not realize the sheer magnitude of the sums involved. But seeing thousands of smashed houses reading something like "Allstate #8150423" left nothing to my imagination. I understood very well that the only thing about to rain down on Miami even more heavily than Hurricane-strength torrents would be buckets of thousand-dollar bills. While I felt sympathy for the residents of those houses, I also couldn't help but plan my road to riches. Or, so I thought.
And so, by late 1993, after adjusting to my new South Florida environment, I'm in the process of starting my own business while working at an entry-level office job in the construction industry.
After my regular work hours, I methodically go door-to-door from one construction development to another, pitching the contractors on hiring my company to subcontract the flooring and marble installation. Of course, when I say "my company", it might be a stretch, as it actually consisted of not much more than a name and a letterhead with a logo I designed.
Don't like it? Think again...
I know that getting the contractors' business is a long-shot, but I also know that if I'm able to win the contract for even one large-scale development, I would be instantly dealing in hundreds-of-thousands of dollars worth of business, and would have a foundation upon which to build my construction empire. Besides, I'm in my twenties with no children, no real family obligations, and no history of failure to hold me back. The fact that I also have no experience, no money, no employees, and no place of business, are all things I brush aside as just minor inconveniences.
As a newcomer to the business world, there are many, many lessons I have yet to learn. But I know that success in sales is at least partially a game of numbers. I realize that it's a long way to the top, and I have no fear of rejection, so after being turned down by one contractor after the next, I climb back into my car in the sticky heat of the South Florida summer and race to my next destination.
Finally, after months of perseverance, I land my first contract as a business owner. It's an upscale 80-house project in the Miami area with lots of prestige and big-money potential for yours truly.
I'm delighted and pumped up as I dream of the huge profits that are sure to come my way. On the one hand, I want to jump up in the air and shout out to the world, "See, I knew I could do it!" But secretly, I'm in shock that my theory actually worked.
As I celebrate my victory, the sun seems brighter, music seems more melodic, and even food tastes better. Little do I know that I'm falling into the first major business trap of my career, and it's going to be a total and complete disaster. For the moment, though, ignorance is bliss and I drink in the incredible feeling of victory.
The next day, I float into my office at my day job with a smile on my face. My employer and his wife greet me, as I place my over-sized can of overly sweet Arizona Ice Tea on my desk. I take my place in front of the brand spanking new, state-of-the-art Windows 3.0 PC on which I started to computerize my employer's business and secretly played copious amounts of the original version of Wolfenstein 3D. As the computer starts up, I spin in my task chair until I'm facing Yossi, my boss.
He's a tall, impressive-looking man in his early forties, a former intelligence officer in the Israeli army who is married to an American-born woman with the exquisitely delicate features of a 5'10" porcelain doll. In South Florida, Yossi passes for a well dressed mustachioed Cuban in a part of the country that is ideally suited for a well dressed mustachioed Cuban.
Seeing a surge in construction, Yossi decides to expand his small store into a larger stone and marble showcase. Like me, he wants to be better positioned to hunt the big game of commercial projects rather than tiling the bathrooms of lonely South Florida housewives.
While working for Yossi, I became acquainted with one of the marble installers, who happens to be a particularly good person, as well as a skilled workman with industry connections. I plan to partner with him in my first commercial project. Meanwhile, I mention my plan to Yossi who surprises me by offering me a 25% partnership in his company. While it's not the 50-50 partnership I worked out with my intended business partner, Yossi's company is an established business with longevity. So, my dilemma is whether to accept a smaller share of a more secure business, or a larger share of a startup venture. Either way, it's going to be a step up from being an employee to becoming a business owner.
Not wishing to bore you with any more detail, I would say that I opted for a larger share of the new venture, because I wanted to experience the freedom and satisfaction of creating a new business. However, this decision was not taken very positively by my former employer Yossi and his wife, who felt justifiably annoyed. So Yossi tried to convince me to the contrary, and his reasoning has stayed with me all these years.
"Nu, David, did you make a decision?"
"Yep, pretty much."
"Am I going to like this decision?"
"Hmmm... Probably not, but it's really not anything personally against you. I just feel that I want to start something from the ground up and see how it goes."
"So did you make up your mind?"
"Okay, no problem, David. So, just change your mind. People change the place they live, they change their clothing and hair styles, so they can change their mind, too. Just change your mind, and we can make some good money working together."
It was an unexpected line of reasoning, and I sat there at my desk in the back of Yossi's tile store contemplating his request. I've never heard of this tactic before, and there was almost some amount of humor to the concept. "So change your mind." If only things could be that simple...
Years later, I still think of that line whenever someone tells me that they've made up their mind and I don't like their conclusion. I smile at the thought and recall my conversation with Yossi, nearly two decades ago.
Fast forward to the present.
Last week, I had to accept a decision that was a little disappointing to me. There was a possibility of vastly upgrading our family's standard of living, but there were also some serious downsides to that situation. I'm honestly so sick and tired of every big decision in my life having nearly equal amounts of upsides and downsides. But, of course, that's just how life is. There are no major opportunities that come without a steep price to pay. Although disappointing, the decision was also logical and well-reasoned, so we will continue our lifestyle's status-quo, which is still very good, though not as spectacular as it could have been. What can I say? Very good is... very good. But the chance of having "spectacular," would have been... spectacular.
So I sat last week and contemplated my disappointment and analyzed the factors behind our decision. And after a day or two, reminded myself that I don't like being immersed in negativity of any kind.
The difference between very good and spectacular is really relative. What's 'very good' to me in certain areas, is probably 'spectacular' to many other people, and the opposite may be true in other areas. That's why perception is nothing if not relative.
Meanwhile, while philosophizing, my almost-partner Yossi's unexpected reasoning occurred to me once again. "No problem. So, just change your mind." If only I could just change my mind to be as happy with 'very good' as with 'spectacular,' all would be well and my universe would go back into its normally happy alignment.
Well, it didn't work eighteen years ago. Maybe now that I'm older, it will. Still working on it... Maybe if I just say it with an Israeli accent it will be more effective.
"Jahst change yorrrr mind."
About Double Triangle
Double Triangle is my personal blog and is mostly about family life in the Los Angeles area. It also serves to record some of my thoughts in a format that can be easily accessed by my family and friends, as well as by anyone else who cares to read it.
I tend to post new material at no set intervals. So to keep updated, either visit this page or subscribe to the handy dandy RSS Feed.