Little leaves on tiny stems sparkle like jewels as the brilliant morning light makes streaks in the sky, kissing the trees and illuminating their rough bark with a reddish orange glow. Lavenders, purples, and light blues fill the long shadows as they stretch like rubber bands pulled as far as they can go, all pointing out from the sun, inspiring what could be a painting from where I sit on the long wooden Texas porch. Feeders for the birds sway in unison, to and fro, as a light breeze tickles the leaves, and squirrels jump from branch to branch trying to get to the feeders like thieves scrambling to get into a bank vault of treasure.
Here I’ve sat through hundreds of sunrises like a moviegoer, each screen with its own plot and colorful action. My hand rapidly scribbles thoughts or images into my sketchbook, which is my closest companion, always close by when I need a friend.
A Lifetime of Journals
Opening the cabinet, I see them standing side by side like little soldiers, numbered and stored for years. I can return to any of the last dozen years, pick a date, and page through these journals for my notes. Unlikely to be a family heirloom when I’m gone, they contain the content of my days, my thoughts, notes from my meetings, and things I hope to remember, pages by the thousands. When I pick any random day from the past, the pages filled with stressful moments, the days I thought my world was over and things couldn’t possibly get worse, seem unusually emotional and over-reactive — things weren’t so bad after all. These moments were overblown, and they are no longer emotionally charged. Endless hours of worry, frantic meetings to solve world-ending problems, once placed in distant perspective, have lost their power over me.
Just last week I was seething with anger and disproportionately charged over an incident with a couple of foolish errors that could have had a massive negative impact on our ability to pay our bills. All because someone didn’t measure twice and cut once, setting off a chain of events that uncovered other errors. All would never have been revealed had it not been for a caring customer who brought it to my attention with a midnight text, while other customers remained silent and simply moved on to something or someone else.
The mistake that made me want to react so negatively turned out to be a gift, because had it not been discovered, its impact would have been far-reaching and potentially very damaging. My first reaction was to throw blame, but after a lot of digging into it, my more measured response was to solve the problem and realize no one did anything wrong with bad intentions. They just needed to learn how to prevent the mistake in the future.
Not only were there lessons for me, there were lessons for those around me. My son, sitting beside me on the couch, right before a deadline, saw me snap into massive action, making calls, sending e-mails and texts to solve the problem before it became a deeper problem, showing that sometimes you can’t wait for morning. Though I’d rather have gone to bed and not stayed up half the night, there are times when you have to do what’s necessary.
It was also a chance to say … I’m angry, and my first reaction is to blame people and get rid of them. But it’s important to take a breath, put things in perspective, and realize we need to focus on solutions, not problems.
No one died. No one got a call from their doctor announcing a threatening disease. There are bad days, but problem-solving is what we get paid to do.
Reaction is a natural force, anger follows, but time puts things into perspective. The more time passes, the better.
Massive action may be needed to rectify a problem fast, but yelling, blaming, firing only makes everything worse.
Growth is the gift of pain.
Reading my journals, hundreds of moments would reveal times when I was less mature, when I’d hit the send button in anger and disrupt things and make them worse, like a bowling ball knocking down pins. Times when my ego was bruised and I felt the need to be right, not bothering to seek the other side of the story or to understand what someone might be going through that prompted their action.
I once had an employee go off on everyone in a meeting, screaming and yelling unnecessarily. I excused myself, asked him into his office, and terminated him immediately because that behavior isn’t acceptable and it was his third strike. Little did I know — I found out months later — that there were things he was dealing with that prompted his anger, bad news of a life-threatening diagnosis. Though there’s never a good reason for bad behavior, there are reasons. Had I been more mature, maybe I would have called him into the office, told him his behavior was unacceptable, and said, “Take the rest of the day off, and we’ll chat tomorrow.” Maybe then I’d have bothered to ask what was going on.
Explosive reactions are sometimes understandable, but they’re not helpful. Deep breath, plus time, is almost always a better answer.
Words cut like knives and last for lives. They can’t be taken back.
Past explosive reactions have created bigger problems for myself. So now I try to keep my mouth shut and don’t hit the send button in anger.
Two days after the big problem, things looked different. My instinct to shout would only have made things worse. Plus, it promoted new systems to prevent future problems and provided training moments, and that makes us stronger.
When anger hits, don’t seek revenge, don’t default to harsh words or screaming. Take a deep breath, seek perspective, and when the time is right, seek understanding.
PS: This week was one big meeting, all day every day … I had two days with my board, which is a hard but necessary opportunity to gain the perspective and advice of others. Then two days with a couple of team members for planning and much-needed perspective, and then a day of normal meetings.
This week will be a couple of days of rehearsal and last-minute adjustments, then four days of my online training event Watercolor Live, which has a massive audience of people who want to grow as painters by watching the advice of top master artists, along with people who have decided they want to learn. There is still time for you. And if you can’t make the dates, replays are an option. www.watercolorlive.com.