Friday, April 21, 2017

Frustration and a Lesson From My Son

I have a feeling that this blog is going to be a disjointed hodgepodge of a thing, largely because my week has been a disjointed hodgepodge of a thing. Whatever is in my head always seems to gush forth onto this space, despite my best efforts at self-editing. So, having fairly warned you of the turmoil lurking around in the great barren plains of my mind, proceed at your own risk.

For those of you who own your own businesses, you may better understand what I have been dealing with this week. I am a 35 year veteran of my line of work, the past 20 of which as an independent investment advisor, running my own shop. This week I have had an epiphany of sorts. I have figured out why my work has suddenly become so much more frustrating than I ever remember it being 30 years ago. It's always been difficult, but not tediously frustrating. Here's my theory, one I think covers many different businesses, not just mine. The skills required to build a business are not the same ones required to sustain it. When I got my start back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I needed four basic skills to survive and eventually succeed:

1. Tenacious determination. 
2. Creativity
3. The power of persuasion 
4. A finely tuned moral compass

Without any one of these, I would have failed. With all of them, I nearly failed. I needed to be tenacious because I was dealing with daily rejection, the grinding, soul crushing routine of being told to take a hike roughly 100 times a day. Therefore, I had to learn to be creative, to figure out new and better ways to convince people to give me a chance. Once given that chance, I had to be able to convince. I had one shot to persuade someone to let me compete for their business. Finely, it didn't take long for me to figure out that if one possessed a felonious heart, mine was a terrible business to be involved in since it would be relatively easy to take advantage of people. I suppose I have my parents to thank for instilling in me a firm commitment to the Golden Rule, that in matters of commerce, it was my responsibility as a Christian to do what was best for my client, not my checkbook.

However, having built a business, I am finding that the skill set required to sustain and administer an enterprise are not necessarily the same ones I needed to build the thing. Much of this is the result of the regulatory regime that has grown up around the advisory business over these past 35 years like so much crab grass and chick weed in an unattended lawn. With the rise to dominance of lawyers in our society, simply having a moral compass is not enough. I've had to change how I think, learn to question everything, every procedure by asking one overriding question, "Will this get me sued?"

The skills I now need are as follows:

1. Computer and technological savvy
2. Ninja level powers of organization
3. Expert record keeping 
4. Ability to read and understand sentences which begin with the phrase, 'The party of the first part...'

I possess roughly none of these skills....hence, my frustration.

On a related note...yesterday morning I exchanged some short, perfunctory texts with my son..."what's up? How's your day going?.....doing great, how about them Red Sox?"  Routine stuff. But then I did something I seldom do. I told my son that I was having a difficult week, and actually asked him to say a prayer for me. Whenever we ask people to pray for us, it's almost a throwaway line, something you say just to communicate to the other person that things are tough at the moment, not really expecting them to actually drop what they are doing and...pray for you. Here's what my son said...

"Will do Dad.

I use these from the Book of Common Prayer. The first one is one I say often, the second is one I've used occasionally when stressed. So, I'll pray both of them today on behalf of both of us...

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: we humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I am ashamed to admit that there was a time in my life, when I was about my son's age, when I would have disparaged anything found in something as dusty and old as the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I would have considered it the extra-biblical ramblings of people with too mechanical an association with God, people who really didn't understand what it was to have a "relationship" with
Christ. I felt the same way about Pastors who read their prayers. That was back when I was in my late 20's and knew everything there was to know about my faith!!! But, these ancient words brought great comfort to me. The fact that Christians have been using these same words for roughly the past 600 years felt like a profoundly holy and blessed thing.

The day we stop learning new things about our faith is a sad day, a day that marks the beginning of something rigid and lifeless, and worthless to others. I needed my son to teach me that lesson....again.